A few years ago my family and I were shopping for a larger house. As six people living in a three bedroom, things were getting a little crowded. And so we began the quest for the perfect place in the perfect neighborhood at a perfect price.
I’ll spare you the details of the journey—foreclosures that looked like they were the scene of several homicides, “fixer uppers” that would have taken several lifetimes and a king’s ransom to renovate, and fantastic deals that fell through at the last minute. When the search was over, we ended up in a relatively quiet little neighborhood with “country club” in the name.
There was just one problem. There was no country club in the neighborhood. Oh, there’s a country club a short drive down the road, complete with a private restaurant, tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool, and a fancy golf course (which I define as one without a neon-colored windmill or fiberglass dinosaur). But it’s not our country club. It doesn’t land in our borders. We can observe the country club crowd going and coming, but we can’t be a part of that crowd. While we have the name, we have none of the benefits.
Our churches have a similar, yet inverse, problem. We don’t have the country club name, but we often have the country club perks. Membership status? We can do that. Programs that scratch where we itch? Sure. Recreational facilities? On-site childcare? Convenient parking? Check. Check. And check. Shoot, some churches will even wheel us around in a golf cart when we get tired of walking.
Here’s the problem with a country club. It is by its very nature exclusive. We have to pay to access the facility. High membership fees and numerous add-on costs keep the in-crowd in and the undesirables out. Buying our way into a country club gives us the illusion of friendship, meaning, status, and purpose, but it leaves riff-raff like me on the outside looking in, wondering what it’s like to be inside the walls.
Jesus never called the church to be a country club. In fact, He commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and bring people in. Did you catch that? Rather than keeping outside people out, Jesus sent inside people out to bring outside people in.
And the reason is simple. We were once outside people. For believers, there was a time that we were on the outside. I was once alienated from Jesus, separated because of my sin and isolated because of my hostility. But the grace of God and the crucifixion of Jesus made it possible for me to be brought from the outside to the inside. While I was formerly a rebel against the kingdom, I am now a son at the table. And just as I’ve been reconciled, I now have been given that same ministry of reconciliation.
This booklet has been dealing with the consumer culture of the modern church. In one sense, I think that culture is unavoidable. We’re all consumers, after all. Similarly, I don’t think consumerism is the unforgivable sin. I believe it is a discipleship issue; an unbelief that is constantly being expelled from our lives, just like anything else.
You may be wondering how consumerism equates to unbelief, and that’s a fair question. When we live for possessions or experiences, we tend to place value on those things that can never satisfy. We turn away from Jesus—the one in whom we should find sufficiency—and we turn towards lesser gods. But as we discovered earlier, the remedy for consumerism is recognizing that all of our desires point to something deeper, and all of our contentment must be found in Christ. When we turn that corner, everything changes. Church is no longer just about us and getting our needs met. It is not about simply finding areas of comfort that meets our felt needs. It is not about insulating ourselves from the outside world. Part of the Christian experience—especially as it pertains to the local church—is about loving those whom Jesus loves and reaching those He’s called us to reach. I believe that consumers can be changed into missionaries by recognizing how much we possess, and how it all comes from the gospel.
The church is not a club of consumers, but a community of Christ followers. It is a body of believers—all admittedly at different stages in their journey—traveling deeper into the life-changing power of the gospel. When we swap our labels from “club member” to “family member” it changes our mindset and focuses our mission.
Family members care for one another and live in deference to one another. Ideally, if you are a part of my family, I am going to put your needs ahead of my own. I am going to try to outdo you in showing honor. I am going to do everything I can to make sure that you feel loved, included, and cared for. That’s what families do, and it’s how the strongest families thrive.
In a similar way, family members try to include those on the outside. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with very hospitable parents. Our home was always open to friends, neighbors, and strangers who were seeking friendship, a good meal, or a warm bed. Even today—in his mid-70s—my dad makes sure there is always a spare seat or a spare room in his home for someone who needs it.
If the church is family, we will be family to those who need family. If we understand the gospel, we will live out the gospel. And the gospel mandates that we “go and tell” others the good news of Jesus. Here’s the beautiful thing about family-style hospitality: it has a tendency to choke out consumerism. When someone shows us true hospitality, it is no longer transactional (i.e., what they can do for us). It’s suddenly relational. We are more impressed with who they are than by what they give.
Jesus reminds us of this in Luke 14. In his parable of the banquet, he said, “Do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”
Does that describe our churches? Better question: does that describe our lives? Are we living a lifestyle that is more centered around what we get, or by what we give? Do people know us as relationally generous people, always pouring into them and showing grace to them, or do they see us as more of a relational leech, sucking the life out of everyone near?
When we are a part of a church, we begin to discover who we are. And once we know who we are, we will start to know who we must reach. It’s in those moments of looking outward rather than inward when we emerge from being a consumer. The “weekend experience” becomes less about what makes us comfortable and more about what makes others comfortable. When we are reaching others with the gospel, leaving a place at the table for those on the outside, and being radically generous with our hospitality, that’s when we’ll begin to see the country club crumble and a new community arise.