Friday, 22 March 2013

The Christian is Not Always Right

I can't remember which pratt uttered the immortal words, "the customer is always right" - but if I ever met him/her, I'd gladly poke that person in the eye.

As a former retailer, that wonderful sentiment - meant well, I am sure, was the curse of my daily toil.

I would like a paint a picture for you. Someone comes in. They expect you to be open at the time that they are planning to come in. They expect the lights to be on, the heating on. They expect the product they have come in for to be ready, available, in stock. They expect the provision of that product to be timely, efficient, clean, professional, courteous, utterly tailored to their particular needs and very much on-demand. They expect the branch to be fully staffed by trained people eager to serve their every need with a smile. When that product is not to the standard that they may expect, they expect to be able to complain, withhold payment or else leave and take their business elsewhere. As you are the manager of the branch, you are there to take the complaint. And say nothing, only smile and jolly well sort it out. Now. 

This all sounds reasonable. I don't think any of us would expect to walk into a shop and receive anything less than the formula proposed above. We are all members of the capitalist dream where a customer wanders around with the weight of the purchaser's might. 

But I am not talking about a shop, you see. I am talking about the local church and the tendency that some have to extend their consumer expectations upon the service-provider known locally as God is Love Plc. I have noticed this tendency in some wherever I have worshipped and to be honest it upsets me greatly. As a parishioner, it was for me to overhear the complaints of disgruntled 'customers'. As a curate, it was for me to direct the 'customers' to the Service Department. As the vicar, I have to deal with the complaints in the failure of 'the church' to meet the needs of 'the customer'. 

I think that in the main, we (the notional leaders) get it right in church life. I think I do here and I believe others do too. Every once in a while, though, the sentiment expressed at the top manifests itself in every same way that it does in the local branch of Marks. 

I recently heard of a conversation that, in the foretaste of a stewardship campaign, revolved around the notion: "but what does the church do for me?". I sympathise with the view in some small measure as it is my job, with others, to ensure that the people are served and served well. But equally, when a Christian can speak of a worshipping community in the same framework as a shop, I have to wonder. This is, in part, down to the fact that the lives of priests are often concealed (and it the elves who fold the booklets, organise for fly-tipped sofas to be removed, open the building, and so on). I find myself frustrated because such sentiment seems to catastrophically ignore the mandate that Christians have to work for the world in Christ's name.

Still, as a wise and much loved man once said to me, "Never mind, Farv; it's just our job to love them into the Kingdom". 


  1. "He would be first will be least and he who is least, will be first", Unfortunately some of today's demanding customers (sorry, parishioners) haven't read that particular verse of Matthew, and perhaps it might help to have it posted prominently on a notice close to the entrance and exit doors of church and vicarage. :)

  2. Ouch, that brings back sometimes painful memories, David. People flouncing out because service times had to be changed (one priest can't do the job of three however hard she works!) or a new liturgy tried out or new hymns introduced.

    Loving them into the Kingdom IS the answer, but it ain't half hard work!

  3. Hari Om
    I am new to your blog (indeed to blogland!) and I am delighted to find this voice of reason and humanity. As one who is seeking to enter the world of 'mission' I can understand this frustration. As a medic and counsellor it never failed to amaze how folks think they can demand health - or worse - support in remaining unhealthy!! I agree with your advisor; at all times remember why you are doing what you are doing and let that capital L love flow through. Lord handles it when you blame him for the crazy folks anyway! &>



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