This past weekend was spent the way the last ten years worth of summer weekends have been spent, watching baseball. It’s the greatest of games. It combines strategy, skill, athleticism, teamwork, will, and stamina. There is no place that I’d rather be on a warm weekend than a ball field.
My son has had the same coach for ten years. His coach has one saying that he repeats to the players over and over again, “Compete.” This is the mantra, “compete.” His teams have never had the most talent, but they have always competed. The only times that Ethan’s coach gets frustrated is when he feels like the team isn’t competing.
I remember when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ and a student asked why there were so many Christian groups on campus. Wouldn’t it be better if we stopped competing with one another and just became one ministry? I don’t remember what answer I gave but I did ask a man who was mentoring me that question. He said, “We are competing like the Army, Navy, and Marines compete with one another. Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, and Navigators, we’re all competing for the best and brightest on campus. But, when it comes time for war we are all on the same team.”
This kind of thinking has made its way into the local church. Largely, I think, due to the influence of the parachurch. We see local churches leveraging huge marketing campaigns. If you were to ask them, they would say they are targeting “lost people.” But, I think if we’re really honest with ourselves we know that ad campaigns don’t “win people to Christ.” No, the marketing is to see who can get the “best and brightest” Christians from a particular town to attend their church.
Churches in the various towns are competing hard for the Christian and nominal Christian to attend at their location.
It’s easy to spot.
“Not your parents church!” is often one of the messages that get sent.
“We have the best programs and facilities for your family!”
Why are we dumping money into ads on buses, billboards, and Facebook? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on serving those on the fringes? It turns out that many of our churches, particularly those in the suburbs, don’t want people on the fringes to attend. We don’t want homeless people who haven’t showered, we don’t want the poor single parent with all the unruly kids, we don’t want LGBTQ+ person who has been disowned by everyone in their family, we don’t want…
We don’t want the people who Jesus would.
No, if we’re honest, we want the “easy people.” The people who don’t have real problems. Preferably, we’d like wealthy people with 2.5 kids. There is such safety in program building. We can tell if it works by the number of people that we can get to come from other churches and switch teams.
Because we want to win. In the church competition you win by butts, bucks, and buildings. The only difference from many church boardrooms and many business boardrooms is that one opens it’s meetings in prayer. But, when we get right down to it the goals are the same. How do we corner the market and win?
Did you know that there is a thriving head-hunting business within the American Evangelicalism? It’s wild. Churches pay big money to companies to find them the “talent” they need to be their preachers, children’s ministers, youth ministers, and whatever other “insert adjective” minister the church is looking for.
Because in a world where you’re competing to win you need the most talent.
The thing is the church isn’t supposed to be competing. That’s not the call. The call to the church is to be the body of Christ. We are to be the people who embody Christ to the world around us. We are to practice radical hospitality (notice hospital is the root word there) and proclaim the excellencies of Christ. The church is to be the doctors for a sin-sick world. Inviting those in need of grace, mercy, and love to come and be cared by wounded healers in their midst.
Oh, could you imagine? Could you imagine a world where the church put away to marketing ploys of the business world and stopped competing against one another for the Christians in a particular town and instead went out of its way to love those who needed it most?
What a world that would be.