Sam and I were having lunch at Paul in the lovely shopping area of St Pancras station on Friday. Over my smoked salmon panini and Sam’s ‘Flamiche Poireaux’ (what up North we call ‘leak flan’) I came out with a thought that I’d never really considered before. It was one of those comments that becomes clearer in your mind the more you talk about it. It was about one of the retail outlets around us – Marks and Spencer’s.
I like Marks and Spencer’s but rarely go in. Nevertheless I think it’s a great store serving an important purpose on our High Streets. It’s always good quality and whilst it has some trendy lines, rather than being on the cutting edge of fashion, it tends to be safe and sound. You know where you are with M&S. That’s why, despite a few ups and downs over the last decade or so, M&S is still popular and still with us. And I’m pleased it is. My heart warms to the fact that it’s there. Should I ever not find what I need elsewhere, there’s always M&S. That to me is comforting. As I see its Christmas adverts on TV I feel good that this great British institution of M&S is still with us, bringing stability to our crazy retail world. So I like M&S. But I rarely go.
And that’s how many treat church. Like me and M&S they rarely go, but they’re comforted by the fact that it’s there. They’d be unhappy if it disappeared. After all they might need it at some point. It’s a great thing. A nice thing. The church. Like Marks and Spencer’s.
But if everyone in the UK treated M&S like me, then it would go out of business very quickly. And of course it’s the same for the church. The church, like M&S needs committed customers.
But that’s where the analogy breaks down. Because the church is not a high street chain. And whilst people certainly ‘shop around’ sometimes for a church that fits, the church isn’t selling retail lines and doesn’t have customers like shops. No, church isn’t primarily a building for selling things. Church is people not products. People who are following Jesus. People who gather to worship and pray and learn and share and then are sent out to serve and make a difference in His name.
That kind of loyalty is something that most retail outlets, M&S included, would love to have from their customers. But loyalty to church comes from loyalty to Christ, and that only comes from a change of heart. A change of heart not motivated by goods and services but stirred by a deepening appreciation for all that Jesus Christ has done.
Today we’re baptising a whole number of people across our congregations at The Belfrey. It’s going to be very exciting as people acknowledge allegiance to Christ and formally join the church! I love baptisms and hearing the stories of changed lives. They encourage the rest of church to keep sharing the message of Christ. And they again remind those of us who’ve been part of church for a while of all that Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection, and all he continues to do today by his Spirit. So give thanks with me today – to the God who is less concerned about buildings and selling products and more interested in changing lives.