Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?”
Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.”
Let’s unpack this
In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)
Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.
Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.
For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.
In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.”
After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.
Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.
For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.
To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.
Two different worlds
We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.
The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30
Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.”
This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.
We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.
Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.
Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a
In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.
No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.