Our consumer-oriented culture has trained us to think choosing a church is like picking a cell phone plan: find the one that meets all my needs while offering me the best “deal.” But choosing a church is not like picking a cell phone plan or new car or restaurant or movie or television show.
It is one thing to switch from Coke to Pepsi because one of the two happens to be on sale, but quite another when we leave a church simply because one down the street has a better coffee bar in the foyer. In other words, choosing a church should be primarily “a matter of theology.” This requires a whole new way of thinking. A consumer-oriented mindset by definition holds weak loyalties to any one thing. The consumer mind must be ready to move quickly to the latest best deal or new thing. The theologically-oriented mindset is strongly tied to foundational doctrines and is not easily moved. The former is fickle and mobile; the latter is committed and grounded.
So how do we begin to treat church unlike the way we determine what coffee to buy at The Woods?
- Recognize the consumer orientation of American culture. See it for what it is and don’t pretend we’re not living within it. Instead, we must learn to not be conformed to this world (cf. Romans 12:1-2). The best way to do this is to “set our minds on things above” (cf. Colossians 3:1-4) through consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship with other believers. But it also requires shunning many of the fallen habits of the world. Discernment is needed.
- Resolve to find a church based on matters of first rather than secondary importance. For example, what does the church believe about the gospel? The Bible? God? Christ? The Holy Spirit? Church leadership? How these questions are answered should be what drives us to a particular local church not how good the potlucks are on a given night (as important as that is!).
- Persevere in your local church. The consumer will not endure faulty products. But the Christian is not called to a product, but to Christ and His church. And churches are flawed. Why? Because they’re full of people like us–people being sanctified. As the apostle said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” (Philippians 3:12). Indeed, we are a work in progress so love, gentleness, forebearance, forgiveness, patience, kindness, etc. must be what marks us as we learn to live together in local fellowship.
More could be said, but I am convinced that we have a tremendous opportunity to get the attention of our market-driven, consumer-oriented culture by modeling the very opposite behavior when it comes to church. When fickleness is the norm deep commitment will stand out like a shining star on a clear night. When those people close to us see this devotion they may even ask why–with all its flaws–we stay committed to our local church. And when that question comes I pray we will have a reason far more powerful than, “We like the music on Sunday mornings.” No, let us say, “The gospel is preached and lived out there. Why would I go anywhere else?”