Challenging Faith Do You Attend a ‘Country Club Church’?

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By Joel Lund 

What The World Doesn’t Need: The Country Club Church 

Does pairing “country club” with “church” grate on your sensibilities? If it does, then I am much pleased and we’re halfway home. 

To get the rest of the way there, let’s unpack the differences between a country club and the church, as well as examine how devastating the result is when they are paired together. Because there are a staggering number of just such pairs, and the world is worse for it. 

A quick search using “What is a country club?” delivers nearly 3 billion results in under a second. To simplify our lives, here is a brief definition: 

A country club is a privately owned club where members join through an admittance 
process or sponsorship. They typically offer a wide variety of opportunities 
that appeal to their members with shared interests. 

Did you spot the problem? It’s not in the definition, but in the implications that come from it. Because by replacing the first eight words, we have a comfortable definition for the church: 

A church is a religious organization where members join through an admittance 
process or sponsorship. They typically offer a wide variety of opportunities 
that appeal to their members with shared interests. 

Both sound quite nice, don’t they? Everything in it’s place, beautiful grounds, pleasant behaviors, no one out of line, and plenty of opportunities to feel a comfortable, gratifying sense of belonging. And certainly, nothing to disturb or challenge those “member benefits.” 

Except that’s not what a church is intended to be. The more a church seeks to be nice, pleasant, beautiful, and the provider of opportunities, the more aligned it is to a country club. 

The Church As Country Club 

The church as a country club is not a new problem. In Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea incurs severe criticism from God: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” 

Ouch! Can you imagine being a member of that church, hearing the Lord intends to spit you out? 

But that’s also interesting, isn’t it? Normally, we’d think that “lukewarm” is pleasant; it neither threatens scolding heat nor frigid cold. Members of a church like this wouldn’t require much, would they? In fact, who wouldn’t want to be a member there? Everything would be just so, the facility would be very nice, and there would be loads of opportunities to feel a gratifying sense of belonging. Most importantly, there would be nothing to disturb the delicate sensibilities of its members. After a year like 2020? Sign me up! 

So, why did this church receive such a stern rebuke? The short answer is this: they were so earthly minded they were of no heavenly good. We see that here: For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” 

Ouch, again! This church took pride in its wealth. It gloated in its prosperity. It arrogantly believed it lacked for nothing. 

Oh, oh! Before you indulge the impulse to scoff at such a shallow and haughty church, take a moment to reflect on how mainstream this condition is. It’s not as if we’re immune from desiring wealth, prosperity and comforts. Indeed, isn’t that the foundation for human conflicts? We must examine ourselves – and our own church – for these attitudes, because they take us in entirely the wrong direction (Lk 9:23). 

Is Your Church Spit-Worthy? 

My entire life has revolved around the church. My father was a minister for 30+ years. My wife and I have been involved in full-time church work, as well as volunteering in many ways, also for 30+ years. 

From this context we could, like kids on the playground, show you our “church scars.” But the odds are, you could, too. Comparing our scars might have some therapeutic value. “Hey, you think that’s something? Well, take a look at this baby!” It might even lead to useful insights. Still, the risk of using those scars as an excuse to stand in judgment over the church is very real, and that would do nothing to build up the church, which is the whole point of God’s stern rebuke of the country club church. They weren’t doing anything. 

More importantly, let’s be clear: the “church” is not an institution, denomination, or set of dogmas. It’s people. God’s people. It’s you. And it’s me. 

It should not surprise us that the very nature of the church makes it “spit-worthy.” Jesus came precisely to heal the sick, not those who think of themselves as righteous (Mark 2:17). So, you’d be right to expect that the church, your church, any church, is full of sick people. We’re all of us desperately sick people (Jer. 17:9). 

So, is God saying this country club church is worthy to be spit out because it’s full of spiritually sick people? Not at all. Read that verse again. The distinguishing factor that brings judgment has to do with awareness. Those church people were guilty of self-deceit and an utter lack of humility. 

The first draft of this article included a litany of examples of how badly churches can go wrong. You probably would recognize similar behaviors from your experiences of churches. But again, let us not forget that you and I are among them. The entire point here is not to indulge a dump-fest on the church, but to encourage you to own your responsibility for spiritual growth and maturity and in so doing, build each other up. 

