11 11 2013

I once sat in on a discussion with fellow campus ministers about what disappoints us in ministry work. One minister expressed his greatest disappointment was when some church kids, (people who grew up in the Church like me) came into his ministry but would never buy into the mission. As I sat and listened to all his reasons, I had to admit it was disappointing, but for me it wasn’t my greatest disappointment. He talked about how some Church kids would come in and be so self-focused that he could just never get them involved. They would just show up once a week but never be there when they were needed. They couldn’t be counted on to do anything. He expressed his frustration in trying to get them serious about their faith only to see them float around. We discussed ways to try to help those students without ever coming to any real conclusions. I knew exactly what he was talking about as I also had the same problem to a degree, but our ministry was having great success in reaching lost people and growing with new conversions. My frustration came from another source.

We had discussions about elders that didn’t really understand the mission, about lack of support from the rest of the body, about the difficulty of keeping the campus ministry from becoming an “island to itself”. We talked about the generation gap between the college-age and the older groups in the church. We shared stories and frustrations. Then one minister hit the nail on the head when he expressed a frustration that literally drove him mad. I had to admit it was one of my greatest frustrations as well. It was the one that kept me up at night. It was the one that drove me crazy. Every campus minister in the discussion shared the same level of disappointment with this problem. We even invented a word for it: Churchified. Yes, we knew it wasn’t a word you could find in the dictionary; but we also knew that almost every minister would identify with it.

It is a common frustration that a minister reaching lost people will experience, and it is one that is painful. Here is an example of it: A number of years ago one of our newly converted girls reached out to one of her friends and we eventually baptized her. She quickly grasped the mission and became very active in the ministry, reaching out to her friends and even students she didn’t know. She was leading many to Christ. She was on fire for the Lord and His mission of reaching the lost. It was exciting. She also was setting a good example for others by helping in the church by working in the nursery and being a great servant. But then something strange started to happen. She started showing up less and serving more. Slowly but surely she became so focused on serving internally that she stopped sharing externally. She was no longer reaching anyone with the Gospel. She had become “Churchified”. No matter how we tried, we could not get through to her. This was painful to watch as we loved her dearly. But no matter what we did she took it as a threat to her “service”. She started using words like “I want, I feel, I need… I, I, I”.

Now, I know some will read this and say, “Well, she is still serving. She is still a part of the body just with a different focus.” Some will say that as long as we stay attached to the body we are still on task. They will even go on to quote the story Jesus tells about the Vine and the Branched as proof text. Really? That story is about being attached to Jesus so we can produce fruit. She has stopped producing fruit. Read that story again and look at what happens to a branch that doesn’t produce fruit.

Are we so blind that we cannot see what is really going on? She became self-serving. “Serving” became her religion. It became about what made her feel good. She misplaced her love for the lost. Paul speaks to her when he says: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Gal. 3:1-3

Are we willing as proclaimed Christians to evaluate our motives in such a way that will continually reflect our beginnings and our Lord’s mission? Have we gravitated to rote ways of exercising our Christian habits that have caused us to lose the intended mission of Christ’s Church?

Have we become ‘Churchified’?