Sunday, January 22, 2012

What if this were really done?

Consider this news story which my wife forwarded to my inbox this morning:

Mega-church downsizes, cuts non-essential members

WINSTON-SALEM — Julie and Bob Clark were stunned to receive a letter from their church in July asking them to “participate in the life of the church” — or worship elsewhere.

“They basically called us freeloaders,” says Julie.

“We were freeloaders,” says Bob.

In a trend that may signal rough times for wallflower Christians, bellwether mega-church Faith Community of Winston-Salem has asked “non-participating members” to stop attending.

“No more Mr. Nice Church,” says the executive pastor, newly hired from Cingular Wireless. “Bigger is not always better. Providing free services indefinitely to complacent Christians is not our mission.”

“Freeloading” Christians were straining the church’s nursery and facility resources and harming the church’s ability to reach the lost, says the pastor.

“When your bottom line is saving souls, you get impatient with people who interfere with that goal,” he says.

Faith Community sent polite but firm letters to families who attend church services and “freebie events” but never volunteer, never tithe and do not belong to a small group or other ministry. The church estimates that of its 8,000 regular attendees, only half have volunteered in the past 3 years, and a third have never given to the church.

“Before now, we made people feel comfortable and welcome, and tried to coax them to give a little something in return,” says a staff member. “That’s changed. We’re done being the community nanny.”

Surprisingly, the move to dis-invite people has drawn positive response from men in the community who like the idea of an in-your-face church.

“I thought, ‘A church that doesn’t allow wussies — that rocks,’” says Bob Clark, who admires the church more since they told him to get lost.

He and Julie are now tithing and volunteering. “We’ve taken our place in church life,” he says. •

Now, before you let out gasps of disbelief or give a cheery "right-on", this is satire. This never happened. I actually had to have my wife tell me that after I read it; so if you fell for it as fact, you're not the only one.

But, what if this were really the case? What if a church decided to tell members who did not show up or tithe or volunteer or any combination of other things that they should go somewhere else where there apathy may be more appreciated? Frankly, I doubt any church really reaches out by saying "Are you apathetic or just lazy? You're welcome here."

Christianity is not a do ut des religion unlike the religions of ancient Rome and Greece. There, the creed was "I give so you give." Tit for tat; quid pro quo. Christ said "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." He did NOT say "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest provided you come to church regularly on Sundays (that's the day of my Resurrection; we'll get to that later) and contribute 10% of your income to the needs of the church all while going out and making disciples of all nations and leading a small group Bible study (what's a Bible? We'll get to that in a few hundred years)." Reductio ad absurdum, I know. We all talk of the need for church workers, but those are few, though many are called.

Instead, I think we have great need for church resters. These are the people that maybe come to church only 2 times a month if not less or maybe only for Nativity and Pascha. They don't participate in many ministries and may contribute significantly less money to the operating costs of the church than anyone else. But, they are there. They hear the Word and receive the Lord Himself in the Eucharist. And rather than work for a church sponsored ministry, they work for the greatest job one can ever have in the spiritual life--working for their own salvation with fear and trembling, as St. Paul wrote.

Yes, we want people who call their church a home to work to maintain it. You don't buy your own house to have guests come and clean it (though some do). What's more important is that the house be filled as Christ reminds us in his parable. Excuses aside, Christ wants his Church, his banquet table to be filled and never at a price save for love of Him. And that never costs a cent.

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