Congregants Not Consumers

I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of fellow pastors and friends who are involved with different churches around the country.  As we have shared our lives and ministries over the past several months we have found that there is much to learn from these difficult months.  It has been a longer journey than any of us has anticipated and because of that we have found that when we are taken by surprise we often react rather than choose to act.  Our reactions can be ugly and it is only by the grace of God that the Holy Spirit convicts us and gives us strength to act in the proper manner.  Our reaction often feel right to us and we can find ourselves defending those reactions and shutting our hearts down to what the Spirit wants to share with our hearts.  It is only as we humble ourselves that God allows us to truly see our hearts and gives us mercy to repent and change.

One area that I have noticed that is pretty constant with everyone I have spoken to is the struggle to remember that we are congregants and not consumers.  It is easy for us, when we have become isolated or find ourselves in great need, to begin to see the world as a place that is designed to serve us rather than a place for us to be able to serve.  God gave us gifts to serve and minister to others and when we allow our life situation to stop us from doing that it causes our hearts to become takers rather than givers.  We find ourselves demanding and harsh,  When we are focused on serving others we find that other fruits of the Spirit, such as patience, peace, and goodness, more easily flow from our spirits. When we act like consumers we will find that the opposite usually flows from our spirits.

Let me point a few contrasts that may help us as we battle to be congregants and not consumers. Congregants remember that the majority of those serving them are volunteers.  Consumers forget that and begin to treat those volunteers as incompetent handy men that they have hired.  Soon consumers begin to demand that we replace or fire these volunteers.  Congregants remember that these volunteers are also struggling through the same life situations that they are.  Consumers are unconcerned about the life stories of others and are only concerned about a job well done.  Congregants have their eyes wide open to how messy and complicated ministering to real people can be.  Consumers only see what the ideal should be.  Congregants draw alongside of those who are struggling to fulfill the mission that they volunteered to do.  Consumers move on to someone who is doing that mission better and can meet their needs in a better way.  Congregants see the holes in a ministry and seek to fill those holes.  Consumers simply point out the holes.  Congregants have a different standard of excellence than consumers.

I am not seeking to excuse lazy ministry that accepts doing things sloppily.  I have though, over the years, realized that volunteers have messy lives that often effect how they minister.  The answer to those messes is to have patience (always) and to draw alongside to help those overwhelmed by life or the ministry.  Pointing out flaws or sloppiness in a ministry can be a true act of love as we seek, as family, to fix what is broken.  We should find great joy in seeing someone who loves God, loves to serve others, and is faithfully working hard.  That is excellent.  God commends those who are good and faithful.  If they are struggling with ability to truly minister then we, as congregants, should provide them with the help they need or point them in the direction of another ministry that fits their gifts better.  With great patience and less murmmuring.

Covid has caught all of us by surprise.  We can all say, “Who would have thought that I would…”.  It is not a situation that we could have planned for.  I know in my life I have been tested in ways that I never would have imagined.  At times, we find ourselves reacting and not acting.  Thank the Lord that he loves us enough to be patient and to take the time to allow our hearts to open up to seeing what the Spirit wants to teach us.  Thank the Lord that he opens up our hearts.  Churches are not heaven.  We are messy places where, Lord willing, we learn and grow through difficult times.  We strive to do all things well while understanding that life often gets in the way.  We help rather than criticize.  We rejoice in faithfulness and goodness more than we do perfect ability.  We kick each other in the behinds when needed and we hug when that is needed.  We do not shine the light of Jesus into our community by our perfection but by our ability to love and work through our imperfections.  

I am just like you.  I hate when I mess up and do not do my job well.  I struggle when our volunteers are not fully vested in what they are doing.  I was once at a church that spoke often of doing things right.  The only problem was who got to define what right was.  It was very easy to destroy the very people who were striving to be good and faithful.  We strive to do all things well but not at the expense of people.  We do all of this together for his glory.

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