We live in a very materialistic society. Everything we experience in life is measured by measurable quality or quantity. Oftentimes, this is a very good thing. It is necessary to ensure that when it comes to medical care or food quality, that we are getting something that at the very least will not harm us, and prove beneficial to us. Other times it may or may not matter as much. I was in a store the other day and, for the very first time in my life, had the privilege of touching a cashmere scarf. It was dreamy soft. I smiled, and then moved on. I’m glad to have had the experience, but I don’t find it necessary to have that kind of luxury in my life. I am more laid back than that scarf warrants. I’m pretty happy with a cotton blouse and a pair of jeans.
Materialism extends beyond, well, materials, as well. We love to critique restaurant service, hotel stays, vacation packages, concerts, plays, movies, and other experiences. We, who may or may not have any musical experience at all, may go on and on about how “unprofessional” that particular band sounded, or how much the orchestra simply didn’t understand how Beethoven was supposed to be played. Speakers are judged by how articulate or relational or on point or succinct or comprehensive they were on the topic presented. We keep striving for some undefined perfectionism, that often varies from one person’s preference to the next.
Unfortunately, I see this same thing happening in our churches all too often. We have fallen into the trap of having measurable outcomes to determine whether we are acceptable as a church. We use the terms “thriving”, “growing”, “impacting”, “relevant”. We start movements so we can keep up the motivation. We are “Purpose-Driven church planters who are seeker-sensitive” and can give people what they want and need, with a professionalism that rivals that of any Hollywood or iTunes performer, all while being “real” and imperfect “broken” people. One could get dizzy trying to figure out which image we really should be projecting. Am I professional (or perfectionistic) enough to appeal to folks that might happen to walk in off the street, expecting a Chris Tomlin song to sound the way it does on the radio? But, am I aware of my flaws enough so that folks can feel accepted how they are, without going too far down that road and making them feel like we’re a bunch of hypocrites? All of the things we chase after in this manner have one goal: to grow the church. to bring (or draw, to use a more appropriate term) people in. To keep people in the pews. In effect, we are chasing people, instead of Christ Jesus.
It’s funny, but I don’t see any of these requirements in Scripture. In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the best-looking of the seven churches in the book of Revelation: To the church in Laodicia, Jesus said the following: You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:17) I feel like we try so hard to reach people sometimes, that we forget what we are supposed to be reaching for – JESUS. “Seek first the kingdom of God….” “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Over and over again, we are told to seek Christ first. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we need to give up on doing well or serving to the best of our abilities…quite the contrary. What I am saying is that no amount of polishing, practicing, planning, programing, or analyzing will ever meet the requirements of a fickle world, who want their ears tickled one way on Monday, and the other way by Friday. We’ll never keep up. But, when we seek Jesus in all we do, He will work through us by His Spirit. He is the most effective outreach “tool” that we have. I believe the answer to these dilemmas is to become an abiding church. As Jesus’ people learn to abide in Him, we will see the results of Him working in and through us. And then we will see this come about in our churches: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Act 2:46-27 NASB
Seek Christ. And, keep abiding on, Church.