The Mentality That May Be Killing Your Church

A 'What's in it for me?' mentality could bring your church down.
A 'What's in it for me?' mentality could bring your church down. (Flickr )

"Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send out laborers into His harvest' (Matt. 9:37-38).

"And the disciples said, 'Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?'" 

"'Look, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. ... But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles'" (Matt. 10:16a-18).

And the disciples said, "Let's skip that part and get to the part where you reward us." (The part about rewards actually comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

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Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, "Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:3-5).

And the Lord's disciples said, "Okay, enough about these losers, already. Tell us about the blessings you have for us. Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?" 

I was reading one church's minutes from a century ago. In a business meeting, the clerk told of a request for $10 from a new church in Texas. This was back when $10 was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary said, "This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating."

As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

"What's in it for us?" is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches. Denominational leaders and professional fundraisers know that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally. It's not enough to do something for the kingdom.

It's not sufficient to do something to please God, honor Christ or obey the Spirit.

Show me how this will benefit us.

And we wonder why so many congregations are stagnated, plateaued or declining.

We wonder why so many congregations go to church, log many hours in activities each week and still feel unfulfilled.

We wonder why churches run off pastors who are not meeting their needs, not leaving them with warm feelings after sermons and not making them feel better about themselves.

I cannot tell you the times I've heard someone pray in a worship service, "Lord, help us get something out of this today."

As though it were all about them.

Warren Wiersbe has said, "It pays to worship. But if you worship because it pays, it won't pay." Worship is about giving to the Lord the glory due His name, about bringing an offering and bowing down before the ruler of the universe and honoring Him. When we do this right, we walk away blessed.

Ironic, isn't it?

The irony of this—"Worship pays, but not if you worship for the pay"—is lost on a huge portion of the Lord's people, I fear. True, God wants to bless His children. He said to Abraham, "I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2b). At no time did the Lord tell Abraham (OK, Abram) to focus on getting that blessing or to keep praying that his name would be great. "I will do it," the Lord said. Then, Abram's job would be to be a blessing.

When we concentrate on being a blessing to others, God blesses us.

The mentality of our age is something else entirely.

Me before you; my needs before anything else, my wants and desires above all. How can I tithe when I still owe on my boat and luxury car? Surely the Lord doesn't want that.

Us before others; our needs and our comfort take priorities. We need a strong home base here, and then we will be able to give more to missions.

All of us before God. God wants our welfare, doesn't He? He's not honored if we are worshiping in something less than the best, right?

And thus do we justify our materialism, our self-centeredness, our negligence of the needs of a lost world. Thus do we sanctify our disobedience.

So easily do we nullify the teachings of Scripture and discount the commands of our Lord. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, you will notice in Matthew 15:6 that the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus' generation were slammed for the same selfish error. God is not amused.)

A church I know split over this. Some of the leaders resented spending money on missions. Their philosophy, according to the pastor, was that the Great Commission meant they were to reach Jerusalem first, after which they were to branch out into Judea, then on to Samaria, and from there to the ends of the earth. Live by that philosophy, and Judea would still be waiting for the gospel.

There will be reward aplenty. But the Lord is in charge of that.

Peter said, "Look, we have left everything and have followed you" (Mark 10:28). He was leaving unsaid the question, "So, what do we get in return?" Or, "What's in it for us?"

Our Lord understood this and said, "There is no one who has left a house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields, leaves houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for my sake and the gospel's sake who shall not receive a hundred times as much now ... and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-31).

The concept of reward from God both here and now and "there and then" is found all through the Word.

"Even though our outward man is perishing, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day. Our light affliction, which lasts but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:16b-17).

"From now on a crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).

We do well to have the servant-slave attitude. Early disciples introduced themselves as servants or slaves of the Lord. See Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1 and Jude 1.

Not that the Lord felt that way about His choice servants. They were faithful, honored, His friends, His beloved. The point, however, is that they felt that way about themselves.

And therein lies the secret to faithful and effective discipleship.

The best way to understand this is found in the little parable of Luke 17:7-10:

Which of you, having a servant plowing or herding sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, '"Come now and sit down for dinner"? Will he not rather say to him, "Prepare my supper, and dress yourself and serve me until I eat and drink. And afterward you will eat and drink"? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? I think not. So you also, when you have done everything commanded you, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done our duty."

This overlooked parable may be the one most needed by our generation of churches.

It requires a little self-talk. The one who sees himself as a slave to Jesus does not work for reward. He is rewarded just in serving the one he adores. So, he tells himself at the end of a long, hard day, "I'm an unworthy servant, just doing my duty."

Notice the Lord does not say that to us. He says, "Well done, you good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things" (Matt. 25:21, 23).

Notice also that we are not to say that to one another. Instead, we are to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7). We are to acknowledge (appreciate) those who serve faithfully and sacrificially (1 Cor. 16:18). And elders who serve well, we are told, are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). They are not to seek that honor, but we are to give it.

The servant of the Lord who labors hard, serves sacrificially, and stays humble and sees himself as unworthy is a rare treasure. Let us labor to be such.

Let those of us who teach and preach keep this great truth—and therefore this wonderful parable—before God's people at all times.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. 

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