On Having Our Needs Met
“What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).
It’s easy to conceive of the church as if it’s selling something, isn’t it? I was at a meeting one time in which a very nice Christian gentleman made the observation that most ministers weren’t very excited about their product, which was why they were having a hard time selling it to teenagers—as if faith were a purchasable, consumable commodity and the church was the clearinghouse. And if that’s the case, then the church’s job is merely to package Jesus so that the greatest number of people will buy. If the Jesus of Scripture is too demanding, we’ll just sell him as “your friend,” the pal you’ve always been looking for. If the commitment to the church described in the Bible scares off potential buyers, why then we’ll just have to ease up on the requirements.
But then one day we wake up to find that Jesus is no longer savior, the one who establishes a kingdom at odds with the kingdoms of this world, but now he’s merely a personal genie who’s only purpose is to make our lives more satisfying. When the church is designed to meet people’s “felt needs,” we wind up not with a community whose desire it is to help fit disciples of Jesus for the kingdom of God, but a group of individuals whose primary interest is to get their needs met—as they see them. In that kind of church decisions are made, not on the basis of what Scripture calls for as discerned through the wisdom of the community, but on the basis of what decision will make the fewest people upset. If church is only about getting our needs met, then why should anybody ever get angry?
I read one time about a church in Eustis, Florida that offers a sort of “worship-lite.” They changed the sign in front of the church to read: Express Worship, 45 Minutes, Guaranteed! It seems that people were skipping out on church because they thought the service was too long. Consequently, the minister, seeking to meet as many needs as possible, started hacking away at the order of service until he got it down to a manageable time frame. Members of the Family Bible Church apparently love it. “You don’t feel like you’re spending all day in church,” says Joy Easton, a regular worshiper. Another regular, Ernie Quinton, agrees: “Some people don’t want to spend an hour, an hour and a half in church.” The minister, Allen Speegle, says much when he says, “So many people are in a time crunch, but they don’t want to leave the Lord out.” That makes sense, doesn’t it? You love Jesus, you just hate for him to goof up your weekend. And so the church responds by adapting itself to meet people’s needs.
The popular belief among many American Christians seems to be that faith is a private affair, that the primary reason the church worships is so that I might get my needs met. But Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, took exception to the idea that what is important is that I get my needs, as I see them, met. He was speaking specifically to folks who spoke in tongues in a way that privatized worship, satisfying felt needs. He was saying that worship is for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, and anything that focuses first on the private, rather than on the body, is to be strenuously avoided.
And if we were ever to catch Paul’s vision that we have been called not to islands of private euphoria but to be a part of that ragtag group of folks God has chosen to embody the message of grace to a self-involved world, then we might truly have our needs met.