Metaphors of the Church

I heard a fantastic sermon on Sunday.  Our pastor laid out five metaphors of the church that are common amongst Christians.  Being a language arts teacher, how could I NOT speak about metaphors!?!?  (Is it odd that these deep thoughts excite me?  I suppose if I was a math teacher, I’d be stoked if they ever did a sermon about pi, but I digress …)

  1. The church is a restaurant.  Restaurants serve you, and all you want is to be waited upon.  I actually just yesterday had a student tell me that her mother was looking for a church, and the first question she asked on behalf of her mom was, “Does your church do free coffee?”  Ummm, yeah.  If that is what you’re looking for in a church, good luck to you.  May you find the best Columbian roast premium coffee ever.  And by the way, my church does not do coffee, so I doubt that will be the right fit for my student’s mom.
  2. The church is a movie theater.  We sit back, relax, enjoy our movie with a bag of popcorn and ice cold Coke at our side, and then immediately become movie critics afterward.  Churchgoers may lack the popcorn and Coke, but many times we become quite the critic after the sermon.  The lighting behind the pastor was distracting.  The point he made about Jesus could have been expanded upon.  The songs didn’t fit the theme well enough.  Our pastor explained that we should not be asking ourselves whether or not we were pleased with the sermon but rather whether the sermon was pleasing to God.  Chew on that thought for a second or two.
  3. The church is a gas station.  You typically visit a gas station for a fill up when you’re a quarter tank shy of empty (unless of course you’re talking about filling up your belly with those delicious sandwiches from QT).  Do you utilize church in the same way, simply as a quick spiritual fill up on Sunday for your week?  Once you fill up, you’re good to go until the next Sunday, but hey, if you really got a good sermon, that spiritual fill up could last you a couple weeks.  Even a full month.  God’s house should not be a gas station.  If anything, God would certainly keep his bathrooms cleaner.
  4. The church is a department store.  When you shop at department stores, you’re seeking the perfect deal, the perfect fit.  You wander from store to store, comparing prices, seeking out what suits your fancy.  Granted, there are times when you move to a new area when you need to church shop, but what about the Christians who church shop like there is no tomorrow.  They treat God’s house as if it were Macy’s or JC Penny’s, always yearning for something better, and contentment is never fully there.
  5. The church is a fitness center.  Think about it.  The irony of a fitness center is that people who regularly go there are gym rats, in peak physical shape; yet the ones that need the gym the most–those that are obese–are intimidated to go there.  Church is much the same.  The outsiders, the ones that find themselves in service on Sundays once every blue moon, feel intimidated by the apparent perfectness of the regular churchgoing crowd.  These people are just too perfect and make them feel inferior, much the same as that guy that benches 250 intimidates the heck out of me.  The metaphor can be flipped the other way too in that the regular crowd tries to act that part, faking their smiles, sucking in their bellies, trying to act as if their Christian life makes them all too put together–almost like the gym rats constantly compete with one another, measuring their progress by comparing themselves to one another.

After soaking in this list, I began to wonder how my small group of Christian believers in my school connects to this.  Do we see our group as a restaurant, something to benefit only ourselves, to pray for our own worries and requests?  Do we waste our time critiquing the way group went when the question should be whether God was pleased with our meeting?  Do we simply treat group as a checklist on Friday morning, something to fill up our souls like a gas station fills up a car, or does our group provide a deeper meaning?  Do we treat group like a department store and shop only for the best deals, waiting to come only when our lovely FACS teacher provides her home grown fruits and vegetables?  (I had to search for that one because our small group is the ONLY Christian small group in our school building, kinda like the small town that sports that lone Walmart.)  And finally, do we treat this group like a fitness center, measuring the way we live out Christ’s principles against one another, putting on a happy face when on the inside we’re actually a wreck.

I want to expand on that last one because it elicits more thoughts for me.  I truly hope that the small group we have built in my building is not seen as a group of perfect Christians by the outsiders.  I hope that others would feel welcome to step into our room on Friday morning to share what is on their hearts, yet I have the feeling we sometimes might come across as too exclusive.  To the typical outsider, the one that may go to church on the weekend but not become involved outside of their own church, we may be seen as too Christian for them.  Too put together.  Too perfect.  When you think about it, who in their right mind wants to feel intimidated like that?  Stepping into the shoes of an outsider, I sure wouldn’t.  I’d stay the heck away from those loonies.  I might even refer to is as a colt, the same way that an outsider once quipped to my face in August.

So, here is the question.  How can we change this stigma?  How can my small group be more welcoming to others?  How can we become a place where anyone in our faculty would feel comfortable sharing their innermost struggles?  That’s a hard one, isn’t it?  The last thing I want our group to be seen as is an intimidating cluster of people that are too perfect for everyone else.  There is no complete fix here either.  I suppose some outsiders will always feel that way no matter what, but I wonder what would happen if we reached out more?  I wonder what would happen if we asked for prayers from our fellow colleagues or even if we went out on a limb an invited them to group?  What do we fear about that?  Are our reputations on the line?  Do we fear that if we invite others to group they will scoff at how Christian we are?

For one thing, if someone scoffs at me for being too Christian, that might be a sign that I’m doing something right.  That might actually make God smile down on me for doing what He called me to do.  The Great Commission is weighing all too heavily on me, and if I do not take advantage of God’s spiritual appointments He gives me, I am not doing my job.  Those scoffers will always be there, but the ones that are on the fence, the ones that are believers yet may see our group as not being for them, those are the ones I wish to connect with.  How can we as a group do that?  Humility for one.  If someone were to step into our group, that humbleness would lower ourselves down to the same plain.  Secondly, an overwhelming sincerity to reach out and pray for those that are struggling, going beyond simply praying for our own needs, would without a doubt help out.

What do you all think?  Feel free to comment below to offer suggestions on how our group can be more accommodating to outsiders.  I would love to spark a discussion here!  May God bless your classroom today.  🙂

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