Recently, I had a two-part series (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here) describing features of a church being more like a country club. The sober reality is many churches fit the bill when it comes to embodying characteristics of a country club. However, very few pastors, leaders, or members want to admit it.
I get why it’s hard to admit that your church has more in common with a country club down the street than the kind of church Christ birthed. Maybe we think it reflects poorly on our leadership. Maybe we don’t want to admit that what we value with our lips, we don’t value with our lives—like evangelism. Maybe it would be an indictment against us as people who claim to live by “the book,” only to find that we are dying by our governing by-laws.
While the previous posts were more diagnostic, I want these two posts to be more prescriptive and restorative. Why? Because there is hope for churches that have more in common with country clubs than the kind of church Christ birthed.
Country club churches can become once again Christ’s commissioned church. However, to experience this transformation, churches—their leaders and members—will have to make, at the very least, the following six shifts.
Shift 1: The church must make the shift from pleasing people to pleasing God.
We live in a consumeristic culture, where people are accustomed to playing the role of a customer. As a result, they are conditioned to see every organization revolving around their needs. However, the church was not birthed to cater to, nor please, people; the church was birthed to advance the mission of God.
Paul puts it this way to the churches in Galatia, “For am I now trying to persuade people or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Paul’s not saying that we aren’t to serve people. He is saying that ultimately our call and goal is to serve and thus please Christ. Paul knew that if people became the central focus of the church, the church would be conformed into the image of people not the image of Christ.
Which is why Paul warned Timothy about how people, in the last days, will be “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (2 Tim .3:1–4).
Could you imagine what would happen to a church if such people had their way? Paul did. He knew there would come a time when people would “not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, [would] multiply teachers for themselves because they [want] to hear what they want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).
It would bring great joy to my heart if church members were more concerned about what made God happy rather than voice complaints about what didn’t make them happy.
To make this shift from pleasing people to pleasing God will require great humility and sacrifice. However, in the end, it will prove well worth it since God never promised to remove lamp stands that displayed His glory.
Shift 2: Members need to make the shift from seeing their tithes as membership dues to mission fuel
I cannot tell you how many times I ran into members over the years that saw their tithes and offerings as membership dues they believed entitled them to power and sway in the church.
Years ago, in one of the church’s I pastored, we were talking about selling a baby grand piano and going with an electronic keyboard that would give us more versatility and more room on the stage. But I remember this one member got so upset given that she helped pay for that piano years earlier. As a result, she felt entitled for the church to keep the piano—and to make sure of that she began forming a group that would support her endeavor.
I’ve also experienced many occasions where members withheld their tithes because they didn’t like the changes happening in the church. In other words, they boycotted the church through the withholding of their tithes and offerings—something a country club member would do.
While I am all for being wise stewards of people’s money, having accountability for using the financial resources of the church, and leading in a trustworthy manner, members must realize that their money isn’t financial dues that entitle them to ecclesial power.
They don’t give in order to have more voice, more ownership, or more sway in the church. They give because God gave first. They give because they are never more like Jesus than when they give. They give because God uses their stewardship to advance His mission through His church.
Money should never be used as a weapon to wield or a tool to grab power in Christ’s church; money should always be used and seen as a tool to advance the mission of God. Commissioned churches understand this.
Shift 3: Members need to make the shift from being served to serving
In a country club, members pay for a service whereby they seek to be served rather than serve. However, in a commissioned church, members emulate their King and Savior who both uttered and exemplified the following phrase, “For the Son of Man came not to be serve but to serve and give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45.
Let me illustrate this shift. If you’re a pastor, you know that one of the most difficult areas to recruit volunteers is in the _______________? Children’s ministry. If you’re a pastor, you also know that one of the most important areas for young families today when choosing and attending a church is? Bingo… Children’s ministry.
This area becomes a great litmus test for whether a church can make the shift from country club to commissioned church. For some reason people want to express that God hasn’t called them into children’s ministry.
But I don’t buy it, especially those adults with children. I tell adults with children that God has called them into children’s ministry. You know how I know? Because God gave them kids. And if God gave them kids, then He has called them into children’s ministry.
Another example of this shift would be to stop seeing pastors (and church staff) as hired hands who work for the church and start seeing them as servant leaders who mobilize the church to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
I tell believers that there are three areas every member should serve the church. First, they should serve in areas of necessity. Areas of necessity could be the children’s, youth, or greeter ministry. Areas of nurturing are the small group areas where care, concern, and support are expressed towards one another. And then natural areas are those areas where people exercise their specific gifts and skill set to build up the church.
In short, commissioned churches are filled with members ready and eager to serve rather than waiting to be served.
Tomorrow, I’ll share the last three shifts that need to take place to transition a country club church to a commissioned church.
Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.