Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Church, or Christian Club?

I'm in the process of applying for a church pastor position. Some of the available positions are, um, interesting. For example, for "number of members," one lists "20." For salary range, it says merely, "negotiable." In other words, will you let us pay you in garden vegetables and eggs?

Now, there are new churches of that size that are bound to grow. And there are old churches of that size that somehow also manage to grow. But for the most part, tiny churches that used to be much bigger have become, in actuality, Christian clubs rather than churches.

What is the difference? The role of the church is to be the Body of Christ in a suffering world. They seek to bring healing to the sick and Good News to the sick of heart. They provide a (partial, imperfect) experience of the not-yet-fully-realized Kingdom of God. While one individual congregation cannot serve the needs of all Christians, a church is able to meet the spiritual needs of a fairly wide variety of people. For this reason, a church needs a pretty high degree of openness.  A club, in contrast, need not be open at all. They can add members as their leadership and/or the totality of the members see fit, or not at all. Within the limits of the law they can erect barriers to membership, such as secrecy or hazing rituals. Many Christian clubs are wonderful, and do a lot of good for their members and other people. There is nothing wrong with being a Christian club--unless, of course, you are advertising your club as a church. Then you are engaging in deception. It may be born of self-deception, but it is deception, nonetheless.

Many of these clubby little groups that meet on Sunday morning in a building with a spire on top use words like "friendly" and "loving" to describe themselves, and they can be both of these things, but--let's be real--they most certainly are either not uniformly friendly and loving or at the very least have a checkered past in that regard.  They may think of themselves as welcoming, but they are not. In fact, most if not all of them are exceptionally good at being unwelcoming.

Is there hope for Pseudo-churches who want to change from being a Christian club back into a real church? Yes, but not without acknowledgement of the real situation. Why does it even matter? Because sometimes--often--someone really needs a church, and if that person tries to go to a church and finds out it really isn't a church, well, that's just really awful.

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