Friday, September 25, 2015

Convenience store mentality?

I read one author describing the problem of the church acting like a convenience store and Christians acting like customers at a convenience store instead of the Church and the members of Christ's body, the Church.  It is interesting.

...a customer drives to a convenience store, gets what he wants (gasoline, soda, cigarettes, etc.) and drives off as quickly as possible. That’s the whole point of a convenience store, isn’t it—to be convenient? Fill up as effortlessly as possible, and move on to what is really important.

Sadly, there is much truth that many believe the Church is there to serve them, to arrange worship times and other activities when it is deemed convenient for their schedule, and not to delay them unduly from their other activities (such as the proverbial 59.5 minute worship service that has become a sacred cow among some).

What would you do if at the convenience store, the clerk asked you to help stock the shelves, sweep the floor, take your turn at the register, open up in the morning or lock up at night, etc. Couldn’t you easily imagine yourself sputtering and say, “That’s not my job! That’s what I pay you for!” Then imagine that the clerk asks you to help promote that particular convenience store as well as the home office of the franchise. The clerk asks that you identify yourself to all the world as a proud devotee and ardent advocate of this convenience store brand. Would it be hard for you to imagine yourself running away from that shop and its crazy clerk? Would it be hard for you to imagine yourself bringing your business to a different store or even a different franchise, one that was less demanding? After all, the convenience store is meant be a convenience for you, not the center of your life!

Indeed, that is how many folks who think themselves Christian actually view the Church -- it is there for them but they take offense at the idea they have any real duty or obligation back.  The offering is often framed as payment for services rather than the acknowledgment that everything really belongs to God and that He is due the tithes and offerings of a grateful faith.  In the same analogy, the Pastor becomes the branch manager, to whom you owe complaints when things do not measure up and whose duty it is to serve you at your convenience.

We might spend a great deal of time exploring this perception of the Church as religious convenience store but I want to spend time on the role of the Pastor in all of this.  Nothing wearies and embitters clergy more than those who view the Church as convenience store.  Most pastors want to please people.  Most pastors want to accommodate people (as much as possible, anyway).  But it often seems like the more you do for the folks in your care, the more likely they are to view the whole thing in the one sided lens of a convenience store in which they are religious consumers.

I say this because part of the duty of the Pastor to the people of God is to challenge this idea -- as much for the benefit of God's people as for the health and well being of the clergy.  Our desire to be loved is often at the root of our willingness to abide the consumer mentality rather than challenge it.  The truth is we pastors often do not get why our people insist upon framing things in this way but we might very well carry part of the blame.  If our people are not catechized correctly, this consumer mentality will be the default position in how they view the Church and their part in it. 

The customer base has been dwindling year by year for decades. The last thing he needs is some upstart assistant manager to alienate the remaining customer base.  This is the problem with some denominational leaders.  We live in such fear of no clients or customers that we put pressure on the Pastor to do whatever the people think they need or want in order to satisfy the few who remain.  We stop preaching the Law and we stop teaching the inconvenient truth of faithful discipleship.  We mirror the world around us and watch other franchises to see what they are doing instead of paying attention to what the Lord would have us do.  In the end we end up all selling the same homogenized version of spiritual sentimentality and customer service instead of truth becomes the defining characteristic of success.

The Church will grow as God gives the growth as long as we are faithful in preaching, in teaching, and in administering the sacraments.  The people of God will discover discipleship when we stop confusing busyness with success (or faithfulness).  We do not need more full-service churches to meet the consumer needs of a convenience oriented culture.  We need more pastors and parishes who will worship faithfully, preach the truth of God's Word, teach doctrine, and love their neighbor honestly.


Rev. John Frahm said...

Of course, there is also the opposite threat to the doctrine of vocation that is infected with a protestant version of monasticism that you aren't serving God unless you are "active" in "church work" or some kind of "ministry" (all in the name of anti-clericalism, mind you). It is the idea that you aren't a proper Christian unless you stay for every coffee hour, join a committee, and are on the Christian "stage." This then becomes, "I think I have such and such gifts and you are obligated to let me use them in this way." Church participation becomes narcissistic modes of "self-expression" and expectation of self-affirmation. Steven Hein calls that "church yard piety."

Kirk Skeptic said...

@ Pr JF: there is a third problem, & that is the few in power on church committees and behind-the-scenes types keeping those who wish to be of service off of their precious turf to the point of abusiveness - gotta eliminate the competiition in our Darwinian marketplace world, you know. Funny how they do this while bellyaching about how they, the 20% of the church, have to do the work of the lazy 80%. Let's add "creative" worship directors who think the church to be their stage, pastors so busy massaging the egos of abovementioned 20%'ers that they have no time for their other sheep - unless there's a budget crunch, of course. Some of the loss of "customer base" may be due to being fed-up with dealing with the sons of Eli, etc. this is also what the world sees; remember those 3 fingers pointing back...