The wrong question

November 10, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 22
Phil Wagler |

The silly season will soon arrive when you will hear, “What do you want for Christmas?” Endlessly creative lists of desires will follow. Others will go all high-horse and not ask for anything, while silently hoping you can read minds. Still others will completely miss the point and wish a bride for Prince William or a Stanley Cup for the Maple Leafs—only one of which seems remotely possible.

But given that Christmas is rooted in the Great Gift-Giver, should we not be asking, “What will you give for Christmas?” This would be, despite all the trappings and absurdities that have become part of the sugar overdose of Yuletide, at least one small step in the right direction.

Many approach the wonder of the church in the same way we have been conditioned to view Christmas. We bring sloppy church-thought to the fore when we say something like, “I want a church that will meet my needs!” We almost stomp our feet when we say this, and there is much worth puking over in this type of toddler-tantrum.

The local church is no drive-thru. A church is the neighbourhood expression of the people of God, saved by a cross of grace, resurrected from the dominion of self, and called out of the world only to be sent back to it as one body. The church is gathered by the Father to live like Jesus in the world in the power of the Spirit, not some abstract entity for Christian cherry-picking. When we treat the church like consumers, we are participating in heresy.

The abundance of churches in most communities means some Christians, bulging at the seams from being force-fed the lie that they are the centre of the universe and having never wrestled biblically with the nature of the church, look at church buildings in much the same way they view strip malls: “I wonder if that church will make me happier,” or, “I’m sure this one will give me what I want, and probably for a better deal.” The variety of the body of Christ is thus reduced to the equivalent of competing catalogues and sales events.

A more biblical, and perhaps even history-altering, approach would be akin to that other Christmas question. Instead of selfishly hoping for a church that will meet my wants and needs, what might change if we would say, “I want to join God in meeting the world’s needs! I have graciously received. What can I now give and who will I do it with?”

  •  First, it might actually begin correcting our sloppy church-thought and recover a biblical ecclesiology that sees the church as God’s idea to change the world (Ephesians 3:10) and not his department store for spiritual shopaholics.
  • Second, it might give us a greater appreciation for those who serve and lead the church. Rather than see our leaders as holy service providers who need to put out or move on, we might become an army of kingdom agents asking, “How might I serve?” instead of, “What have you done for me lately?” It might also be just what our leaders need to be freed from the tyranny of performance that keeps many shackled and fearful.
  • Third, it might actually make us happier. We may discover that joining God’s mission to meet the world’s deepest needs is exceedingly more exhilarating, and unifying, than having another itch scratched. We may, in fact, discover the joy of the Great Giver himself.

Phil Wagler is a husband, father and pastor looking forward to giving this Christmas, since he’s received everything he needs in Christ. You can reach him at

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