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December 1, 2003

Two of my favorite restaurants in Merced are the China Grand Buffet and the HomeTown Buffet.  Oh my!  So much food.  Such a great variety.  There are techniques for eating at a buffet.  How to get the most for your money.  How to eat the maximum amount of food.  How to gain the greatest satisfaction.


The latest trends in church growth seem aimed at customer satisfaction.  Today there are “conjoined congregations” with one church meeting simultaneously in two (or more) locations sharing the preacher live by video.  “Video Cafés” are multiple congregations of one church all watching the same preacher on video.  One congregation in Southern California offers weekend worshipers 13 worship services.  At each service there is a choice of five worship styles (up-tempo casual rock, edgy alternative, acoustical, praise and worship, and traditional).  “Satellite congregations” are multiple congregations still controlled by the mother church but operating on remote campuses miles apart.  They watch recorded sermons of the preacher from the main campus.  Then there is the “preacher-less church” which is an independent congregation that uses recorded sermons of some well known pastor from another ministry, while providing its own worship, leadership, programming, and governance.  (1)


There is a place for the above styles of ministry.  But oh my, where are we going as Christians when our own satisfaction is our motivation in worship and affiliation with a congregation?  Come hungry.  Go away stuffed.  Worship to your own satisfaction.  Get the most for your time.  If not here, then we’ll just go someplace else which serves our needs better.  Is it any wonder that over 80% of church growth in the United States takes place by Christians moving from one church to another.  We are rapidly becoming a church of consumers.


Jesus (Immanuel - God with us) enters into humanity in the humility of a stable - laying aside His prerogatives as God - taking on human flesh with all of its frailty and propensity for sin - endures the corruption of this world - allows Himself to be beaten and humiliated - crucified to death - rejected by those He has come to save from their sins - through His resurrection to give us hope of eternal life rather than eternal damnation.  If Jesus were a consumer would He have acted this way towards us?  What possible benefit does Jesus receive from the way we have treated Him? (Philippians 2:1-8)


At Christmas we celebrate the reality that “God is love.”  That God is love means that He acts in love towards us - being committed to us regardless of how we have acted towards Him.  That word order is crucial:  He has committed Himself to us. (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-11; 1 John 4:8,10)  Not exactly the consumer mentality, is it?


I am challenged by these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1:  “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”


How would our life as a congregation be transformed if we truly lived with the quality of loving commitment we see in Jesus?  How would our expectations of “going to church” change?  What would be the effect in our homes and relationships if we were focused on giving rather than getting?  Maybe even the celebration of Christmas would take on different meaning if we came to commit ourselves rather than to consume another worship experience.


I have learned, after numerous trips to the buffet, that food only satisfies for so long.  In fact, any self-focused attempts at gratification bring only short-lived satisfaction.  But, Jesus satisfies - completely - eternally.  (John 4:13,14; 6:35)  May we learn to find our satisfaction in Him and so commit ourselves to serving Him and each other. 


1) Leadership, Volume 24, Number 2