It is not unusual to hear someone say, “I didn’t get anything out of church.” My response is, “What did you give God? How was your heart prepared to give?” –John MacArthur, Worship: The Ultimate Priority
I’ve heard this “zinger” response from pastors before. And there is some sense to it. It’s a good response to the shallow consumer-Christian who views Church as a self-help program designed to cater only to his particular emotional deficiencies. But the complaint is not necessarily that shallow.
It’s possible that the complaint, given how common it is, reveals a very deep and real problem with church. It’s possible that churches are failing to provide nourishment for believers to grow there. When every Sunday morning service is devoted to evangelistic outreach to unbelievers rather than to “the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42), of course believers will receive little nourishment. Of course believers will report “not getting anything out of” church if they’re never fed anything more than different flavors of baby food. Of course they will complain about not receiving proper sustenance once the milk from their pastor’s teet no longer fills them completely. This is what should be expected from a healthily-growing person. (Lest I be misunderstood: this is not to say that Christians don’t need to keep hearing the gospel; they most certainly do. It is to say that the hopeless cliches of Christianese one is likely to hear every Sunday morning not only fail to illuminate the gospel—they succeed in obscuring it.)
So understood, the complaint could be a sign of spiritul health, not immaturity. Instead, the issuers of this complaint are told that the problem is theirs. Accepting with humility their pastor’s rebuke, they never grow. They content themselves with their pabulary diet and eventually become so starved of substance that they forget what hunger feels like. In the most tragic cases, the baby food was never healthy to begin with, the dominant ingredients being the caustic dogmas of status quo Christianity that flavor eisogetical sermons. And pastors wonder why they still have to change diapers on people who have been sermonized for decades…
Be that as it may, I have an answer to MacArthur’s stupid question anyway. What am I giving God when I go to church? I am giving Him my utmost patience. Patience with everything from the monotonous service, the aforementioned kind of sermons, and music that for some reason must be sung with a voice and expression that suggests the singer is somewhere in between the pleasure-pain extremes of orgasm and constipation.