Thursday, November 12, 2015

Real "Church" Is Not a Personal Need-Meeting Machine

I'm reading Making Peace, a book on resolving church conflict, by Jim Van Yperen. (Thank you Don Follis for this recommendation.) There's a lot of good, sound, biblical wisdom in this text. Here's something that just captured me.

Some churches focus on meeting the individual needs of people as their raison d-etre, as their way of life. Everything gets oriented towards this. This, says Van Yperen, is a mistake, and will make solving conflict more difficult. He writes:

"In many churches, the remedy for conflict often makes it worse, deepening the problem by failing to address the fundamental issue: We are trusting our ways more than God’s. All individualism leads to consumerism. When self is center, the world exists to meet one’s personal needs. “Hey, I’m entitled to this!” A culture of consumerism will always value individual needs above community life. “You’re important to me so long as you serve my needs.” When a church focuses on meeting the needs of individuals, Jesus and the Bible become a personal, need-meeting machine. The church becomes a collection of individuals who are fundamentally at competition with one another—competing to have their needs met. Here, the Gospel becomes a commodity distributed by supply and demand. Since no church can meet all the needs, ultimately one set of needs must be placed against the other. When this happens, staff and members will compete to make a case for how and why their needs are greater than others.... [T]he church becomes divided into interest groups or coalitions formed by age and individual preference." (30)

Real "church" is not some objectively existing institution that is "out there" and "apart from you" that is for the purpose of "meeting your needs." In the real thing you are the church, and real "church" is a people movement that exists for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in its intersection with the world. Real church is essentially outward-and-other-centered. As that happens the real, deep needs of our hearts are satisfied.

The solution to church conflict is not to begin more special interest groups in the attempt to "meet everybody's needs." If the conflict ionvolves "worship wars" the answer is not to start different worship servies with different styles of worship. These "solutions" come out of a root misunderstanding of "church"; they are grounded in a false worldview. 

Van Yperen writes: "The church becomes a shopping center where we pick and choose what is good for us. We are not a community being formed by God’s Word and Spirit. We are individuals shaping ourselves. This strips the Gospel of its power—leaving people in their selfish individualism rather than inviting them into a transforming community of faith." (31)