Sometimes it seems like every church is on an endless quest to figure it out—to find the formula to bring people into membership.
I guess we’ve tried every possible recipe: a dash of new programs, some exciting three-point preaching, maybe even a (gasp!) drum kit somewhere in the general vicinity of the sanctuary.
We’ve copied endless larger churches in attempts to become what I would call the Lutheran gigachurch (one step larger than a megachurch) because, somewhere deep in our heart of hearts, we believe that the more people who are signed up on the roll, the more successful our church will be perceived to be. And, when we are seen as successful, then people will want to emulate us. And when others want to emulate our growth and our success, we will know that God loves us more. That’s right, you read it first here—when we are a gigachurch, other churches will want to emulate our programs and, especially, our pastors.
You can stop laughing now.
Paul writes to the church in Thessalonika and responds to their faithfulness with thanksgiving: ‘And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13,14a).
Our contemporary church attempts to copy (usually) larger churches in hopes that more people will attend our worship services and—let’s be honest—put more money in the offering plate so we can promote more programs, thus freeing us from doing what should come naturally to churches: service in the name of Christ Jesus.
Not in the name of St John’s, or St Paul’s or even Green Pastures, but in Christ Jesus. And not just the worship service either, but in good old-fashioned, get-your-hands-dirty service to brothers and sisters in need. Service in Christ is what Paul is commending the Thessalonians for—not for their courage in expanding a building project, or their bravery for plugging a guitar into an amplifier in the sanctuary. No, he’s commending them for their faith, love and hope in moving from faith to action.
I think we truly know in our heart of hearts that God is not as concerned with church attendance as he is with attention to the church. As much as we need the action of God coming to us in worship, we also need to be attentive to going out from worship to serve a spiritually starving world.
The church in Thessalonika grew not because of its imitation of the worship facilities in Judea, but through long-lasting imitation of the hands and hearts of its servants.
Perhaps it’s time for us, as the church, to reform our service?
Reid Matthias is pastor of Green Pastures Lutheran Church, Lockrose, Queensland.