A year and a half ago I wrote about a long standing concern of mine that many believers display a sense of entitlement when it comes to the church. Many, it seems, cannot lay aside their personal preferences and desires and focus on Christ and follow the pattern He set forth in the New Testament. Every week, all across the nation a great number of people enter worship services only to focus on themselves for the next hour.
Allen Raynor Weblog: “The ‘Country Club’ Church
(Jan. 26, 2016)
For many years I have often heard the non-flattering comparison made between some churches and “country clubs.” I did not quite understand the link early on, but I have come to appreciate what people mean when they make the comparison. We live in a consumer-driven world and an unmistakable consumer-driven way of thinking has poured into the church of the Lord Jesus like a flood. This mind-set is now driving much of what the church does and how it does it.
The majority of people have never been a member of an exclusive country club and probably only know vaguely as to how it operates and what it offers. I browsed the websites of several country clubs and found overwhelming consistency on a few key things. Annual memberships seemed to run in the 2 or 3 thousand dollar range with packages offering extra perks and benefits costing even more. They offer quality and abundance of the things they believe people desire. These include such things as golf, tennis, racquetball, aerobics, yoga, swimming, fitness classes and equipment, banquet halls, fine dining, etc. A direct quote from one country club’s website extends the invitation to “Become a member and enjoy the benefits membership has to offer.” Another website offers as their mission statement: “It’s our mission to provide a tradition rich, outstanding private country club known for the quality of its membership and for service that exceeds expectations.” I do not know of any particular church that is so bold as to adopt, word for word, as its mission statement the one used by this particular country club, but it seems to be widely implied across the church landscape of our consumer driven nation. In fact, if you removed the words “private country club,” and substituted the word “church,” many churches in America would be comfortable adopting this as their mission statement. It would then read “It’s our mission to provide a tradition rich, outstanding church known for the quality of its membership and for service that exceeds expectations.”
Recently I read a post on facebook by a gentleman who had visited a church. He mentioned he had been looking for a church change for a long time. He referred to the church he had recently visited and was complimentary of the music, friendliness, and overall environment. He made no reference to the preaching or beliefs of the church. Not to imply any of it was necessarily bad, but it is interesting that the things which were mentioned by him would be the things that had the most appeal to the flesh. It would be the things that might also draw someone to a country club with all its amenities. Somewhere along the line many believers have drifted from internalizing Christ’s Words “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mat. 16:24)
One of the most frequent words I encountered in my browsing of the country club websites was the word “amenity.” Webster’s defines it as “The quality of being pleasant or agreeable; something that conduces to comfort, convenience, or enjoyment.” Most churches do things that lead to their further comfort and enjoyment. One positive exception came early in my years of pastoral ministry. In the late 1990s a tornado ravaged a nearby community and we were discussing, in a church business session, how much money we could/should send to help out. We were a small church with limited resources. Our church was in process of having our church pews re-upholstered at the time. A man spoke up and suggested rather pointedly that we should send at least as much money to the tornado relief as we were spending on cushions for our seats. The church could not argue with that challenge, so we sent an equal amount which was around 3 thousand dollars. The two expenditures used up about 2/3 of the money we had in the bank, but we never missed it. I have thought about that many times over the years as I have thought about the attitude churches should have as they fulfill their purpose and mission before the eyes of God. Our attitude should be the exact opposite of the “country club” mindset.
If it is about you, you may not be willing to settle for less than what you think you deserve when it comes to the overall church experience. Many church goers are like rude patrons in a restaurant expecting top quality food and service for their money. But if you are a Christian, you are still a Christian in that restaurant and even though you are not the waiter or waitress whose job it is to serve, it is your very purpose/mission to serve them. It is an exponentially higher calling. When we go to our church, or when we visit another church we need to be constantly looking for ways to help/serve rather than ways to be consumers of amenities. We desperately need to follow the Lord’s example. “The Son of Man did not come to be served; but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mat. 20:28)
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor