The Wal-Mart Church

by Bill Denton

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14, nasb).

"Our assignment as churches is not to create a Wal-Mart Community Church, where the aisles are wide, the merchandising is slick, the message is comfortable, and the price of salvation is a little cheaper." Marion D. Aldridge.

My wife jokes that my favorite store is Wal-Mart. I will admit that much of what I own has been purchased at Wal-Mart, or K-Mart, or some other type of discount store. I have never seen any advantage of buying the same item for more money at other stores.

Does Marion Aldridge have a point about Wal-Mart Community Church, though? Very likely so. People are attracted by the idea of a sort of discount church, where for the same or less money, they can get all their spiritual needs fulfilled. It's a kind of consumer-driven religion. People actually shop for a church. They want certain things in place, demand certain facilities and services, expect a fair amount of catering, and insist that they get their money's worth

Sounds good. The only problem is this mentality misses the real identity of the church, and its calling. Market-place Christianity isn't taught in the Bible. Instead, the church of the Bible is made up of one kind of person: those who have been saved from their sins. It's not a place where you go to pick your favorite fulfillments off the shelf. It's something to belong to. It's something to be a part of.

Neither is the church of the Bible composed of a priestly class of super-talented saints who serve the needs of the lay-folk. The church of the Bible is made up of saved people who, over time, accept the job of ministering to one another. The properly functioning church is one in which everyone serves everyone else. One reason there are so many dissatisfied church members is sometimes the result of their lack of participation, or the misguided belief that by shopping hard enough they will find the church with just the right clergy-person to satisfy their desire to be served.

This consumer-oriented Christianity has produced a dissatisfied and impotent church. Wal-Mart is great because if I buy something that doesn't work, I just take it back and get a refund or a replacement product. But, when something in the church doesn't work right, there is nowhere to return it. Understood correctly, if something in the church doesn't work right, perhaps I ought to see that it gets fixed. The consumer-model, however, suggests that we launch a complaint, expect somebody else to solve our problem, and get relief of any difficulty present.

We need a better view of "church." We need to expose the fallacy of the consumer model of Christianity. We have totally overdone this "get-your-needs-met" thing. We seem to have forgotten that one of our greatest needs is learning how to be productive ourselves. Get out of the broad aisle of your Wal-Mart church and squeeze through the narrow gate leading to life. When you finally learn that God has called you to serve, not be served, you'll discover what the church is really about.

© Copyright 2002, Dr. Bill Denton
All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

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