The Country Club Church is a Complacent Church 

Fun fact: “spit you out of my mouth” can be translated as “vomit.” That’s the nuance used by the Lord. Sit with that for a moment: the church in Laodicea was lukewarm and God despised it enough to vomit. Sobering, isn’t it? 

Today, we’d say the church of Laodicea is “fat, dumb and happy.” It’s bland. It has no salt, no taste, and nothing to offer to a dying world. 

You see, a complacent church willfully chooses not to speak boldly about our lost condition. It avoids sharing the good news of a Savior who ransomed his life for anyone aware of their wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked condition, because a country club church doesn’t want to offend. And telling people (or reminding them) that they’re wretched sinners is certain to offend someone. Yet nothing could be better than that from God’s perspective. 

The church in Laodicea was such a place. It was spiritually compromising, not wishing to disturb anyone. It sought peace at the cost of conscience, preferring comfort over truth. Ray Stedman puts it this way: 

You could have attended this church for years and it would have probably been very pleasurable, but nothing much would be happening. You would not be challenged, or rebuked, or corrected, or exhorted, but only encouraged and respected because it was a comfortable church…a compromising church. 

What the World Needs: The Suffering Church 

The church is not a building or, worse, a “campus.” It’s people. Christ died to redeem people. He did not suffer the cruelty of the cross for the benefit of a facility, pews, a fellowship hall, or staff salaries. He certainly did not leave his heavenly throne, condescend into a frail babe in a manger, and live a sinless life, all so that his followers could be assured of having a pleasant and prosperous club to join, lush and exceedingly comfortable, and replete with a gratifying sense of belonging. 

Not even close! The church is a ragtag mess of spiritually sick people, young and old, rich and poor, of all skin colors and hues. We’re all messy because we’re all human, and the human condition is messy. Christians are not somehow transported above all that messiness. Nor are we inoculated from being jerks to each other. As such, rest assured that all churches are screwed up and that we’re in good company since we’re all part of that reality. 

This is why God gave the letter to the church of Laodicea – and to us – as a warning. We’re called to humbly serve each other, individually and collectively, in direct response to God’s astounding mercy to all the earth. Not to seek a spiritual country club where we expect people to be as angelic as we think we are. 

He says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich… Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  –  Rev. 3:18-22 (partial) 

Dump Your Membership 

The Lord expects his disciples to be committed (not lukewarm) and to properly understand the truth about their nature (wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked). He doesn’t call on his people to “be nice.” In fact, that word isn’t in the Bible. However, we are called to be zealous about pursuing those needing comfort. He counsels us to seek his gold that is refined by fire, conquering the world’s demand for compromise. 

Sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Certainly doesn’t begin or end with being “nice.” Still, that’s the message God brings to our country club church mentality. And if we’re honest, country club churches exist because of demand; we’re attracted to them. 

However, in this pandemic age, with the world lurching further toward whatever it pleases, untethered from truth, relentless in its quest for meaning apart from a Creator and rabid in rejecting its Savior, we must seek to be members of the vibrant church. 

Stop looking for reasons to dump on it while excusing yourself as if you’re not part of the mess. Seize every chance to nurture it. Are you expecting your church to pamper you, or are you investing in personal Bible study? Buy the gold refined by fire, and spit out anything lukewarm. Ask God to warm your complacent heart! Instead of yearning for “nice,” answer the door and accept the Lord’s loving discipline and reproval. Be zealous. Repent your attraction for lukewarm churches. Instead, embrace suffering with those who suffer. Reach out to the missing. Pastors, call on your flock. Members, pray for your pastors. 

Behold, the Lord knocks on your door. He invites you to sit with him as a conqueror. If you have ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 3:20-22). 

Is it time to dump your membership in a country club church? Yes. Yes it is. For all of us. 

 

Joel is a certified master coach, business strategist, and author. Most importantly, he’s worked with a lot of people just like you. Chat with him. There’s no charge. Schedule here: http://bit.ly/Curious-PFR. 

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