It’s not news that the approach to loyalty in the United States has changed over the past 30-40 years. If our collective loyalty tank used to be three-fourths full it has gone down to a fourth at best. Loyalty is about the commitment of two people or groups to each other, and both sides are responsible for the amount of loyalty present. Here are a couple examples.
Should I stay or should I go…
In the past few days Les Miles, the coach of the LSU football team, entertained overtures from Arkansas University to go and be their coach, even though he had multiple years left on his contract. It worked out well for him though, LSU reworked his contract–paying him even more money and adding years to the deal (although those years won’t matter if another opportunity comes along). You can hardly blame Les when the college football climate is one where a coach is fired after a couple bad years, no matter how successful they’ve been and no matter how many years are left on their contract.
At Mountair, a 92-year-old church, we have many people who have been here literally their entire life. While we have quite a few new people in the last few years, before that being new meant you had been a part of the church less than ten. This church has been through some tough times and big blow ups over the years, but almost no one has left. They take pride in sticking together even through difficulty and tension. They are loyal to each other and this church. Contrast this with people who go church shopping as soon as a single decision they don’t like is made or there’s a change in the worship style. (I’m not saying changing churches is always bad or reflects a lack of loyalty, but it certainly can.)
One of the reasons for the change in our culture in regard to loyalty is a breakdown of the value of relationships. Ultimately that is the foundation of loyalty–a commitment to a person or organization. Where honoring commitments to others used to be among the highest values people held, now personal satisfaction and gain have moved ahead of it in the list of values. Money is more important than relationships. Comfort, safety, and security are more important than relationships.
This is problematic for followers of Jesus. The things that cause many to break loyalties are things that are not values Jesus held. He did not pursue money, security, or safety. He did not abandon people when they offended his sensibilities. He challenged people, but he didn’t run from them when things got tough. When his disciples did stupid stuff he didn’t switch them out for someone else. He was committed to people and that made him loyal.
I am not saying loyalty is the value to overshadow all other values. There are times when trust is breached, a calling leads you in a new direction, or higher values are compromised in a way that makes breaking loyalty necessary. But we would be well-served to consider how seriously we take loyalty and rediscover the power of mutual commitment.
Friday night we were studying and discussing Acts 2:42-47 in our Community Group. This is a passage I’ve read at least 100 times–it’s a passage that has shaped my thinking and the life of our family (don’t read that as saying we practice it perfectly, only that we strive in that direction). But this time the phrase that stuck out to me was “Everyday they continued to meet together…”.
American church culture often runs the opposite direction of this passage. We pride ourselves on not being so rigid as to expect any more than connection with the church body once or twice a month (and here I am not just or even primarily talking about church services!). We get excited when someone goes to a small group meeting and a service project in the same month. We downplay the importance of consistency in connecting with a community of faith. We joke that “regular attenders” are people who show up to something once a month.
I think we do this because our hearts aren’t right. We have somehow learned to use the number of times we gather as a test of legalism rather than passion. Those early Christians didn’t gather everyday–to worship, share meals, pray–because they wanted to get perfect attendance. They did it because they knew their young faith relied on their connection to each other and to God. They wanted to be together. They wanted to worship. They wanted to pray. We often see these things as obligations to be avoided or things we fit in when our busy schedules allow for it.
The point here is not what our times together look like. It could be a church service, a shared dinner, a small group, or birthday party, or whatever (it would be best if it meant all these things). The point is to ask the question–do we view being with other believers in the context of worship, growing relationships, and mission as essential or optional?
This hit me in regard to the way I lead as a pastor. I realized that I often say things like, “just make it when you can,” or “Christianity isn’t about church services.” While my intentions are to paint a faith that is active and growing everyday, not just once a week, and to not guilt people into gathering, what it communicates is that gathering isn’t important. But gathering is important. We need to be together on a regular basis. We need to share meals, to do service projects, to have Bible studies, to worship together, and more. Our commitment to being together regularly–even as much as possible–is essential to our growth as disciples of Jesus and our love for one another and the world. So personally I’m going to work hard on holding up the value of gathering together–whatever form that takes–rather than downplaying it.
A commitment to gathering together will require the sacrifice of other good things. It might mean going to the mountains Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning. It might mean inviting others over to watch the football game with me instead of just hanging out alone. It might mean getting together with people to pray even though it makes me feel uncomfortable. It certainly will mean laying down our busyness, individualism, and desire to do what’s easy. It means discovering what it means to live life together as the body of Christ for His glory and the sake of the world.