Why We Are Church Hoppers

Text: Mark 8:1-9

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

In America we have a phenomenon called, ‘church shopping and church hopping.’  Those who hop around from church to church, trying to find the perfect match that makes all their wildest dreams come true , are called church hoppers.  Those who move into a new community and set out on a decade-long journey to shop for the picture-perfect church are called church shoppers. 

The terms church hopper and church shopper do not apply to individuals who leave a church over legitimate doctrinal disagreements with a pastor or denomination (like this or this) or a person who leaves a church due to a job transfer and then quickly joins a faithful church in their new location (like this), but rather, these terms refer to a specific way of thinking that is prevalent in America.  In other words, there is something very consistent in the way that church hoppers and church shoppers think.  They seek out churches that fulfill their preferences and join churches that are most convenient to them.  They might choose one based solely upon the following: the church’s location to their home, the vibrancy of the children’s ministry, the charisma of the pastor, or the quality of potluck meals and coffee.  The criteria used to find a perfect church is not the church’s faithfulness to the Word of God, but that which makes the person feel the most comfortable and that which offers the most convenience to them.    

If a decision arises between two different churches, church hoppers and church shoppers will decide which church to go to, based upon which church has the better facility, which one has better padded seats, which one has the better logo, which one has the better looking website, which one has the better tasting coffee, which one has the better nursery, and which one is closer to their home.  The mentality is all about preferences and comfort and convenience, not faithfulness to the Bible. 

In some cases, these individuals will prefer a Sunday school class at one church and then go to another church for the style of music they favor and another church for the youth ministries.    

I mention all of this because this kind of thinking is unique only in America.  Furthermore, we are easily tempted to believe this mentality of church shopping and church hopping as well.  In other words, we can easily be attracted to churches in nearby communities or churches in the big city that have better tasting coffee, better technology, nicer carpet, and better facilities.  We find ourselves thinking that we would be more comfortable in these churches, which subtly draws us to want to hop over to these other churches.  If we do not become a church hopper, we then quietly grumble in our hearts that our local church is not as convenient or as good as these other churches. 

Tragically when we base our motives for going to church on what we think we need or what we want – our preferences and what is convenient – we have bought into the American consumeristic mentality and find ourselves at odds with God’s Word. 

As we consider God’s word this morning from the Gospel of Mark, we must take note that the people of the time had some profound zeal.  It was a hot time of the year, yet great numbers of people at once flocked to Jesus up a mountain to a wilderness region near the Sea of Galilee.  With their sick friends and with their children, they came out in droves to see Jesus.  Some 4,000 men, with their wives and children came to Jesus.  Many came from a long distance, traveling over rough terrain.   

Once they were in the presence of Jesus to hear Him teach, the day passed by quickly.  For the thousands of people out in the wilderness region, night began to fall upon them with darkness emerging and the coolness of the air setting in; however, contrary to what we might think, no one went home.  Instead, they were content to sleep on the hard ground under the open sky.  The next day, they awoke in order to hear Jesus again.  Again, the day passed by quickly and they found themselves not returning home, but sleeping yet again on the hard ground to be in the presence of Jesus. 

No climate control thermostat, no potlucks, no padded seats, no technology, and no foam mattresses – they had none of this.  We get the impression from our Gospel reading that none of this really mattered to them though.  They did not care about these things, for they were with Jesus, the Good Shepherd. 

Dear friends, we are convicted from today’s Gospel reading.  The reason why?  The church hopping mentality and our sinful nature want to cling to Jesus and be with Jesus only in so far as we can do this without having to sacrifice anything.  If it costs us our time, money, rest, comfort, honor, and other earthly things, well… church hoppers and our sinful nature begin to grumble and threaten that we are going to start looking for other churches that makes it easier.  In other words, if we should have to travel a long distance, if the church service goes a little too long, if the music is a little too slow, or if it is too hot, we cry foul.  We run to the victim card and then we seek out ways that our lack of comfort can be alleviated. 

