My thoughts have been returning to the idea of “sub-contracting” these days. You know what a sub-contractor is, right? A General Contractor (GC) is hired to construct a building. The owner looks to the GC as the one responsible. The GC’s name is on the sign outside the construction site, the GC signed the contract and the GC will get paid for the work. The GC is responsible.
But a building is a very complex thing with more than just roofs and walls. It has plumbing, and ventilation, wiring, telephones, all KINDS of stuff that any single GC is usually not equipped to build. So they hire a SUB-Contractor (SC) who specializes in just a certain kind of work. For example, right next to AC3’s office is Bill the cabinet maker. He builds beautiful kitchen cabinets, custom enclosures and furniture for GCs who are responsible for an entire building. He doesn’t do flooring, windows or electrical work; just cabinets.
While this system isn’t perfect, it does work pretty well when it comes to getting buildings constructed. It encourages excellence by allowing people to specialize and it makes a project which would otherwise be too big for one firm, manageable.
But the concept does not translate well to the church. In modern times, we have designed our churches in such a way that we have been sub-contracting large portions of the Gospel mandate.
You see, God “hires” each of us individually to be the GC of our own lives. 1 Timothy 2:5 says “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity–the man Christ Jesus.” Again the Bible says in Philippians 2:12 “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words – YOU are the one responsible to live out the Christ-life. No one else can do it for you. And yet, we have built a church culture where things like compassion, discipleship, evangelism and loving one’s neighbor have been sub-contracted to “professionals”. We see many of the core aspects of the Christ-Life as too “specialized” and so we have come to expect pastors and church staff to do them for us. That’s not to say we don’t each have specific gifts and roles to play in the church, we do! (See 1 Corinthians 12) But there are some things that we are all called to BE as individuals, and just because we write a check to a church or a missionary every month doesn’t mean they are “being” compassionate for us, or that they are “loving” the lost for us.
A couple of examples that have driven this home for me:
This summer I was visited by a very unhappy AC3 attendee who had a substantial list of things he felt AC3 was doing wrong. He was explicit in his expectation that his giving of money should result in certain things being provided by paid staff and if those things did not occur, he would give his money elsewhere. We call this a “pay to play” mentality and it makes perfect sense if you’re a General Contractor with an under-performing sub-contractor. If your cabinet maker is turning out crooked cabinets and is always missing deadlines, you take your business to another cabinet maker!
It does not make sense, however, if we are the Church: an amalgamation of Friends, working together in mutual submission under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Friends don’t make demands of one another and then hold resources hostage until the demands are met. We are not contracting with one another – we are parts of the same body…the Body of Christ.
A larger, systemic, but equally disturbing example comes to us in a Christianity Today article from the July/August 2015 issue. Author Bradley Wright conducted an extensive study to discover if (and if so, which) church groups might be harboring implicit racism (implicit meaning they would/could never come out and SAY they are racially biased, but they behave in ways that are.)
Wright and his colleagues sent emails to various churches (see the article for all the statistical, nerdy details) claiming to be a new resident in their town or city looking for a church home, and would the church send them information. Some of the letters were signed with a clearly American-of European-Descent-Style-Name (in other words white-sounding) like “Tanner Smith” while others were signed with African-American, Latino or Asian sounding names. The results were, in one sense bad, in one sense good and in another sense fascinating.
BAD in that more churches than I would have hoped seem implicitly biased.
GOOD in that some churches turned out to very open to people of different races.
FASCINATING in that I was surprised by which ones were biased.
Out of the different Christian “groups” of churches in the study, the one that showed the most racial bias was (are you ready?):
These are the protestant, denominational churches that have been around for a long time. This includes American Baptists, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists and Presbyterians.
Why is this surprising? Because out of all the Christian groups in America, Mainline Protestant denominations are the most socially liberal, politically active and usually strongly aligned with the “politics of inclusion” like civil rights, same-sex unions, and welfare programs – and yet, by far, they exclude people of other races from their mailing lists more than Evangelicals and Catholics.
Why might that be the case? One theory is that they have a sub-contractor’s attitude.
Perhaps there is a collective sense that because they pay their taxes to a government which they expect to create racial harmony FOR them, they don’t have to do it themselves. In contrast, Evangelicals, who tend to the opposite political end of the spectrum and take the Bible more seriously, might see racial harmony as a job THEY were hired to perform directly.
Read the article and decide for yourself.
So, here’s a thought for you as you head into your weekend at church: What have I given over to someone else to do that God has hired me to do myself?
Here’s a little check list:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
– Colossians 3:12-17