Why are church people so strange?

Why do church people do . . . ?

There are a lot of things that church people do that are different from the way the rest of the world lives:

  • Church people go to a church gathering nearly every Sunday while most people in the world rarely do anything “every week” except for weekly obligations like school/work or entertainment choices like eating out, seeing movies, etc.
  • Church people not only attend church gatherings, but they often are actually doing things at those gatherings like playing music, teaching a class, or greeting people.
  • Church people get together in smaller groups for “Bible Study” or “Service Projects” or things like that while most people might have a periodic game night with friends, hang out at the bar, or just stay home watching TV.
  • Church people volunteer their time to do things for church-owned buildings and grounds like cleaning, fixing, and upgrading while the rest of the world looks with apathy, frustration, or even disdain on church buildings taking up valuable real-estate.
  • Church people give money to the church, some even give more than 10% of their entire household income, while the rest of the world generally gives only 3% of their income to all charitable causes combined.

Why do church people do such weird things?

Well, I would love to answer that for you… but I can’t… at least I can’t until I tell you a secret.

You see, there’s a little secret that the world doesn’t really know, and in fact, it’s a secret that you might not know either…

There are two very different kinds of church people, and they do what they do for two very different reasons whether they know it or not.

The “Obligated” Church People

The first kind of church people are the most common. These are people who view church as an obligation or a responsibility. Throughout the centuries, these people have always been the ones who provided the most money to the church, the most time to the church, and the most of their personal commitment to the church.

These are people who taught the Sunday School classes, people who became the preachers, people who joined the church leadership team.

On their best days, these people understand that the church is an important entity in the world because it is God’s family, God’s building, or something like that; but on their worst days, these people see the church as one more hoop they must jump through to make sure they are accepted by God.

Regardless of their language, the “obligated” church people believe that if they stopped doing what they are doing, they would somehow lose a little bit of God’s favor.

This sense of obligation actually had noble beginnings. In the early centuries of the church, the church was an isolated little band of heretics who didn’t believe the same things as their Jewish parents and didn’t believe the same things as their Gentile neighbors. The early church was a unique entity in the entire world and that built a strong sense of unity among the early church people. Moreover, when persecution came from the Jews or the Romans, that outward pressure pushed the church people to feel an even deeper sense of need for each other.

The early teachers of the church like Paul, Peter, and John each emphasized this need for church people to band together and to feel a sense of obligation to each other.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8 NIV

However, as the persecution began to die off and as the church began to get more institutionalized, the internal felt need for church people to band together also began to die away. However, as the church began to get more institutionalized, its organizational needs began to grow.

The internal need for community was dying out at the same time that the external need for resources was growing.

The sad reality of this phase of church history was that church leaders began to teach church people that the New Testament’s instructions on church people taking care of church people meant also that church people were responsible for taking care of the institutional needs of the church organization as well.

Church people were obligated to pay for church buildings.

Church people were obligated to staff church programs.

Church people were obligated to attend church services.

Church became an obligation.

And for hundreds of years, the idea that church is an obligation was the predominant idea among church people.

However, it was only a matter of time before people rebelled against the tyranny of church obligation, and that rebellion started in force back in the days of the Enlightenment (roughly 1600s) but has culminated in our modern predominantly secular society.

Even among professing Christians today, the sense of obligation to a church is rare.

However, that hasn’t changed the fact that people still perceive church as an obligation. What has changed is that they don’t feel church is their obligation!

And that is a major reason why only 20% of the population of Tippecanoe County attends a church gathering on Sundays. A good portion of the 20% see church as an obligation that they are living under, while the other 80% don’t see church as an obligation they need to accept.

However, obligation is not the only reason you will find church people doing church people things. There is another category of church people, who, though rare, are incredibly important.

The Grateful Church People

There is a category of people who are simply grateful when they consider all that God has done for them. These people know the depths of their own sin, they know their own lostness without God’s intervention, and they have come to know the immense riches of God’s grace in sending his Son to die for them, pay the price for them, and give them new life through the power of his resurrection and the indwelling of his Spirit.

These people consider all that God has done for them and want to live their lives in service to him not out of a sense of obligatory repayment plan as if they are indebted to God, but out of a sense of pure love for the one who gave himself for them.

You see, these people understand that two surface behaviors can come from two completely different internal realities. One man offers a woman an engagement ring because they have been together seven years, are raising three children, and has simply finally become convinced that marriage is the “right thing to do.” However, another man offers a woman an engagement ring because he has understood the immense worth of this being he has come to know and is willing to sacrifice the rest of his life for her advancement.

Two behaviors, but two wildly different internal realities.

Grateful people, on the surface, appear largely the same as the obligated people.

  • Grateful people make sure to spend time reading their Bibles and praying because they are still wonderfully grateful that the God of the universe would be paying attention to them and they have an opportunity to be in his presence.
  • Grateful people attend every worship gathering they can with their church family because they can’t imagine life without being near others who know the same truth about God.
  • Grateful people teach classes, watch children, and welcome newcomers because they want to share their joy with everyone they can.
  • Grateful people give large amounts of money and time to the work of the church because they can’t bear the thought of a single unreached person not knowing God’s incredible blessings.

Grateful people believe they have been given a blessing that is so great that it must be shared.

Throughout history, there have always been grateful people. When the church was persecuted, there were people who were so grateful to God that they wouldn’t renounce their faith even in the face of torture. When the church was becoming institutionalized, there were people who were maintaining their personal relationship to God in spite of the growing organizational overhead. When the church was facing the enlightenment, men and women alike returned to the simplicity of the Scripture.

Today, in Lafayette, there are still many people who are motivated by gratitude.

I am one of them.

I Am Grateful

When you look at me. I hope that you conclude I am a little strange. I am committed to church attendance 100% of my Sundays. In my entire life, I am sure that I have not missed on average, more than one Sunday worship gathering per year. Even when my family would go on vacation, we would seek out a church to fellowship with. Even on our honeymoon, Jennifer and I found a church to attend.

I am always serving in some capacity in a church, and if I am paid, I serve in ways beyond my job description.

I make time to spend with other Christians, and I greatly value my times in prayer even though my habits in that area are still not set in stone (after 40 years, to my shame).

I am committed to giving at least 10% of my income from all sources to the work of my local church, and I am constantly wishing there were ways to give even more.

Oh, and you should know that I don’t consider any of this to be bragging because I see all these efforts as baseline normal and not nearly enough. That is, I don’t feel like there are obligations I don’t meet. Rather, I feel like my behaviors pale in comparison to the gratitude I feel toward God for what he has done for me. My gratitude far surpasses my behaviors.

So I do these things, and though I have at times viewed these things through the lens of obligation it is not so anymore.

I do what I do because I am grateful, and I am so grateful for what God has done for me that I can’t stand the thought of other people not knowing the same blessings I know.

I want people to know the immense blessings of God, and if I weren’t busy teaching on Sundays, I would be greeting at the doors, I would be working in the children’s ministry, I would be serving coffee, running sound, doing music, or cleaning toilets, or all of the above if I could.

I don’t do any of the stuff I do because I have to.

I do what I do because I’m just crazy enough to think it will bless someone else in some small way for them to know the blessings I know.

Call me crazy. I’m okay with that.

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:13-15 NIV

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