Church: it’s not about having it your way

Kimberly Sweeney

There is an old commercial jingle that has been stuck in my head for way too long. I really don’t know how it even got in there in the the first place since it came out before I was born, but there it is. Rattling around inside my head at least once a day, usually brought on by particular conversations or reading any number of threads on Facebook.

To be fair, most of the conversations I’m having and most of the Facebook threads I’ve been reading have been of one general topic: the future of faith formation, or just the future of Church. Period.

The part of the conversation that cues up the music in my head is when the case for changing the “way we’ve always done it” is met with a litany of reasons, excuses, explanations, warnings etc. that changing X,Y or Z is not what some people want. Sometimes “some people” means parents of young children. Sometimes “some people” means older adults without children. Sometimes “some people” means white members accostomed to being part of a dominant culture.

Friends, I gotta ask: when did the mission of church become getting what you want? I did some time in Catholic school and am a credentialed religious educator, and I have to say, I have never seen the mission of any church of any particular denomination to be to make the people happy and give them what they want. Why? Because church isn’t Burger King. Have a listen:

Church is not the place to go to have everything just the way you want it. Church is being subsumed by these consumerist expectations from our members, sometimes forgetting altogether that the mission is not people pleasing. For starters, that would be an impossible mission. I have two daughters and it never seems to fail that when I ask a question like “what would you like for dinner?” They have 2 polar opposite responses. When one is hot the other is cold. When one is tired the other has a burst of energy. One loves summer while the other hates the sun. One loves singing in church, the other can’t stand old hymns.

I see the same exact thing happen when we ask questions of our congregants. ESPECIALLY in surveys. It became humorous and frustrating after a while, but after hosting a big event and sending out participant surveys afterward, people would comment about how wonderful the food was, and the next respondent would say how terrible it was. While one person will say that the workshop or event was too long, the other will say it was too short. Every. Single. Time.

YOU CANNOT PLEASE ALL THE PEOPLE. And when you try to make everyone happy, when that becomes the unspoken main motivation behind our work, we end up perpetuating the consumer oriented model of church.

It may have beer relatively easy to slip into this consumer mindest over the past few decades, but it will take a truck load of intention to refocus our ministries on the mission of the church, and not the preferences of the people. This is what will set your church apart from any other community group or country club. Church is work. Worship is work. Being in community with people who don’t look like you, act like you, think like you, or worship the way you do is work. Being in Beloved Community is about a mission of inclusion and justice for all people, not the appeasement or preferences of some.

The next time find yourself in a conversation or Facebook thread about any manner of topics involving changing the way “we’ve always done it,” ask yourself if this is a conversation about mission or preference. Because at the end of the day, the mission of the church really isn’t about made to order Whoppers or “meeting your needs.” It’s about so much more than that.

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