Guest post by Paul McKenzie
I go to church to no longer be an “I” but to be a “we.” This hasn’t always been true of my life. There were certainly seasons where I went to be an “I.” I had long lists of why I was in church (or specifically this church not that church). Most of those reasons were not about what I could offer but rather what I required the church to provide for me.
I required engaging, relevant teaching that was applicable for my life. It was mandatory that the church have appropriate forms of worship that catered to my stylistic preferences. It was vital they have a welcoming environment and hospitable atmosphere. It was indispensable to have a quality children’s ministry that focused on biblical truth as well as a spot-on adult education program. And the list went on and on.
It isn’t that these things are necessarily bad things or that all churches shouldn’t be striving towards them. What was unfortunate was my self-serving, entitled approach towards the church. I wanted to engage with church only on terms that benefited me. To be honest, I wanted to be a spectator and I wanted the show to, not only do all the work, but to do a stand-up job at all times without fail.
The problem is, you just don’t see the church operating that way in scripture. When I looked at Acts 2:41-17, I didn’t see any sideline Christians. Instead, there are people who are described as devoted to, awestruck by, and opening their lives and resources to what God was doing.
To illustrate the problem further, I knew in my head that Christ loved the church and laid down his life for it (Eph 5:25). And I would say that I believed, with all sincerity, that to be true. So in my head I rationalized that I should love the church as Christ did. But in my heart I didn’t believe that to be true and I certainly wasn’t acting like it.
So I needed to change. I began to take aspects of the church I was attending that bothered me and instead of simply complaining, I signed up. For instance, I really wasn’t thrilled with how we handled mission trips. So I picked up a copy of When Helping Hurts, a book that presents the problems of, and offers solutions for, how short term missions can do more harm than good. After reading it, I committed to join a team on their next trip.
Now please don’t get me wrong. By no means did I join that missions team with all the answers intent on fixing everything and everybody who was doing it the way I didn’t like. Rather, by putting myself among the team, I began to invest in, and together with, the people. Because I had faces and stories now attached to ideas, programs, and institutions, I found myself less annoyed and more inspired. Instead of complaining and distancing myself, I found myself praying and pulling people in. I’m confident we still aren’t getting it right 100% of the time, but I’m glad we are trying and I’m glad we’re willing to risk and even fail. If anything, we are more reliant on God’s help than ever before.
Truth be told, some churches will “do church” better than others, but no church will do it perfectly. When I made church about what it could give me, I found myself moaning and dissatisfied with it. When I went to church to be a part of the solution instead of a problem-pointer-outer, it drastically changed the way I saw value in the church.
It seems the church isn’t suppose to be a bunch of ministers ministering to members. Rather, the picture presented in Ephesians 4:12-13 seems to illustrate that every member is to be a minister. We are called to live out this faith in a gathering community (Heb 10:24-25). I go to church to stir up others to good works and to be stirred up by them to do good works.
I would affirm Thomas Merton in that no man is created to be an island. God has given us such grace, and has called us together to be witness of such grace. So I serve as a part of a church so that I can be reminded of the good news, challenged to live life in response to that good news, and spurred on by, and a minister alongside, others to dispense that good news to all.
Paul McKenzie is married to the love of his life Jill and is blessed to parent his beautiful daughter Madilyn alongside her. He also gets to be the Student Minister for the South Campus of First Baptist Church Tyler, TX. He is passionate about knowing our true identity, understanding how God has made us, and living out true character in response to God’s love. His dream vacation would be a motorcycle trip starting in the northern tip of Scotland and riding to the south of England on an old Norton Commando. The only reason he hasn’t attempted the trek yet is because he is still looking for a nice set of goggles and the perfect scarf.