church congregation is one of the most unusual institutions that has ever existed, if normality is defined in terms of selfishness and worldly success.
There are many incongruities between a church congregation and the ways the world does business. For example:
• A church congregation defines itself as being only a representation of another firm. That firm is established in heaven, and the Chairman of the board is God. A church congregation does not take pride in self-promotion but advances itself only to draw people closer to the CEO of heaven. It does not exist for itself.
• A church congregation takes in money for the purpose of giving most of it away. The funds it does keep are not for lining the pockets of its members or workers, but to help the organization to continue to promote and represent their loving Leader above.
• A church congregation sees its mission as sharing with others that which it treasures most—compassion, high moral and ethical values, help in times of need, and, most important, a saving relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
If it were to find itself on Wall Street, a church congregation would be laughed at for its portfolio of investments in people rather than stocks. Its most cherished commodities are love, faith, and truth; not orange juice, beef, or precious metals.
If the church congregation were to find itself in the realm of sports, agents would insist that all the members walk out until given large salaries and bonuses. “Serve for the love of the people?” some might ask. “Whoever heard of such nonsense?”
If a church congregation were to find itself competing in the world of labor, union representatives would urge the members toward strikes and guaranteed working conditions that would not inconvenience or carry a risk. Never would its members be asked to perform a task that did not come under their job description.
If a church congregation were to find itself in the world of entertainment, it would never succeed. It would never win an award or attract the attention of wealthy and powerful producers. Its songs would never be played on MTV.
And yet, in spite of all this, more people serve in a church than there are financiers, athletes, union workers, and entertainers—many times more. A church is a paradox, and yet, not completely so, because a church congregation is a body of believers who love God and one another. These believers have found that their value system may not be highly esteemed in this world, but it has infinite worth when applied to the next one.
A church congregation exists for a cause—the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that He commands. Its members gladly commit themselves to service even though there is no recompense except for smiles, words of appreciation such as “Thank you, you’ve helped me so much,” and the sense that ultimately their acts of service matter more than anything else this world can offer.
Rick Labate currently serves the Potomac Conference in Staunton, Virginia, as pastor and area ministerial director.