Church: Customers or Coworkers in Mission

Dear Folks,
The Feast of the Ascension is a time to talk about mission. It is sort of the apostles’
graduation ceremony. To be Christian is to be on mission, and it is time to ask a very
serious question.
Consider, if you will, two models of Church: Catholics as customers vs Catholics as coworkers in mission.
Catholics who function according to the customer model will think about church like any
other consumer good, and it becomes about getting one’s preferences over all (Coke or
Pepsi? Or maybe Dr. Pepper?). Improving the church becomes about how services can be
provided as conveniently as possible. Volunteering in the church will be seen as
extraordinary, not normal. Adult faith formation is seen as “for those who like that sort of
thing” rather than a normal part of being a disciple. I believe it was Richard Neuhaus who
said that many Catholics thought their only duty was to show up to be served. Things like
faith formation and Christian service will be seen as extras to be sacrificed for the sake of
“basic functions: keeping the buildings open and the Mass schedule. Such people may be
more likely to quit if they don’t get things the way they think they should be.
Catholics who see themselves as co-workers in mission are going to be focused on how the
Church can better draw people to Jesus. They will ask more questions like how can we
better draw outsiders to Jesus? How can we be leaven, salt, and light in the larger
community? How can we inspire others to see the goodness, beauty, and truth about the
Catholic faith? What reasons do the surrounding community have to be grateful we are
here? Instead of asking “how much am I obligated to do?” the question is “How can I, with
my circumstances, do as much as possible?” Some, given their situation, can only do a
teeny bit, but if we do it with love, it is huge in God’s eyes. Learning more about the faith
becomes urgent, so that we can better witness to it. There is an urgency to growing in
holiness, so that God’s light will shine more brightly through us. There is an attentiveness
to how we represent the faith community to others; we are God’s ambassadors. Such people
will be more resilient when hard times come, when we lose things we are accustomed to,
when being church grows difficult. Such people will not watch helplessly when things go
bad but will build something better.
Parents’ first mission is passing on the faith to their children, and if we believe the Gospel
is true, then we believe that the faith is the most important gift they can give their children.
Many parents have suffered the heartbreak of watching their grown-up children stop the
practice of the faith. If they did the best they knew how to do at the time, they have nothing
to be ashamed of. As they grieve for their disappointment, we turn our attention to how
things can be made better. The task at hand is to become a church that better draws people
to the faith. The data makes it clear that what was done in the past does not give them what
they need. It will take all of us together to make that happen.
So, this leads to the question: what is our model? How do we see ourselves? And, most
importantly, how would Jesus want us to approach being Church?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

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