Thom Rainer: Entitlement and the Local Church
In a very general sense, entitlement typically means that someone is due certain economic or similar benefits. The term is also used to refer to massive federal and state programs that guarantee citizens income or benefits.
Entitlement and the Federal Government
The federal government, as the most obvious example, has 235 entitlement programs that cost the taxpayers over one trillion dollars every year. Those programs present the most serious challenges to the economic future of the United States. The three biggest entitlement programs are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In the most recent annual reports of Social Security and Medicare, the respective trustees of the trust funds said the funds are on an unsustainable path. Their very solvency is in jeopardy.
When Entitlement Becomes Epidemic
Entitlement, however, is not confined to certain leaders or government aid recipients. It is epidemic and widespread at multiple levels of family and society.
Have you ever supported someone in need? Perhaps you have been on the receiving end of a generous gift. Many people will be ever grateful, having expected nothing then or in the future. But some people will be grateful for a moment. The gratitude turns to resentment when more gifts are not forthcoming. They have a sense of entitlement.
Have you ever known an employee with a decent salary and benefits to complain because he’s not receiving more? He feels entitled.
Entitlement creeps into our marriages. We expect our spouses to serve us in a particular way because they’ve done so in the past, or because our parents treated us that way.
When the French government reduced the standard workweek from 39 hours to 35 hours in 2000, many leaders and workers lauded the move. They saw the change as a twofold victory. First, they conjectured, the reduction in a workweek would cause businesses to hire more workers to maintain production. Thus, unemployment would be reduced. Second, the move would improve the quality of life of the workers. The French unemployment rate in late 2000 was 8.8 percent. Today the rate is 10.0 percent.
Attempts to move the French workweek back upward have been met with fierce opposition. Many workers now feel entitled to a shorter workweek.
When Entitlement Comes to Church
If there is one place where entitlement should be anathema, it is the local church. Remember the reason Jesus came to earth? “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, HCSB). And how are we followers of Christ to live? We are to “make (our) own attitude that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
Servanthood should dominate the lives of church members. Putting others first should be our first priority. Entitlement has no place in our churches.
How do we know when entitlement becomes pervasive in our churches? We can be sure it’s present when we hear comments similar to these:
- “I have been a member of this church for 20 years, so I deserve things my way.”
- “Someone was sitting in the pew where my family sits.”
- “I tithe to this church, so you work for me.”
- “If I don’t get my way, I’ll withhold my money from the church.”
- “Some people will be in trouble if they mess with the worship the way I like it.”
- “We’ll just visit another church until he changes things back to the way they were.”
- “Why didn’t you visit me? That’s what we pay you to do.”
I could continue. Indeed you could add to the quotes as well. But my point, I believe, is clear. There is no place in the church for a self-serving attitude. To the contrary, we are to give cheerfully and serve others joyfully.
Where Entitlement Must End
Perhaps entitlements will continue to expand in the federal government. There seem to be no signs of it abating. Unfortunately, many marriages will fail because the husband or the wife has an entitlement mentality. And many employees will never be happy at their places of work, no matter how many job changes they make. They will always feel entitled to something more, something better.
But entitlement must end in the church.
Countless believers went to church this weekend in nations around the world. But many of them were not concerned about the music style, how long the pastor preached, or if the budget was to their liking. These believers’ primary concern was for their lives and the lives of their families. Indeed the persecuted church may be the one place where no entitlement exists.
I do not live in a nation where churches are persecuted, at least not for the moment. But I pray God will give to me and other believers a spirit of consuming servanthood. And I pray entitlement will be eradicated from the places we worship the Living God.