Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's Wrong With Church - Club Mentality

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I've spent far too much time shaking my head at the actions of church members. I've heard far too many stories of the most unchristian responses from supposedly Christian individuals. Certainly we're all sinners and can't be expected to behave as we should every time, but often that is simply an excuse for not seeking to do as Christ has taught. It's a cop out. And I see it done primarily in those people who view their church as a club.

What do I mean by that? I mean those churches who guard their traditions and their people from all who might change something and have little regard for others outside of their own sanctuary. A church where one must be an accepted part of the group or else face virtual shunning. I'm sure you know about them. I could show you a small church where the pastor would bring visitors on Sunday only to have them virtually ignored for the better part of two hours by the spiritually negligent. Why were these folks ignored? They were different. They wouldn't fit in. They're not "one of us" -- meaning they aren't going to be allowed to become "one of us" at any cost.

I myself have visited a large church where not one person spoke to me during my entire time on church property. Why not? Certainly I must be with someone else. I wasn't part of the crowd they usually talked and visited with. I wasn't recognized. I wasn't part of the club. Although it's easiest to detect in small churches, this club mentality is very much alive within any sized congregation -- even house churches or small groups. One such group that I was a part of got a bit big, but refused to split in half for fear of losing what they already had. They didn't want to give up the club. I'll admit that I didn't want to give it up either, but I was willing to do it. I may have been the only one.

Some of the freakiest people on earth are church people. In a fellowship where people are to be loving God with all they have and loving their neighbor as themselves, far too many people never move beyond the "loving themselves" part. Or maybe the person who has sat in the next pew for the past twenty years. That attitude doesn't make sense. Either they are not paying attention, or they simply refuse to believe that any of that stuff the preacher is rattling off actually applies to them!
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Dana Carvey skewered these people on Saturday Night Live years ago when he invented the character known as The Church Lady. Carvey said that he got the idea for the character remembering how some of the old ladies acted at the church he attended while growing up. They were all sweet and lovely one moment but could turn and be acidic and judgmental the next. If you were a part of the "club", you would be welcomed and fawned over -- provided you didn't cause any trouble. Step out of line or disagree with anything and the fangs and claws were brought out. And watch out for that "superior dance."

The stories are numerous. Churches splitting over the color of the carpeting or pastors being fired for altering the order of service. Importance is put on the club and its traditions. "We've always done it this way," is one of the church's most frequently used justifications. Never mind if the ministry doesn't work or if the tradition gets in the way of serving Christ, just don't change anything! The thought is often expressed, "Why can't they just do things our way?" instead of considering that "our way" isn't doing anybody any good. The thought that God could be honored by a three-hour charismatic service AND a 60-minute traditional service AND a down-home prayer meetin' AND a high church liturgical service would never even occur to most club members. It's "my way" or the highway -- the one paved with good intentions.

What is it that turns a group of Christian believers looking to serve Jesus Christ into a club looking only to perpetuate itself? Losing connection with the Head. There are countless buildings, less-than-half-full of people, who claim the name of Christ but only on their own terms. The charge to serve others is lost upon them, except when "others" refers to people they accept. Picture the priest and the Levite stepping over the poor bleeding robbery victim and you'll see more clearly. "I'm late to get to the Temple," or "I don't want to get blood on my good clothes" doesn't cut it as an excuse when we're dealing with those who need help. Their solution is to tell the victim to turn his life around and "do things like we do in our church... only do it in somebody else's church."

I know I'm being hard on these folks. I'm probably exaggerating a little, but somehow I doubt that. These folks make me maddest of all. These are the people taking God's name in vain -- dragging His name through the mud -- all because they don't want to be moved from their comfort zone. I've read many times in the Bible where God says He will comfort us, but I don't read where we are supposed to get comfortable. That's when we get stagnant. And stagnant stinks. Sadder still, these clubs pass this odoriferous mentality on for as long as the club doors can remain open. The result is that these people miss the point of what Jesus Christ is all about.

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Up Next: Glory Thieves


jenn said...

It is for this very reason that I am afraid to join any church.

John B said...

Ed wrote: The thought that God could be honored by a three-hour charismatic service AND a 60-minute traditional service AND a down-home prayer meetin' AND a high church liturgical service would never even occur to most club members.

I agree with everything you said in the posting and also get frustrated beyond words at times when I see church people act in very inhospitable ways. However, to be nitpicky I don't think that church members question whether or not God can be worshipped in various ways. I think that all but the most diehard traditionists would agree that there is more than one proper way to worship. It's just that they think, there's only one proper way to worship in OUR church.

Forgetting that it isn't their church at all, it's Christ's. And it's forgetting that which leads to the club mentality you describe.

rev-ed said...

jenn - don't let this attitude make you afraid of the church. Although I'm sure there are people with this mindset in most churches, there are many churches who are not run this way. And while all churches have problems (because we allow people in them), trying to do it on your own can cause even more problems.

I'll get into all this in more detail later in the series.

and then Life happened said...

I liked this quote from, The Way of Jesus-A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wonderers~by Jonathan and Jennifer Campbell.

"The problem with the church is not that it’s out of touch with the culture, but that it is out of touch with Jesus. Our powerless ecclesiology (understanding of church) reflects our powerless Christology (understanding of Jesus). We know about Jesus without experiencing Jesus." (p. 99)

Richard :)

julie said...

I have a friend who donated a pool table to his church.
While he was setting it up in the 'fellowship hall' people got very uptight about a pool table in church. They said it might bring "whores and drunks". My friend said he hoped so. They thought he was kidding.
If churchs are not ready to welcome the whores and drunks, what does that say about the transformation we peddle?
Bring on the whores and drunks. I'll confess my indulgence in other areas. Then we can together take all the fallenness to Jesus!

(Sorry for the soap box. This topic makes me sick.)

rev-ed said...

I'll follow julie's story with this one I heard.

A church in a small town wanted to begin a new outreach to the kids in the town with no church home. The pastor laid out some expense money, they rounded up some equipment and started signing up kids so they knew about how many to expect. Twenty kids signed up -- a fantastic turnout for the area.

There were a few small hurdles to jump getting things ready and at a board meeting, one old guy stood up and said, "What do we want to deal with twenty more problems for?"

While stories like these are numerous, we often forget about the many others who "get it" like those who worked so hard to get that kids' ministry set up and twenty kids committed in the first place. There are horror stories about church members galore, but that doesn't mean every Christian needs fixing. It means something must be done about those who don't "get it".

A Human Bean said...

What you have described is not a church. It is a playground of overindulgent egocentric humans. Unfortunately, many of them are called churches and waste a lot of tithe money, but they are not real churches.

Carol said...

There is great danger in expecting any group of humans to get it all right. That's just a sad fact. Two of us may enter the same church on the same day and one of us may be welcomed warmly while the other is ignored. It may be that God intended one of us to be adopted into the church family and the other to continue to look for a church home. It may be that one of us should purpose to set a better example. It may be that He wants us both there, but one of us needs to learn a lesson about extending grace to the graceless and love to the unlovely.

Weren't the disciples critical of some of Christ's displays of love?

I am totally enjoying your series, Ed. I see a very common thread in each of these posts so far; the church is made up of fallible people. What is it my mother used to say? "The church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners."

Amanda said...

This perspective is so true, but so sad! I wish the church would learn how to be a church. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to heal the sick. The church seems to have lost sight of that.

rev-ed said...

Not all churches, mandi. And not even all people within the not-so-great churches. By the same token, some of those clubs wouldn't let Jesus in...

I hope you read the rest of the series and get the whole picture.