On social media last week, there was quite a bit of rancor over a video clip of megachurch pastor’s wife Victoria Osteen talking about how when people come to church, it’s about them, not about God, because God wants us to be happy. (You can watch the clip here to hear her own words.) It’s been suggested, on sober reflection, that this might have caught our hackles, in part, because that’s what we really believe – based on how we act, anyway. Let me explain.
When we come to church – irrespective of the tradition with which we connect – there is often part of us that seeks our personal preferences. In our consumer society, we shop at particular stores because they give us what we want. We drive particular cars because we prefer that kind. We drink a particular brand of beverage because it fits our taste. But the Christian community with which we affiliate – is that supposed to be about consumer choice? Will we be giving “consumer’s choice” awards to churches based on how they meet our needs?
Maybe we prefer organ; maybe drums and guitar. Maybe we prefer expository preaching; maybe topical thoughts. Maybe we prefer small groups; maybe we prefer big Bible studies. Some of that is, of course, quite natural. We are attracted to what we like. It (often!) works in marriage, after all; why not in worship?
To an extent, that is probably true. We are divinely wired to have preferences. It’s part of the beauty of the diversity of the human race. The challenge comes when we universalize our own preferences, and then put ourselves (and our preferences) ahead of others (and their preferences).
I once heard a sermon in which the congregation was challenged to consider – from a consumer point of view – who is the customer, and who is the sales person. As the church, we are not called to self-satisfaction; we are called to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). Those in the church are in sales, seeking to reach ‘customers’ who are not yet part of the body of Christ. For followers of Jesus, this sometimes means stepping outside our own comfort zones – our own preferences – and willingly being part of a community of faith that caters its worship, and its proclamation of truth, to draw those who are outside the family.
We can never cheapen the act of worship into something that just makes us happy; after all, worship is intended to please God first and foremost! As worshippers, of course, we want to be able to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that is in keeping with who we are. But we also want to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that enables people who are far from God to draw near to him.
It’s a complicated issue, and perhaps this little dust-up within the Christian world has given some of us pause to think about how and why we worship the Lord of the Universe.
However your church “does church”, consider who, among your friends and family, you can invite to experience the praise of God. You could change someone’s eternity!