Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 12: Chapters 13-15
Reminder: I’ve been working through this book with my old college roommate, Hollywood. His church is going through it, and I thought it’d be fun to go through this book about a fictitious New England church realizing that they’re “aging” and struggling through the aspects of what that is and what it looks like so it doesn’t die. Anyway, these are the thoughts this book provokes as I go through it…and it won’t hurt for you to read the earlier entries on this.
Chapters 13 & 14 pretty much set the stage for what I want to talk about.
See, MacDonald’s fictional church had an issue that could potentially split the church: They wanted to change their name. Apparently, they felt it would help them as they “reinvent.” Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. But I can see why that was an issue that created passionate responses on both sides.
I mean, a name is significant…I mean, think of McDonald’s. You immediately have recognition. I mean, my kids could spot the golden arches from their car seat off an interstate exit a mile away. Happy meals and ball pits (well, before they were deemed unsanitary). A Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. Filet-O-Fish pushes during Lent. Relatively inexpensive and quick.
But there are also some negatives…largely dealing with the health consequences of constant eating there or preservatives in the food or large corporate farming practices. My point is that the name alone creates images in our minds.
My guess is that it’s the same with churches. Mention any number of churches in our area and people that have never attended any of them have images in their minds of them. Some good. Some negative. And MacDonald’s church was in the midst of a debate on whether or not to take the large denominational name out of the church’s moniker. You can see where this would cause problems. You can see where this might have benefits.
So, in the course of these two chapters, a member of the fictional group decides to leave the church over the issue.
And that’s what I want to talk about today: How we view church in a suburban American culture.
See, I view a church as a family…and I’m seeing that view as in the extreme minority. Maybe it’s because I’m on the professional paid staff of a congregation but I really don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s because the Bible refers to us and “brothers and sisters” of the same Father. We’re a local expression of the universal family of God. We have gifts and talents that are supposed to be used to help the family mature. We’re supposed to celebrate and look forward in hope to the return of our King together. New birth to home going and all the points in between: births, marriages, funerals, graduations, championships–the whole kit and kaboodle.
Like genetic families, we’re supposed to do life together.
All of it.
But I’m not sure that’s the Average Joe’s view in suburban America. We’re experts in the art of consumerism…and that translates into what people generally look for in a church. Do they have a ministry that meets what I’m looking for? A small group for my life station? A kid’s program that has all the bells and whistles? A pastor who is a gifted & charismatic communicator who keeps my interest for 35 minutes? A good Sunday School class? A good missions program? A good youth group? A good senior citizens group? A worship experience that’s quality and not-too-loud? Free coffee?
And notice I didn’t even talk about theology. I mean, even within evangelicalism there are views that might be a bit different that affect how Scripture is interpreted and I’ve discovered that the very thing that unites people while making you distinct is the one thing suburbanites generally don’t even bother to look at.
So, generally people pick a church based on what’s in it for them.
And, frankly, I’m sure folks picked my church that way, too. The street certainly runs both ways.
But the reality is that when whatever that reason happens to be gets changed or discontinued or somehow, someway differs from the reason you chose it, well…
…they’re outta there.
And, 9 times out of 10 with no explanation given to staffers and/or leaders like deacons and elders. Most of the ones that are given aren’t really the full story, either. Most folks leave and take the path of least resistance even if the most loving thing would be a full explanation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know choosing and leaving a congregation is hard on the people doing the coming and going. I don’t want to diminish that reality one iota. When a family uproots from relationships and makes a change in where they worship, well, it’s not an easy decision. It’s one that is often made with lots of thought and prayer and deep emotions are involved.
But MacDonald says something that I think speaks for all of us who view the local church as our family:
“The truth is, speaking as a pastor, you give your heart to the people of a congregation if this work is indeed a calling. You invest in them, think about them constantly, try to find ways to build Christ into their lives. You exalt in their spiritual development. You share difficult moments. And you rejoice when good things happen to them…If you really do give away your heart, then when people leave, they take a piece of it with them.”
Is that ever true.
And most people have no idea how much that affects us “pro-Christians.”
See, it’s supposed to be about family. The good. The bad. The in-between.
Not about bells & whistles.
But make no mistake, when folks leave over a name change or free coffee or ball pits or the hipper-more-with-it or, well, anything short of theological agreement (and yes, people’s theological nuances can change–but those are always the easiest ones when they leave, because they usually explain that they’ve come to a different position and need to go to a church in line with current understandings)…
…just know you take a little piece of our hearts with you.
Because you do.