Your Church Might Be A Country Club If…(Part 2)

In my previous post I began outlining four identifiers that your church might be more like a country club than a church. Once again, I’m not knocking country club memberships. If you are a member of one, I give you permission to sing along with Travis Tritt—loud and proud—“I’m a member of a country club….” [If you are a country music fan, maybe you just got that song stuck in your head for the remainder of the day. You’re welcome!] 

The reason for my posts is that I fear many American believers view the church as a country club. Or at the very least, they practically behave as if the church was indeed a country club. Regardless, viewing the church or behaving as if the church is a country club distorts both the identity and the mission of the church. 

Knowing the characteristics of a country club can help protect the church from becoming or being viewed as such. Here are the remaining four identifiers that your church might be more of a country club that members pay for than the church that Jesus died for.

1—Your church might be a country club if your members worry about public disruption.

One of the benefits of being a member of a country club is that you don’t typically have to worry about the public infringing upon your property. In other words, the members of the club can enjoy the exclusivity of the club’s amenities. They don’t have to vie for tee times, tables in the dining room, the pool, or the tennis courts. In short, they can enjoy their club with minimal crowd or public disruption.

For many churches, and church members, they don’t like crowds—they don’t like newer people coming in and disrupting the way things are. They want their same parking spot for both their car and their rear. In addition, church members may fear more newer people means more newer things. In other words, if the public comes in, they may shape the church house into something they aren’t comfortable with. 

I know what many church members say. They say, “We want to grow and reach new people.” What they really mean, however, is, “We want to grow and reach new people as long as it’s convenient and agreeable for us.” In other words, they are fine as long as the newer people don’t rock the boat or disrupt what they have going on. It’s incumbent to keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for His people to protect their exclusivity, but for His people to proclaim and demonstrate the inclusivity of the gospel—that Jesus is for all mankind. 

2—Your church might be a country club if you view other churches (“clubs”) as competition. 

The last thing you want if you are a club owner—or a club member at that—is people leaving and going down the street to the newer, bigger, and fancier club. In fact, if a club starts losing lots of members to the club down the street, they begin to see them as their big bad competitor. As a result, there tends to be a sour taste towards the “other” club. In addition, there tends to be reactive measures taken by the “losing’ club. Instead of having their own identity and crafting the club accordingly, they copycat the club down the street—thinking such measures will plug the leak. 

Churches should be different. Churches aren’t in competition with one another but are partners in the Great Commission. I believe the reason why many churches and church members see each other as competitors is because for the last thirty years or so, there’s been a lot of swapping going on. Something happens at one church, and people leave to go down the street to the other. Or, another church sprouts up with a “better” band, preacher, children’s ministry, and environment, and people from the “older” church leave to attend the newer. Such a cycle is built upon consumerism which drives competition. 

Church leaders must learn to be secure in who God has called them to be and what He has called them to do. While every church has the same call and task—or the same message and mission—the way they go about enacting them should have flexibility. In other words, church shouldn’t come in a one-size fits all mold. As J.D. Greear expresses, “We are to marry the mission [and the message], and date the method.” Every church must seek the face of God to determine how they are to flesh out their call and task there in their locale. Keep in mind, it may not look like the church down the street. And that’s ok. 

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting there’s nothing to learn from one another. I think there is plenty we can glean from the various models and styles of church. However, the minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission—to be better than the church right down the street. 

The minute we see another church as a competitor and not as family is the minute we Americanize the church’s mission.

3—Your church might be a country club if 99.9% of your programs and events evolve around members.

Have you ever noticed the calendar of a country club? Almost every single event and program is for its membership. There might have been more, but the only event that I saw on the calendar that involved outsiders was the member-guest golf tournament. Like I said, there could have been more, I just didn’t see them. Such a practice shouldn’t be odd though. Should it? The members do pay for the club’s services and amenities. Thus, it would only stand to reason every event and program would revolve around the members.  

Having every event and program revolving around members isn’t a bad thing if implemented at a country club. However, it is detrimental if implemented at a church. The church is a body or organization where the membership doesn’t exist for itself but for those who have yet to join. If churches aren’t intentional, they will find that most of what they do is geared for insiders not outsiders. But if churches will stay true to their Christ-given mission, they will develop their ministries and programs with non-members in mind. If not, they are well on their way to becoming a country club. 

4—Your church might be a country club if you create an environment of becoming before belonging. 

If you are going to belong to a country club, you will have to become of member of that club. It is as simple as that. Sure, some clubs offer you an opportunity to try out the golf course and the kitchen prior to joining. Nevertheless, if you are going to belong and find community at the club, you will first have to become a member. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what would happen if clubs allowed people to belong to the club before they became a member? Perhaps more people would join?

In the church there’s a small debate over the progression of people’s faith and involvement with the church. Do people believe (in Christ), then become (a member of a church), and then belong (to the community)? Do they belong, then believe, and then become? Once again, I don’t believe there is a one-size fits all for every person. However, I do believe the church must be flexible on each person’s process and progression in the faith and involvement with the church. 

