Acts 5 tells an interesting story about Ananias and Sapphira. This is the couple who sold a piece of property and agreed to withhold some of the proceed when they brought it to the disciples for distribution. Ananias was challenged by Peter, who explained that Ananias had not lied to him, but to God. The resulting revelation led to Ananias' death. Later his wife came in and met the same fate because she too could not be honest before God.
Now, as easy as this statement is to link to a story on tithing and stewardship before God, I also believe that its a lesson that the modern, established church would do well to remember and re-visit. I always wonder what made this unfortunate couple decide to withhold part of this gift. Were they worried? Scared? Selfish? Was there a lack of faith? In some ways I think all of these issues helped contribute to their foolish decision. Holding back from God, whatever part of ourself that we do whether financial, physical, or emotional seems to be a path that will lead us toward death.
And yet, I am afraid that this is exactly what some of our current churches do. Especially those "establishment" churches that have long and sometimes grand histories (at least in their opinion). There is an ongoing question being asked in the fellowships today of how to increase our membership. How can we get young people to come and support our local church. (This is true for other organizations as well, not just church.) I would offer that this question is closer to the thought process of Ananias and Sapphira, and is a dangerous question for a church to tolerate.
For what is at the heart of such a question: How can we get people come to church? Church seems to be the focus of this question, lifted up as the paramount goal of such a person/community. What is important in this question is the survival of the local church in whatever form the questioner perceives it. Most important to the questioner is the state of this "church". There is more to it than this, the questioner is also asking, "How can I get people to come and support something that is important to me so that they can help me preserve and extend this entity that is so important to me?" See the issue here?
This question reveals a self-interested goal. It exposes the selfish nature of survival. How can I preserve that which is important to me, and how can I convince others that this is so important that they should agree with me and work to help preserve it? Is there any wonder why this question is usually asked by a dying church. I believe this is a question that the contemporary Ananias would ask. Its hard to condemn such a question since it could that this comes out of one's own fear and concern for the local church. There is an aspect of love in trying to preserve something so important that others too might have a chance to respond to the blessings of church life.
So while I will indict the questioner for such a question, I will not indict the love they have for others. Yet we must come to understand the fruitless nature of such a conversation. Asking how others might come to help us runs contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ who came to serve and not be served. The Great Commission holds nothing in it about building large buildings and convincing others to help preserve them. Our call is to go and make disciples...
In the messages I have shared with our local church family I have invited them to turn the idea of bringing people to church on its head. Instead, we talk of bringing church to the people: to our families, our schools, our jobs, and our community. What we are really called to do is share this life changing love of God through Jesus Christ with those outside of our building. Our charge is to make this love known to people by caring for them, serving them, and thinking about them and their needs. A church who asks people to come to worship is revealing a selfish nature. A church who sends people out to care is living the gospel.
What would happen if our members were challenged to do something good for someone this week? Ask our bakers to bake a nice dessert or treat and deliver it to a neighbor for no other reason than to be neighborly? For us to offer a neighbor a helping hand even if it is something as simple as carrying in groceries for them, sweeping off a sidewalk, or making a delivering a casserole to a single mom and her family? And not to do so with an invitation to our church's service or with a tract about how to become a Christian- when we do this it makes the gift more about the giver than the gifted.
Its a simple piece to the puzzle but an important one. Let people know that they are important to God, loved by God, and that God has their best interests in mind.
When we ask people to come to our church. We ask them to believe a lie that we are more interested in them than our own self. This behavior, this mindset is what continues to paralyze and erode the established church.
And yet, we serve a God who specializes in resurrection. For every sin we make, every mistake we confess there always remains forgiveness and reconciliation. Though we might appear to be dying, the promise of Christ leads us to life in greater abundance. It is not too late to rescue this dying breed of church life. There is hope in the midst of decay that those who serve God will find life. But it will not be found in trying to rescue it out of death...life can only be found when we surrender it to our Savior.