There’s a lot of talk in church circles – at least in Indiana United Methodist circles – about the difference between purpose and preference.  Just last week, in his E-pistle, Bishop Coyner spoke about how the argument over preferences in the church is a lot like the arguments of his 3-year old grandchildren.  I don’t think I can put it better than he does, so I’m going to share part of his message.

While such arguments by children are cute, they reflect an age-old argument that humans have had for centuries. We human beings want our own way, we don’t want to share, and we don’t want to yield to someone else’s needs or happiness. It is cute in little children, but it is ridiculous in adults and especially among church people who forget that the first lesson of being Christian is to love one another. Too often in the church we base our arguments upon our own PREFERENCES rather than joining together to accomplish the PURPOSE and the mission of the church. I hear people wanting their preferences in worship styles, Sunday morning schedules, dress codes for their pastors, and a whole range of other issues which are really about each person’s PREFERENCE rather than about the PURPOSE of the church. When we try to settle such disputes around our own PREFERENCES there are no solutions. When we pause and reflect about such issues in the light of the church’s PURPOSE, then different solutions become obvious.

When it comes to the Church, the purpose is plain – make disciples of Jesus.  It’s about reaching out to others with the message of the resurrected Jesus Christ – that’s what this week is all about, isn’t it?  It’s about remembering the story and passing it along to others so that their lives can be made whole through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The problem with arguing over our own preferences is that our preferences are about us… that’s why they are our preferences.  When the Church starts becoming more concerned about itself, about its own traditions, about doing what has always been done because “I like it” – then it has missed something very important.  It has missed it’s purpose.  What’s more important?  Is there anything more important than doing everything that we can to reach new people with the gospel?  I don’t think so.

Paul spends some time talking through some preference-oriented arguments in the Corinthian church in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 10.  He says, “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do.  I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33).  Now, he doesn’t mean that he is trying to make everyone happy – that’s impossible, but it does mean that he may do some things that he doesn’t particularly like, but will do them so that others can be reached for the gospel.  He is focused on the purpose – bringing people to Christ – and not his preference – doing whatever makes him happy or makes him feel good.

If you go to worship just for what you get out of it, then you are missing something.  You are so focused on your preferences that you are forgetting the greater purpose.  If you want to be entertained, go to a play.  If you want to be a part of something that is reaching people for the sake of the kingdom of God, go to worship.  Put yourself aside and focus on God.  The purpose of the church is not to entertain or make you feel good; it’s to introduce people into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Leave your preferences to your movie selections; make bringing others to Christ your purpose.

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