May 14, 2011, Winnipeg, Canada. We’d just stepped off the plane, collected our baggage, and loaded up in the two Chevy Astro vans Johnnie and Alex drove over from Camp and settled in for the five-hour trip back. As our van pulled away from the curb, we heard a horrible scraping sound. SKRRRRRR!

“Oh yeah, that’s just the brakes, eh?” said driver Alex, “Finny the fish-whisperer,” Finlayson. “It quiets down once we get going a bit, eh.”

Every time Alex touched the brakes, SKRRRRRRRR! I used to be a mechanic. It was like hearing fingernails grate across a chalkboard.

The problem was: The brakes were Canadianized.

The Canadian environment is tough on cars. Salt Corrosion destroys metal. Brake rotors disintegrate. Brake pads get stuck in the slides. Calipers stick and won’t release. Preventive maintenance is essential.

Something similar happens to churches that go too long without proper maintenance. They become Americanized. And just like that van needed an annual inspection and maintenance on its brakes; churches need a yearly inspection. We need to examine ourselves and make repairs. The founders of our Church built in our annual membership renewal so that we would have to take a look at ourselves as a church, see where we might be corroded and hanging up, where we’ve become Americanized, and make some repairs.

Americanized churches have three characteristics.

The Americanized Church is About the Individual

The Church is ‘of the individual, by the individual and for the individual’ to paraphrase Mr. Lincoln. The feelings, rights, and preferences of the individual supersede every other value. Forget sound doctrine. Forget obedience. Every spiritual value is weighed against personal peace and prosperity. If it adds to my sense of self and well-being, I embrace it. If it challenges my comfort zone or, God forbid, calls me to change my thinking and behavior, I reject it.

But that kind of church “doesn’t work,” there’s a scraping sound when it’s focused on the individual.

The Americanized Church is Optional

We show up when we feel like it. We participate when it’s convenient. We give out of our surplus. We serve until it no longer feels good. It’s optional.

Christ’s Church is his body, His physical presence on planet earth.[1]

Sometimes people say to me, “I can’t feel God in my life.” And I say, “What am I, chopped liver?”

Jesus works through the Church, his body, to meet each other’s needs. He nurtures us, cares for us, gifts us, cleanses us, and matures us for his purposes. He appointed us to do good works planned before the Church began.[2] But it doesn’t work that way if it is optional.

The Americanized Church is Cliquish

It has in groups and out groups, super-spiritual groups, and not so spiritual groups. It breaks down into socio-economic layers.

Former Christianity Today Editor, Andy Crouch, related a conversation with a 25-year-old pastor who “appeared to drive up the average hairstyling bill in the room by several dollars. ‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘we’re starting a church for cool people.’”

Cool people?

“Yeah, you know, people like us.” (He doesn’t mean himself and me; he means himself and his friends—all of whom do indeed exude a level of coolness that I could only dream about.) I fleetingly envision spot checks at the door—Old Navy allowed only on probation, white sneakers politely referred to the contemporary service down the street—but decide that coolness is probably self-enforcing.”

“Later in the weekend, after one of my presentations, he admiringly says—I swear this is an accurate quote—’You know, dude, you may not have cool hair, but you have some serious clue.’ (What a relief—the cool kids like me!).”[3]

Cliques have the right to decide who is in and who is out, who gets included, and who is excluded. SKRRRRR! But here’s the fix:

Commit to the growth of others.[4] We ask, “What’s it doing for me? If it isn’t meeting my need, I’m not going to go.” Instead – with balance – we should evaluate: will my presence be an encouragement to a weaker brother or sister? Will my service edify someone other than me?

Church membership is a commitment to do all these things and more in a community of others who are also doing them. That preventive maintenance will keep any church working well for a long time to come.

[1] Eph. 1:22-23.

[2] Eph. 2:10

[3] CT Mag. March 2002 Andy Crouch

[4] Rom. 15:1-2

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