We all need to repent of this church shopping and church hopping mentality, for Christianity is not about our earthly comfort but about Jesus.  In other words, it is all about receiving from Jesus. 

The people of our Gospel reading were driven by the Holy Spirit with their children and sick to the burning heat in the uninhabited wilderness to hear and be with Jesus.  Many would have considered them fools for doing such a thing.  Many would have laughed at such a stupid thing; however, the people who went to Jesus did not seem to care what others thought.  They did not seem to worry about the luxury of comfort or their preferences.  They were sheep without a Shepherd and they wanted to be where their Shepherd was. 

To the world, all of this would have seemed nonsense.  Nothing has changed in our day and age as well.  False christians lose interest with Jesus and His church and wander off to satisfy their comfort and preferences with entertainment and comfort.  Church hoppers will leave the church and go to fake-churches that are void of the Word and Sacraments and are only attempting to appease the desires of the sinful nature.  Pagans will laugh at Christians and will work to put extra dollars in their pockets on Sunday morning, while Christians are sitting in what is deemed as a boring church service.    

Dear friends, it is true that many in this fallen world will give up on the Jesus’ church and encourage you to go the way of comfort and ease.  Others will tell you that they would come to Jesus’ church if the sermons tickled their ears a bit more or if it was not so long or so boring or so irrelevant or so early in the morning.  The devil will even tell you to give up and find something easier and more comfortable and more convenient. The devil will whisper into your ear, “You can just worship God while fishing on the lake or you can stay home and watch a heretical preacher-man on television while eating Lucky Charms in your pajamas.” 

But you, dear Christian, do not be tempted and do not lose hope.  Pagans gain no advantage over you when they work, while you sit and receive on Sunday mornings.  The false christians seeking after comfort will never find rest, for it is only with Christ that there is true rest.  And as far as church hoppers who are seeking out supposed fun and relevant churches on the basis of preferences and comfort and not on the basis of the faithful proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, well… you must hold steadfast, for these individuals are like reeds blowing in a wind – always wanting and never satisfied.  Yes, indeed, you must hold steadfast in the church, where you receive of first importance, Christ Jesus. 

In all truth though, we need to admit this morning that we certainly have a very comfortable church here at Zion.  We have an extremely nice facility. We have comfortable pews and extremely well put together bulletins.  We have great technology and great potlucks.  This is all good, but it is not the main reason why we are here today.  Furthermore, this is not what should draw you and others to this church.  You see, the reason why we are here today is not for comfort or preference or convenience, but rather, we are here for the same reason why the people went into the wilderness – we are here to be in the presence of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  We are here to freely receive from Christ, by His Word and Sacraments. 

As the world, false christians, and church hoppers may consider us foolish for going to what may seem like a boring church service, we know that Jesus does not see us as fools.  Jesus is neither boring nor irrelevant.  Truly, Jesus did not see the people in the wilderness as foolish for coming out into the wilderness, for He had compassion on them and He has compassion on us as well.  Indeed, Jesus had the people in the wilderness sit down and then He multiplied bread and fish – feeding their bodies while He fed their souls.  He took care of them.  The same is true for you and me this morning.  As we sit here in the presence of Jesus, whether we are comfortable or not, we know this morning that it is all about Jesus and His gifts – gifts that are for you and for me. 

So, dear Baptized Saints, take comfort, for Jesus has compassion on you.  You are forgiven for your church hopping heart.  You are also fed not with bread and fish, but with His body and His blood.  And as you are refreshed and strengthened, you are sent home, back to your families and your workplaces with forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Baptized Saints, today as you have received Jesus in His Word, walk in Him.  Walk in Him without fear, knowing that you do not need to scramble around looking to find comfort or ease or satisfaction for your soul, but know that you have already received and will continue to receive comfort for your body and soul – Jesus Christ.  No need to jump around from church to church, no need to scurry around in a frantic spiritual dilemma, for Jesus promises to meet you and feed you from this altar and from His Word. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

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