It was Memorial Day of 2016 and I was driving on the Thruway from Buffalo after having spent three weeks in Morocco training with the Marine Corps. I was anxious to get home and was going to have just enough time to make it to a party where I’d get some delicious food and see friends.
Suddenly, my tire blew. As I steered my car to the shoulder and came to a stop I knew I was in for a long day.
You see, I was acutely aware of the fact that I had let my AAA membership lapse and therefore was excluded from the benefits and privileges of roadside towing and assistance incumbent with being a member.
This is how most “memberships” work in America. We pay a fee and gain access to special privileges and benefits reserved for those on the “inside.” Whether it be AAA, Costco, Amazon Prime, or any other membership, they are all appealing primarily because of the benefits that we gain by joining.
This is not the case with church membership. In fact, there is real danger in approaching church membership this way because it can lead to the snares of consumerism and insular focus.
Americans are consumers. Everywhere we go we find areas for consumption that are tailored to our individual needs, wants, wishes and personal preferences. We’re constantly being seduced by the call to upgrade our lives by getting the newest car, fastest mobile phone or latest clothes.
In essence, everywhere we go we are being told that the world revolves around our individual happiness, and that happiness is achieved by getting exactly what we want, when we want it.
This is dangerous because consumerism is directly opposed to the Gospel.
When we become members of a local church we’re consciously choosing to live lives that invert the paradigm of American cultural consumeristic membership. Instead of instantly gaining access to a world that caters to our personal preferences and advancement, we intentionally subvert these goals and elevate those of others.
Our church membership doesn’t entitle us to prioritize personal preferences or demand programs that cater to our individual desires. It, instead, entitles us to a life of sacrificial service and the suppression of self.
In most of America, member satisfaction is the highest priority for organizations.
What do you think would have happened if I had called AAA and asked for help when my tire blew? Once they realized I wasn’t a member they’d tell me to have a nice day and leave me to my own devices. They have an insular focus that compels them to consider members only.
We in the church are subject to this same pull—that is, to turn our focus inward and reduce those outside of church membership to second class. This insular focus manifests itself in subtle ways within our church family and is capable of shaping the way we measure ourselves and each other.
For example, we might prioritize and primarily celebrate the church serving within the church with little regard for the ways that church members serve those not connected to the church. Alternatively, insular focus could lead us to measure someone’s generosity by the amount of money they give to the church, disregarding the financial sacrifices made to those people or causes outside of the church.
Now don’t get me wrong, serving and giving to your church family is a great thing for members to do (and expected). Yet when we mimic other membership organizations by elevating those on the “inside,” our behavior contrasts the instructions of the Gospel.
In the same way that we were made members of God’s family (unified with Christ) through Jesus’ pursuit of our souls while we were far away from God, we too are called to serve and prioritize those far away from Christ (Eph. 2:19). This is how the members of Christ’s Church live out our purpose.
So as we think about what it means to be a church member, let’s not allow the dangers of consumerism and an insular focus prevent us from looking outward to those who have not yet experienced the joy, security and satisfaction of being a member of Christ’s church family.
For more on this topic, check out:
Learning to Love Your Uncomfortable Church by Brett McCracken
Serving the City by Timothy Keller