Another Pastor whom I really respect in the Florida conference, Vance Rains, wrote an intriguing entry last year that I have pondered and come back to many times. It was titled "How the Birthday Cake Ruined Church."
His article was much longer, so I will summarize it for you: we used to make things from scratch. We would gather ingredients, put time into things, and we accepted imperfections. We have moved from birthday cakes made from scratch, to birthday cakes made from a box, to birthday cakes that we pick up at Publix.
This overlaps into so many other areas - we expect things in our life to come customized, ready to order, exactly how we want them. Our expectations are high, and the effort we put in is very low. In short, "We’ve shifted from creators, contributors and cultivators, to consumers (and, sometimes, critics and complainers)."
Of course, this shows up in the church as well.
We often come full of expectations of being served. We want to sing the songs we know and like, at the volume we like, in the key we like, with the instruments we like. We want the AC set to our comfort, and the aesthetic to our taste. We want to drop our children off to Sunday school, children's worship, youth group, or VBS where someone else can teach them and entertain them. We want lots of things to pick and chose from that fit our schedule. We want a good parking space.
Rather than expecting church to be the place to serve and contribute, many expect church to serve them and contribute to their own needs, wants and desires. If I don’t like something, I’ll complain, or at least grumble. If I don’t like the current sermon series, I’ll just stay home. If I don’t like the music, I’ll come late. If I don’t want to give or volunteer, I’ll let others take up the slack for me. If I’m not interested, I won’t show up. If I hear another church has more to offer my family, without asking so much, I’ll just go there instead.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy cupcakes and lattes. I appreciate convenience. I like to be served. I, too, have high standards and expectations. Even as the pastor, I want things at church to be done well.
I’m not questioning our appetite for excellence. I’m challenging our consumeristic expectations and demands. If you want something to be excellent, then YOU make it excellent. And, just because the world is willing to cater to your demands for convenience and customization, don’t bring that expectation to church.
Church is a place to serve, not to be served.
Church, when we each contribute our gifts and appreciate the gifts of others, is beautiful. Who doesn't appreciate a homemade cake, lovingly prepared, more than the most gorgeous store bought one? The cake we make together with the ingredients we have is a beautiful and delicious offering to the world. To the world - not to us!
Remember the words of Jesus, on the night before he was arrested, that we would be one, and that we are to follow his example, and that he came into the world not to be served but to serve.