I was pretty sure I had seen the car earlier in the day. It was a Chevy Monte Carlo that was blue and Bondo. They pulled into the last pump at Tom Brooks Exxon, closest to the road in such a way as to conceal the car using the pump island. When they walked in with their gas voucher and saw that I was still on duty behind the cash register, I could tell their heart sank a bit. After handing me the voucher, from yet another church, I told them to wait just a moment. I called the secretary of the church and informed her that this was the second time that day these particular individuals had been by to get gas. It would be the last. This scene played out quite a few times over the years.
This happened during my previous career in 1995 when a $5 gas voucher would still get you nearly five gallons of gas. I had made arrangements with many churches in close proximity to the station to handle their benevolent gas vouchers. Ideally, a church would encounter someone who needed some gas to make it to the store for food or get to work and we would take care of it, billing the church at the end of the month. However, some folks would inevitably abuse the benevolence of the churches by calling every church in the area and giving them the same sob story, racking up $30-$50 worth of vouchers. The churches would be none the wiser. That’s where we came in. Since this cooperative of churches would use us alone, we could quickly put a stop to it after the first fill-up. Once the abusers got another voucher to the same station, they knew the gig was up.
Please don’t misunderstand the point I am trying to make. Sometimes hard times befall us and the church should absolutely be willing and able to help. I am addressing how people perceive the church and NOT how the church perceives people.
Many who are on the outside looking in, view the church as an entity that exists to meet their needs. The real horror is that many on the inside feel the same way. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I am just not being ‘fed.'” The “Nomadic Church Hoppers” migrate from one body to the next based on their own needs, desires and expectations. It is the classic consumer mentality and, sadly, some are gluttonous in their consumerism.
The truth is the church does not exist for us. WE ARE THE CHURCH AND WE EXIST FOR CHRIST! We are the body of Christ and we have the mission of God to fulfill. We are to be producers first and foremost. John 15 addresses this very thing. We are the branches which have been grafted into the Vine (Jesus) and we are to bear (produce) fruit. The branches that produce fruit are pruned so they can produce even more fruit. Those branches that do not bear fruit are cutoff and thrown into the fire. Near the end of the chapter, Jesus says, “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…” Our chief motivation is to do the work to which we have been gifted and called, loving God and loving each other, bearing fruit. Much fruit. Good fruit. In God’s amazing economy, the producers receive blessing in the process. We exist in and have our needs met in the overflow of blessing that comes back to us from the fruit we produce.
The prodigal son’s consumerism got the best of him. He sold himself short for an earthly inheritance that would not last. Squandering everything by fulfilling his own desires, he found himself destitute. Then it happened. He recalled the love of his father, swallowed his pride and returned to the place where he belonged. When he put the love of his father and the desire to serve him first, he was fully restored and had all that he ever needed.
If you struggle with church consumerism, take heart. It is never too late. As Matthew 6:33 reminds us, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”