The Death of the Church Bake Sale

Maybe the brownies got burnt. You know what, that's probably a good thing!

There's a great scene in the 1998 film Simon Birch, when one of the main characters for whom the film is also named, stands-up during Sunday Morning worship and deigns to interrupt saying "If God has made the church bake sale a priority, we're in a lot of trouble." When I first saw that scene, I, like so many other viewers, laughed at the humor which that line was meant to convey. But, today, I see that seemingly comical line as almost prophetic for the direction of the modern church.

It is no secret that there are many Christian churches across the country which are struggling. Some close. Others merge. Still others are filled with parishioners who cling to the hope that their once-filled pews will magically be bursting again with the same people who have long since moved-on. They cling to their traditions. They cling to the way they've always done things. They cling to---their bake sales.

While I'm not a theologian, I am a seminary student discerning God's call toward greater ministry in his church. I am hard-pressed to find a scripture which talks about the church bake sale, no matter what translation I pick-up. It's because God never said to have bake sales. But, he does very clearly command his followers to make disciples in Matthew 28:19.

While I seem to be singling-out bake sales, just like how Jesus taught, the bake sale is simply the symbol of this parable which illustrates the larger point. After all, what is the purpose of a bake sale: to make money. There is no doubt the proprietors of said sale, are well-intentioned, likely trying to "balance" the church budget, make the proverbial ends meet, and wipe clean the nasty red-ink and ugly parenthesis of balance-sheet accounting.

But, this other question must be asked: what is the purpose when someone seeks to make disciples? Well, I would argue that each disciple, each person who comes to Christ, in the way Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans 10:9, is profiting infinitely greater than a goal which seeks to balance the man-made construct of a budget. For alas, bringing someone to Christ is an especially powerful moment, far outweighing however adept one might be at haggling over a brownie or an Apple pie at the church bake sale. For those of us who have experienced that moment in Christ, it is intangibly indescribable physically, emotionally, and especially, spiritually. But, isn't that the message of the Gospel, isn't that the message of what God did for us concisely summarized in John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

The modern church tends to mire itself in traditions, in doing things, because, "hey, they've always been done that way." Any organization, Christian or otherwise, which does things because of how they have always been done, is heading toward a bleak finish.

Rather, as disciples of Christ, we are all blessed to follow God's leading through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can be free from worry about the direction of his church, only if we are diligent in prayer, diligent in seeking God's leading, and most importantly, diligent in following God's leading. For if you are reading this and this situation sounds strangely salient to you, I have news for you, the word "change" might soon be necessary. But, think about that "change" as the beginning of a blessed journey with God, and for God. God has a plan for you; God has plan for his church.

The title and idea for this essay came to me after my local congregation, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), through much prayer, made a "covenant of sharing and caring" with another local congregation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We don't know where God is leading us together, but we do know that God has lead us to work together and to ultimately, make disciples together. Prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit led us to see this vision. Prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to fulfilling God's call to discern this vision.

So, it's okay to throw away the burnt brownies. You don't have to eat them. For the bread of life in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and the love, grace, peace, and joy enveloped within it, is more than sufficient to sustain his Church.