I feel like many Christians, at least many of the ones I’m around, are normal Americans that tend to feel just as cynically about Uncle Sam as the rest of the nation. I mean, the government is bloated, doesn’t know how to spend it’s money, caters to corporate lobbyists and special interest groups, and loses site of it’s true purpose in the midst of mountains of bureaucracy and red tape. I was thinking about all the things we have cooking in the oven for the next school year at BGSM and a thought dawned upon me: the church shares some scary similarities with the federal government.
A quick disclaimer: there is a reason I started writing these down and it has nothing to do with hating “the church” or suggesting that institutionalized churches are “bad”. Just like anything else man-made, the church as we have created it is subject for losing it’s way. Geez, just look at how many times Israel went astray and they freaking talked directly with God!!! When we talk, and sometimes laugh, about these issues together it helps us to keep our guard up and to make sure we are keeping our hearts and minds focused on what God really wants out of the institutions and ministries we support. It’s all about encouraging each other to work harder and serve better.
In no particular order…
1. We’re all here because we love [insert idea].
When you work for Uncle Sam, you start seeing the fine details of how government organizations run. Everyone in the Department of Homeland Security isn’t necessarily super interested in national security. Everyone who works for the military isn’t a stalwart patriot who joined purely for love of country and freedom. Everyone in the Department of Justice isn’t employed there because they love justice and equality. That’s not to say that all of those ideals aren’t a part of why those individuals work for those organizations; it just means there were multiple reasons for getting involved (some more legit than others).
You would be hard pressed to get even the most optimistic Christian to admit that everyone running a ministry, serving as a staff member, or participating in a big event is there solely for the glory of God. Sometimes politicians sit in ministry positions to be seen and to pad their resume with community activity. Sometimes young go-getters want to serve in positions to help posture for more influential roles in the future. Sometimes long-time members get involved with committees and boards to prevent some kind of perceived “threat of change”. It doesn’t happen all the time and there is nothing wrong about being a politician or being a go-getter or being a long-time member. When it becomes a problem is when our own agendas supersede the true function of that organization or group within the church. When my passion to become a “senior decision maker” becomes more important than my passion to serve as a deacon or a trustee or anything else, that is when I need to stop and reflect on what I’m really doing and who I’m really doing it for.
When I think I want to do something for the church, I’ve found myself repeating what it is I want to do and adding the words “for Jesus” at the end. If it sounds hilarious, then it’s probably not just “for Jesus”.
“I want to make sure to put an announcement up about my fundraiser before the women’s group has a chance to hit up the congregation for their ministry…………..for Jesus.” See what I mean?
2. We’re all on the same team.
Working for the federal government in my daytime job has made me painfully aware of the little fiefdoms that exist all over the government. Really, it exists in any huge company or organization. You will have Department A and Department B who have work groups that do almost the exact same thing but neither want to merge or work with the other because it would mess up their little community. What makes it worse is when one group could legitimately help the other, but they still don’t play nice. That’s just insane! Aren’t they all serving the same nation? Trying to advance freedom and culture in our great nation? Well… sort of. They may be on the same team, but within the team there are many “squads” all competing for starting positions.
Sometimes the church can act the exact same way. I don’t think I’m shocking anyone to suggest churches sometimes compete with each other.
Let’s all mentally raise our hands if you’ve ever been a part of or been present when someone has one of those conversations about what OUR church should do because of something another church did? If your hand isn’t raised, the how about you raise your hand if you’ve ever been around to hear not-so-flattering discussion about what another church recently said or did? Just so you know, my hand is raised and I have probably been one of the worst offenders! This whole “a church on every corner” thing is just tearing the global church apart. We organize along lines based on culture, color, heritage, and theological differences which has resulted in a lot of fracturing in the global church. Along with that fracturing comes competition and misunderstanding. I remember going to a baptist church and making the sign of the cross after I received communion (an old habit from my Lutheran days). I seriously had 5 people approach me afterwards to tell me why I shouldn’t do that and how that’s what “other churches” do. So what? Seriously. Aren’t we on the same team? If I’m not being a “stumbling block” to your worship, why should it matter if I’m a Baptist in the area and attend your Episcopal church or if I’m Roman Catholic and attend your Wesleyan church. Aren’t we all on the same team? Unfortunately, sometimes we mess church up by forming our own little “squads” and we compete with other “squads” for starting positions in God’s team. We want to have the best service or the best VBS or the best camp and if someone else asks us to support their event, we all know there is this tiny part of us going “well… I don’t want to make their function the talk of the town when we could do better!”
Again, I’m sure that none of us reading this blog are guilty of such horrible behavior. Oh and if you hear a *clink* sound, don’t be alarmed; that’s just the collective sound of all of our noses hitting our computer screens.
3. Our top priority is supporting our true mission.
Of course in the federal government, every employee or support contractor I run into is focused on results over process. I’ve never seen someone so wrapped up in procedure that they completely ruined the chances of me actually getting my job done. *clink* [There goes my nose smacking into the monitor again.] Probably the biggest hallmark of government work is the mounds and mounds of red tape associated with getting everything done. I had a test for a project several years ago that required no less than a dozen signatures, but the command at the base gave us only 1 day to get our testing done. The team lead and I drove all around central Virginia to these people’s homes to get their signatures because we knew that the “process” normally took about a week. If we had just let the system do it’s thing, our testing schedule would have been completely shot. The government would have complied with their “process” but done absolutely nothing to advance defense of the nation. Good job, Uncle Sam.
I’ll ask another hand-raising question: who has ever been a part of a group or wanted to accomplish something in the church but was delayed or completely derailed because of forms, policies, or church politics? Could it be that the church sometimes puts it’s own process on a higher pedestal than their mission as a body of believers? Say it ain’t so! Yes, sometimes even the church gets a little wrapped up in it’s own bylaws and committees as a result hurts itself and it’s members.
I will share this one anecdote from my church [because frankly it wasn’t that big of a deal and the church made it right in the end]. Our church has the policy of holding a new visitor’s membership request over until the next business meeting at which time we vote on whether to accept them as a member. [I have theological reservations about this model but… whatever.] The husband of a fairly active mother decided to follow his family’s lead and join the church as a formal member. Awesome, right? Unfortunately when the business meeting came around, the church didn’t have enough of the members to have a quorum. In other words, we didn’t have enough members to vote on anything according to our own bylaws. So now you have someone who wants to become a part of a church body but is being told he can’t join because we didn’t have enough people to vote?! I mean, I “get it”, but that was possibly the dumbest thing I had seen in a church since reaching what the legal system calls adulthood. Luckily a few phone calls boosted our numbers and his membership went through. I have a lot more faith in the people in my church than to believe they would have left that evening without voting on this man’s membership, but for a moment I found myself frustrated that we had seemed to forget that the priority is God’s mission, not following Robert’s Rules of Order.
Wrapping things up…
That last story becomes really important because it highlights the danger in making the church what we think it should be rather than what God wants it to be. God doesn’t need an Uncle Sam … or Uncle Saint Paul…. or Uncle Benedict? Uncle…… Graham? [I was going to put “Uncle Olsteen” but thought Billy Graham was less controversial.] God wants a unified body of believers that has a firm understanding of working towards the same common goal and is careful to avoid putting their own constructs ahead of God’s work. In Ephesians, Paul writes…
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
God doesn’t want the appearance of unity; He requires all the functionality of unity with Christ acting as the head. As soon as we lose sight of what God wants for our church, we lose our purpose. What good is a church without purpose?
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)