This year our church taught a series entitled “Something Bigger than Me.” It got me thinking about the western church. It occurs to me that the church historically has grown the most under times of persecution. Though it seems counter-intuitive, we seem to grow under strain. Our character and our church are rather like a muscle. If we are worked and pushed harder, we grow and strengthen. When we all pull and push together amazing things can happen. If we are left to our own comfort and leisure, we atrophy and weaken. The progress is slow in both directions, but assured none-the-less. Most everyone knows this already, but somehow we still lean toward leisure when given the choice. We naturally pull away from strain or stress and move toward comfort at every turn even when we know it isn’t what’s best for us. We have the sickness of “self” and really, it’s a very old idolatry problem. We need no golden calves. We are our own idols and we sit on the thrones of our hearts ruling them with one central tenet – My will be done.
However, there is one thing that tends to inspire us to action; one thing which moves us away from our own desires and toward service and sacrifice. We need a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves. It is almost as if a remnant of our creator rests deep within our centers and recalling and/or witnessing someone make a great sacrifice stirs it from its slumber. Deep inside we know we are made for more than ourselves. The life of Christ, and certainly his crucifixion, stand as the greatest examples of personal sacrifice and service. The Bible records, in no less than three places, that he came not to be served “but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6).
Now the big question – Why do we not follow suit? Have we lost sight of Jesus’ example? Is this the reason for the decline of the church? My contention is that there are many reasons for it, but we can be certain that this pull toward consumerism and comfort explains an awful lot. It seems low expectations, anonymity and lack of commitment are the order of the day.
Far too often, we have been guilty of seeking churches for ourselves that ask very little of us. Discipleship is the one thing Christ told us to be busy pursuing, but discipleship means following Christ and that always leads us to a cross. The cross is neither convenient nor comfortable and so, tragically, it remains decidedly unpopular. Christ came to die and so must we. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, NLT)
We want to be free from messy relationships, so we don’t bother to know or be known by others. We easily talk ourselves out of time with the body of Christ in favor of something else. “Besides”, we reason, “no one will really miss us.” We have abandoned being a part of the Body of Christ in favor of some sort of personal and private version of “faith.” Apart from the body you will not be cared for or discipled. Still, many think it’s worthwhile to stay detached. The fringe benefit, of course, is that anonymity makes it much easier to leave a church for any reason what-so-ever and zero accountability.
We quit far too easily. Faithfulness and commitment seem like quaint ideas that cost far too much. Rather than building the church we’d rather go somewhere it is already “built”, somewhere easier where pushing and praying can be replaced with simply partaking. If difficulties or disagreements occur, we simply hop to a new church or quit altogether.
We must remember that it is godly relationships, perseverance and commitment which bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and inspire others. Without them, we tend to gravitate inward. Under this inward and selfish focus, our gaze is not on Christ, it is on ourselves and that is far from inspiring. It all comes down to consumerism. I believe it feeds the previous issues because it is a pre-existing mindset. It colors everything with unhealthy expectations. The expectation is that church is for you. Not surprisingly we have got it backwards. The church is not primarily for us. It is for God. It is His bride. The church really should be the death of “me”. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
We have a habit of settling for far less than God has planned for us, all in the name of comfort and convenience. Please, don’t settle. Set your sights much higher. A pastor’s job is to equip you for works of the ministry, not merely entertain you. In seeking our own comfort and view point we very often get it, and sadly, find it wanting. You and I were meant for more. We are to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-21) joining with Christ and the Holy Spirit on a grand mission. Now, that’s big! God has offered us a life of richness and reward. It is a life which truly matters, a life with eternal implications. And what’s more, the world is watching. It is inspired as it witnesses us forget ourselves as we serve without hesitation, forgive without reservation and persevere through hardships and setbacks. This is the love, unity and purpose which changed believers into disciples of Christ and drew the world to the early church.
Chapter 12 of Hebrews encourages us to fix our gaze on Christ. He came to serve, not be served. Let us adopt his attitude and do likewise. He told us to lose our life, and in the process, we will save it (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). Oh, that we would save that life. As the selfless church rises from the ashes of consumerism, the gates of hell stand no chance. May He help all of us remember that our true purpose is found in this incredible miracle of God’s economy – When we pour ourselves out in His worthy cause, we somehow are filled in the process. Don’t just become a convert and consume. Be transformed, push forward and knock down the gates of Hell.