Just two weeks after my sixteenth birthday the late J. F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the US of A. I remember well his inauguration speech – well, at least one line of it, which became famous and has often since been repeated and quoted: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
That’s a line that more Aussies should take to heart today. The problem with the welfare state is that it tends to create a generation of people with a strong sense of entitlement. Our nation owes it to us to take care of us from the cradle to the grave. We have this strange idea that it’s the government’s responsibility to solve all our problems. Some recent protest marches around the country have highlighted this problem – protests against government cutbacks, as those in authority have had to tighten the fiscal belt. JFK wanted the American people to understand that the success of the nation began with them. Today Australia would be a better place if everyone was to ask: What can I do for my country?
I was thinking about that recently in the context of someone leaving the church because they felt that the church wasn’t meeting their needs – so they “moved on”. What I heard troubled me deeply.
It concerned me because their words betrayed a certain amount of arrogance. They “had moved on”. But doesn’t that insinuate that everyone else was still stuck way back there? Of course they didn’t say that they considered the church that they had grown up in as a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. But in some ways they might as well have put it that way because that’s the implications of you “moving on” – everyone else has failed to “move on” and is still somewhere back there. It’s my prayer that this young couple will one day come to see their pride and that they will humble themselves before God and their fellow saints.
It also concerned me because their reason for leaving the church was that it wasn’t meeting their needs. I would have had some sympathy for them leaving for this reason if, for example, they had children and their church didn’t offer any programs or activities for their children. But that wasn’t the case. The “unmet needs” was a far more nebulous matter – in fact they had some trouble spelling out exactly what they meant. It had to do with spirituality and worship styles and being accepted. In the end it was all tied in very closely with them moving on – and others (presumably) still being firmly entrenched somewhere back there.
I didn’t think of it at the time but I should have quoted to them JFK’s famous line from his speech. Doesn’t it apply just as much to the church as it does to a nation? “My fellow Christians, ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church?” If people consistently asked that question then they wold not leave the church because it wasn’t meeting their needs.
Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the source (so I can’t credit the author) but a couple of weeks ago I came across an article that argued that this is an invalid reason for leaving a church. The writer stated quite bluntly: “The Church doesn’t exist to meet your needs.” He went on to point out that we as believers are part of a community that exits to meet the needs of a broken and hurting world. Our great unfinished task is to reach out to lost people with help and hope. In that context it becomes quite pathetic to lament that the church is not meeting my needs.
It’s rare for a pastor to be approached by a parishioner asking for advice on how they might best serve their Christian community. It’s rare because the church consists of givers and takers. The givers are already busy using their gifts to serve the church. And the takers…? Well, unfortunately, they just want their needs met.