A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Church Or Social Service Agency: Why I Don't Care

Ever feel like you are speaking a different language from nearly everyone around you?  I often feel this way.  Where I most often feel this way is within the church.  Usually this either perplexes me or makes me feel angry and a sense of loneliness descends like a heavy wet blanket.  Recently, however, it occurred to me it is possible I am simply not being clear enough.  Maybe too much of the dialogue goes on inside my own head.  I am not extremely good at thinking quickly and often I am most successful at saying what I want to say while talking to myself on the way home.  

So, let me be clear: I think the Christian church in the United States has sold out to the ways of the world.  I understand the church is shrinking if not dying and I think our hope lies in recalling who we are as followers of Jesus.  I believe this means working for justice and serving “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40 and 45)  My suspicion and my own personal longing is this will mean radical transformation of what it means to be church.  No longer will we be about worship while occasionally engaging in social service to appease our conscience.  Rather our center will be following Jesus by loving our neighbors, fighting for justice, and serving those in need.  We will worship in order to feed our souls, strengthening us for service.

The most common response I hear to this idea is the question, “Then how would we be different from merely a social service agency?”  First of all, if our worship and our buildings are the only ways we are decipherable from a social service agency this confirms my above point: we have sold out to the ways of the world.  I am not talking about selling out to the world in some personal morality, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, sex and drugs are everywhere sort of a way.  What I am talking about is much larger and, too me, much more tragic.  I am talking about supporting systems which benefit the rich and disregard the poor.  I am talking about standing aside and doing nothing to fight injustice for fear of appearing unpatriotic.  I am talking about buying in to the priorities of the world instead of the priorities of God.  As one very small example: how different are church meetings from any other meetings we might attend?  Jesus continually turned the ways of the world upside down.  Jesus said, “The last will be first and the first will be last." (Matthew 20:16) The ways of the world say the first shall be first a billion times over.  Consider who leads, who speaks, and who is even present in our churches.  Not as different from the world as one might hope.   In more extreme cases being a good church member becomes indistinguishable from being a good capitalistic patriot, aside from worship attendance. 

So, if we have indeed sold out to the ways of the world, it is no wonder we might be concerned serving the poor will make us indecipherable from a social service agency.  Which leads me to my second point: why should I bloody well care?!?!  Are we advertisers for Jesus or followers of Jesus?  The church has become little more than a failed advertising campaign.  We think our highest calling is to evangelism and then we turn evangelism into convincing people to buy our product i.e. convincing them to donate money for the honor of putting their butts in our pews.  We call it sharing the “Good News” but what good news are we sharing?  The “good news” God doesn’t care about your life but only about your soul?  The “good news” church attendance is more important than starving children? 

I believe following Jesus means serving the least of these.  If how others perceive us (just another social service agency) gets in the way of following Jesus something has gone seriously wrong.  

I realize not all churches fit all of the above descriptions and some do know our allegiance should be to Jesus and not the flag.  Yet I have looked and looked for a church putting service to “the least of these” at the heart of what they do.  Rather I find little but institutions of worship and/or evangelism who occasionally do service.  I long for something more.   

Do any of you long for something more?  Do you think church has sold out to the ways of the world?  Do you know of places where service is the center of church?  How is following Jesus different from being a good capitalistic patriot?

BTW, I am currently reading "The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus" by Robin Meyers.  I highly recommend it, especially if you would like to read more about the church selling out to society or he usually phrases it as "the empire."

by Sheri Ellwood


Krysti said...

Sherri~This has been a major discussion in my life lately with people that I love. I am reading "Not a Fan" ~ Kyle Idleman The basis for the book is "are you a follwer or a fan?" In it he discribes the difference of the two very well. I too belive that the Church was put together as a support system, the early church had to hide to meet together and the main reason to meet was to encouage each other and to break bread in rememberance of who they were serving...Jesus. I have searched and searched through the new testament in search of an example of a worship service...guess what I found...Nada...yep that's it nothing...what we do in worship today was created by men...well meaning and well intentioned men but men or women in some cases. So then I had to ask myself, are we doing anything wrong by coming to a building on Sunday's, in between class and worship as we reshash football games and drink our coffee are we dishonoring the apostles and what they fought for? In our outreach are we trying to "sell Jesus" to folks so they will want to come to "our" church? I have to say No to all of the above...I had to stop and ask myself...if there is a need that our group knows about do we try as a group to fullfill it...yes. Do we follow the Bible and it's teachings the best that we can...yes I believe that we do. Our congregation is small but it has always been small yet we have touched many lives and many lives have been blessed because God see's a need for a Church in Windom Kansas, if he didn't it probably wouldn't still be there. I get and totally agree we should be doing more, sometimes I really don't know how that can be accomplished but I do think it is by the "Church" not Methodist's, Catholics, Lutherons...the list goes on but the people...not the name on the building.The people have to pool our strengths and gifts...God given gifts to do the things that you are talking about...feed and cloth the poor, by all the diapers out of wal-mart and send it to Hope House our Women's shelters, or emergency shelters or put roof's on homes or sit in someone's living room and give them a hug and all of the other needs that I did not list. Unfortunately 2 things stand in our way in my opinion. 1: Where we live, we are sheltered from a lot of it and don't see much of a need in Windom or Little River for such action. 2: We would then have to put our differences aside, which is'nt that why denomomonation's exist in the first place and so many of them and not to mention all of the nondenominational chruches there are all over the world...we can't get along as a "Church"? Just 1 Chruch? If we did that it might mean that none of our man made rules don't really matter and we simply couldn't have that happen.
Sherri-I appreciate you and your writings...we have more in common than you think. Love ya! Have a good week! Krysti

Sheri Ellwood said...

Krysti, your comment means so much to me! Thanks for taking the time to ponder things with an open mind. Your thought fulness and kindness mean a lot. The church does some good things. I just think we could be so much more.