Having said that, I do believe churches should be very careful at creating environments that prohibit people from experiencing Christian community before they actually become a Christian. In other words, churches would do well to create safe environments for people to belong before they believe and even become. Just out of curiosity, what kind of impact do you think a church could have if they created safe places for nonmembers (people far from God) to belong as they explored faith, engaged in a Christian community, and witnessed authentic worship? 

Country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them.

In closing, there’s definitely more that could be said with regards to churches behaving more like a country club than what Jesus intended for them. The reality is, country clubs are places that provide services people pay for, whereas the church is a body of believers providing service for the king who died for them. When church leaders and church members keep this at the forefront of their mind, they will be a missional vehicle advancing the good news to a people in desperate need rather than a recreational vehicle enjoying the amenities of a religious club. 

Your Church Might Be A Country Club If… (Part 1)

I have been involved at three country clubs in my life. The first CC was under my parents’ membership in Covington, TN. The second CC was as an employee serving as the assistant to the golf pro in Canton, GA. The third was at an affordable club I found in Louisville a few years back. Let me just say, I have an affinity for golf!

I’ve also grown up in the church and have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years—serving as a Lead Pastor for the past 12. Let me say, with all her blemishes and imperfections (of which I am a part), I love the church! 

Having been a part of both country clubs and churches—as well as studying the North American landscape—I think for many Christians it’s easy to confuse country club membership with church membership. In this two-part blog, I want to highlight eight identifiers (four in each post) that your church might be a country club.

Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for the church to be a country club. Jesus died and rose again for the church to be a commissioned conduit to take the good news to the ends of the earth! 

With that in mind, here are four identifiers that your church might be a country club.

1—Your church might be a country club if the goal is to keep members happy. 

A country club is a service provider. For many, they provide golfing, swimming, tennis, dining, and entertainment services. Thus, if their services don’t appeal and appease the members, they will soon experience a decrease in membership. As a result, if members complain about the conditions of the locker rooms, the quality of the greens, the attire of the staff, or the taste of the food, country clubs will work to rectify the problem. A club’s future and sustainability is fueled by the satisfaction of the members. 

A church, on the other hand, is a mission vehicle. A church’s goal isn’t to keep members happy consuming a service, but to equip members to be sent out proclaiming and demonstrating good news. However, many churches have been turned into country clubs as they field an onslaught of complaints and suggestions. When churches are crafted into the image of consumers they distort the image of their Savior. 

2—Your church might be a country club if the leaders are seen more like a board of directors.

Many country clubs have a group of people called the board of directors that oversee the activities and effectiveness of the organization. In short, the board is mostly comprised of business people that are mainly concerned with two things: membership happiness and the club’s bottom line. Thus, board of directors are inclined to measure a club’s success based upon the bottom line of bodies and budgets. 

In the New Testament, church leaders were never referred to of as a board of directors, but as apostles, pastors (elders), evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). And these leaders were to equip the members for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Did you catch that? Those who belong to the church are to do work! Gospel work! I don’t know about your club, but I never experienced my club calling for a work day for members to tidy up the property. Members pay others to do the work so that they can enjoy the benefits of the club. 

Church leaders aren’t a board of directors but a body of developers.

Beware, churches that are primarily built on a country club mentality will experience a bottom-line effect when they have leaders that call members to work—getting their hands dirty—for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good. 

3—Your church might be a country club if people with affluence carry all the influence. 

For many, membership to a country club carries a connotation of status and wealth. Our culture is conditioned to treat those of status and wealth differently than those without the position or the deep pockets. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the owner of a multi-million-dollar company received preferential treatment compared to the retiree who drove a UPS truck. It’s not that the retiree was treated poorly, he just didn’t carry the weight the million-dollar business man did. 

I’ve also witnessed first-hand in the church world how status and wealth can get one a prominent place of influence in the church. Never mind the person of affluence swims in a theological, missional, and spiritual kiddie-pool. Yet, because of the influence his affluence provides him, he is able to bend the ears of the board of directors (leaders), which ultimately gives direction to the bent of the church.   

Affluence should not be a factor for giving one influence in the church. People that should be given a voice and weight are those who exhibit an authentic and deep abiding love for Jesus and His mission.

Success in business doesn’t mean maturity in mission. 

4—Your church might be a country club if the membership is homogenous. 

There’s seldom diversity in club members. Most members are cut from the same piece of cloth. They live in the same area, go to the same schools, dress the same way, vote for the same political party, etc. In short, most country clubs are set up for homogeneity. 

The church, however, was birthed for diversity. With the mission to create a peoplefrom all peoples, Jesus envisioned a diverse church—a third race as some have expressed. Therefore, churches should be about engaging, reaching, and cultivating the diversity represented in the community around them. Therefore, churches should experience racial, cultural, socio-economic, political, and to some extent denominational diversity. In doing so, the church demonstrates the in-breaking reign of God to unite a people from all peoples through the blood of the Lamb! 

In closing, I’m for both country clubs and churches. Given my affinity for golf, I understand the benefits and environments of country clubs. Given my love for Jesus and having studied His affection and mission for the church, I understand who the church is and what the church is to do. But the two entities are entirely different! A church isn’t a country club, and a country club isn’t a church. 

Kiss of Death

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.