I met someone this week who asked me about the free tea, coffee and cake sessions we put on in the church building on Monday and Thursday morning. They were confused by the word 'free' because this didn't make sense to them unless of course it meant payment was in kind rather than coins and they were assuming that the kind looked like them coming to our church.
"No, you don't have to come to our church to come in and have a cup of tea or coffee and some biscuits or cake," I said, "We do it because Jesus came to serve and we, wanting to be like Him, are merely doing the same." Their response was, "But I sometimes go to nnnnnn church, so doesn't that mean I have to pay?" Back came the standard response, "No, it's free, we do it because it provide people with the potential for community and makes a lonely existence less lonely. Regardless of whether you come to this church or not, there is no charge!"
The conversation moved on to another well worn track regarding the joint difficulty people have in receiving stuff for nothing and the Church has in providing the stuff without sticking out its begging bowl. The former being known as 'Grace' and the latter servanthood and ministry - very important concepts that we need to engender and exhibit within our church congregations and deliver to all we meet.
Far too often we worry about making ends meet for the services we provide and attempt to address the shortfall by asking those who avail themselves of them to 'pay up'. I Recently took part in an occasional office (baptism, wedding or funeral) where, at the conclusion of the service, those leaving the building faced something that was, to be quite brutal, only a few degrees short of a mugging! To cap it all, walking into the vestry after the service, I found the two 'muggers' counting their spoil and, as they did, they complained abut the paucity of cash on the plate.
I tried to explain how the money to pay for the services we offer (generally) came from the members of that church. I say 'generally" because some time back I provided something visually appealing and value-added on the understanding that the group we were doing the service for would pay for the means of enhancing it and all I can say is that I'm glad I never held my breath - so there are exceptions to the rule (aren't there always?). The response to this was amazing, seems some people in Church can get energised and passionate after all - just a pity it isn't about the Gospel!
The reason we (the Church) exists is to reconcile us (that's you and me and them who aren't us) and God by means of the Cross of Jesus, the Christ. We seek to live as signposts to the love of God (again as shown through Christ) and the all-embracing and all-encompassing acceptance that is the Gospel (of love and Grace). This is a freewill act of offering ourselves as servants, sacrificially at times (just like Jesus and His giving of Himself), to change the lives of those around us and to demonstrate (words can be used, but perhaps a little more sparingly (YAWN) than is usual) the reality of finding faith in, and peace through, Jesus.
So here's a ticklist for those who lead and are led and a challenge for those who do nothing (but that's not you I'm sure):
1. Are we meeting the needs of those around us (we do know what they need don't we?)?
2. Are we exciting people around us to get involved, opening our doors and getting out there (leaving the doors open for those who come (and they will - not immediately - but they will)?
3. Are we doing stuff because it's who we are rather than as a bait to entice people into the trap?
4. Are we doing whatever it is we are doing whilst looking to others to pay? If we are then perhaps one of the many readings (in this case it's 2 Sam 24) on giving to God that which we own (and have therefore paid for) needs some consideration:
'That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up to do what the LORD had commanded him. When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. “Why have you come, my lord the king?”
David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the LORD there, so that he will stop the plague.”
“Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the LORD your God accept your sacrifice.”
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the LORD and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the LORD answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.'