What's in It for Me?

An elderly woman walked into a J.C. Penney department store.  Three young salesclerks were standing there (that was in the days there were people around to wait on you), but since the woman’s clothes were a tattered and worn, they figured that it was a waste of time to wait on such an unlikely prospect.  But there was a fourth young man standing nearby, a devoted Christian for whom kindness was second nature.  He approached the elderly woman, helped her make her purchases and then as she checked out, he learned that she was Mrs. J.C. Penney.

Dan G. Johnson, Neglected Treasure: Rediscovering the Old Testament

I find stories like this strangely distressing.  So much of what we do as a society is predicated on the idea that if you do something well enough and in front of the right people, you will receive some kind of reward.  Which is to enter every situation asking, not “How can I be of service?” but “What’s in it for me?”  If we’re honest, this story isn’t about helping someone else as much as it is about helping the right person—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say when asked why they stopped coming to church, “I wasn’t getting anything out of it”; as if the primary purpose for gathering for worship was somehow only to get something.  This attitude goes something like, “By Sunday morning I’m usually on Spiritual empty, and I come to church to get a fill-up on God.”  But when that attitude emerges, the church becomes merely another consumer proposition, “I’ll go where I get the most for the lowest cost to me.”

Worship is our corporate prayer to God every Sunday.  The church’s life—the way the church is administrated, the education programs, the fellowship opportunities, the acts of service—is itself a corporate prayer.  In that sense, then, our mindset ceases to be, “What will I miss if I’m not there?” but, rather “What will be missing if I’m not there?”  Each member and friend of the church plays a unique role in the prayer of faithfulness we lift to God.  Consequently, everyone is an equally vital part of the body, even if someone’s role is not always apprehended by the rest.

My vision for the Church is that we begin to see ourselves as a family who, when sitting down to the table together, genuinely perceives the family as a whole, not just the sum of its constituent parts.  Indeed, when I begin to understand our connectedness, I’m freed to realize that I’m not in this just for me at all—I’m in this for you as well (and maybe even Mrs. J.C. Penney, too).