There is a big difference between patronage and fellowship. Patrons are customers; they wield power in their freedom to choose another business. Sure, there can be a relationship that develops between patron and business, sometimes even friendship. But the relationship and even the friendships are dependent on the patron’s transaction by transaction decision to remain a patron. Patronage is a relational one way street with the power to keep or terminate the relationship firmly in the grasp of the patron.
Unfortunately, our culture taints us all with toxin of consumerism, so there are a lot of people who view themselves as patrons at church. They think of their presence on Sunday the same way they view buying a latte from Starbucks. Patrons don’t think of investing in the local church any more than you think you should go behind the counter and wash the mugs and clean the sink after you finish your latte at Starbucks. They withhold their everyday lives, their time, their gifts, and their experiences because in the eyes of a patron their presence is the price of admission. Patrons insist the power to maintain the relationship stay firmly in their grasp. They resist or refuse fellowship, because to enter into fellowship is to relinquish their power to control the terms of the relationship.
Then it happens. The phone call comes and an anguished voice asks for the church, and often demands from the church the very things they have withheld from the church - time, support, resources, and service. They want the one way street of patronage to instantly morph into a freeway of fellowship. If you are a patron it is inevitable that the time will come when you will misunderstand and mischaracterize the church as uncaring or unresponsive, because the church cannot respond effectively to patrons. It isn’t that the church doesn’t want to respond, but how well can we respond to someone we don’t know. Fellowship can’t both sprout and blossom in the awkward chaos of a funeral plan or in grief and anxiety of a waiting room.
Don’t think I resent patrons, I don’t. I agonize over them. I am glad they come to church because I hope that some Sunday they will really hear the good news of Jesus in a life changing, mind renewing way and start coming to church just because they want to enjoy and worship God. I believe that when they are truly attracted to God they will be attracted to his people and it will become inconceivable to come and go without seeking to know and be known.
I know the price is unreasonably high, the power of the patron for the seat of the servant. It is the price of fellowship.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."