Our interim pastor preached an awesome sermon yesterday. (Yes, it's going to be one of those posts. We'll get through this together.) And one of his points was the difference between walking in (to a church, but it's applicable to any communal thing) with a "What Do I Get?" vs. "What Do I Bring?" mindset. Because if we come in with the former, we have a list of expectations, and we grade our experience based on our personal preferences. If we come in with the latter, we add our unique gifts, experiences, and personalities to a community on the move, and we see where it takes us.
An ideal glimpse of this is the idea of tithing: in "What Do I Bring?" mode, I am supporting the mission and services of this body with not only my time and energy but a financial offering. In "What Do I Get?" mode, I am paying for a ticket to a schedule of events and services that should be tailored to my desires and needs. Thus we leave a church at noon saying things like, "I just didn't like the music today," "That sermon didn't address my present situation," or (my personal favorite) "Jeepers creepers, that ran long today." *
Now, should you be in a church that fits you--your style of worship, your doxology, etc.? By all means. But if you're looking for a church service that is precisely--every song, every announcement, every point of the sermon--as you, personally, would desire it, you should really stay at home. I mean it: you can pick out a playlist from your personal favorites, find yourself a sermon to listen to or watch online (you'll even see how long it will be, so it won't interfere with your schedule), and skim over the news that doesn't affect you. And all from the comfort of your own couch.
But if you're entering Church--and with that capital C I'm drawing on an ancient history, initially documented in the Book of Acts and practiced around the world for thousands of years, most effectively in environments of extreme persecution--with the idea of joining a group of people who share (though cannot precisely replicate, and may therefore occasionally challenge) your beliefs, who love and support each other, and who reach out to their surrounding community in an effort to actively demonstrate love, kindness, grace, and humility**, you will need to recognize that there are other people in the room. And that by coming into that room, by joining that community, you are adding something, not just taking. You are bringing something, not just getting. And by the adages we've all lived out--it's greater to give than to receive, etc.--you'll find that by pouring out what you brought, not only financially but with your time and energy and passions, you'll come away with far more than a good show.
Eric's means of phrasing this yesterday was, "What's my Isaac?" For those unfamiliar, I cannot adequately unpack this story quickly--it's too big. But for the purposes of this post, the question is, "What is the ultimate, most, best sacrifice I can make?" It is not, "What's the bare minimum?" For a community to thrive, for God to lavish grace and power on a body of believers, we cannot come into it having allotted a comfortable gift and call it a sacrifice. We cannot each come in with a list of demands and leave frustrated when they're not met. As a friend reminded me yesterday, the Church documented in Acts thrived because its members "were of one accord." They caught the vision, they shared the passion, and they didn't mess around. They shared one another's joys and burdens. They reached out and made active, much-needed change in their community. And they met the knee-jerk reaction of their government and culture with grace and humility. My church, my ekklesia, does not presently meet this ideal. Oh, there are sparks of it. There are moments. But it is the vision I hold for it, and it is the prayer I pray over it.
So, the morale of this little post, the challenge I am accepting as well as posing: For your church, for your workplace, for your community, what is your Isaac? How is your community different--better, we hope--for your presence and contribution? What can you bring?
* Fair warning to members of my beloved ekklesia: So help me if I hear you complain about the length of what is, ever, at most, a 90-minute service. I might haul off and hit you. In, ya know, total Christian love... Also, I really hate the exclamation, "jeepers creepers." What does that even mean??
**There's a whole separate post (sermon?) on that right there--how and with what motivations does a church reach its community? We've messed this up on a national scale (and I, on a personal scale) for so long, and we've only just begun to reap the benefits.