by Suzanne Meyer
Some people think religion is like a dose of penicillin. When something is ailing your soul, go get a shot of church to fix you right up. These people are usually disappointed when the occasional “emergency room” visit to church fails to do the trick. In actuality, religion is like vitamins, the regular use of which builds you up. Participation in a community of faith won’t ensure that troubles never come your way, but it may help to bolster your emotional, spiritual, and human resources in advance of hard times.
Some people think that a congregation is like McDonald’s. Drive up to the window and order what you need. “Give me some spirituality, a side order of ethics, a little reassurance, and a small prayer, and make it snappy!” In truth, church is like your mama’s kitchen: If you want something, you gotta get up and fix it yourself. A congregation is a cooperative institution; everyone is expected to participate in the creation of community and to share the load. The operative question is not what can I get out of this, but what of myself can I give? Faith communities exist not to serve us, but to teach us how to serve.
Some people think that religion is like a warm bath. It’s
supposed to “make you feel comfortable and good all over all the
time—“Calgon, take me away!” But in fact, authentic
religion is often more like a cold shower or a wake-up call to the soul.
Sometimes it is necessary for your religious community to disturb you,
shake you up, or prick your conscience. Part of a congregation’s
ministry is prophetic. The prophetic ministry reminds us that we don’t
always live up to our best ideals. The church exists not to make us comfortable,
but to teach us how to comfort. The church exists not to maintain the
status quo, but to transform lives and institutions.