It's hard, sometimes, to be the church. Those in leadership seem to find themselves up against the problem that folks want to receive the benefits that come from being part of a faith community without doing the work that it takes to maintain that community. Of course, there's the obvious ~ folks want the pastor to be available to visit the sick, to perform funerals and baptisms, to have a place to show up at Christmas and Easter. Many folks even want a place to show up every week on Sunday morning in order to get their spiritual tank filled up, so that they're ready for the week ahead.
Every person, every household, and every community goes through different seasons in life. Sometimes it's appropriate for a person or household to only consume faith ~ to be rejuvenated without giving back. For many people, though, this is as far as it goes. They never get to the place where they return what they have received. They never get to experience the freedom that comes from giving themselves away.
And that, it seems, is one of the hardest things to convince people of when they haven't experienced this truth themselves. Considering nothing but money, logically, if a person gives some of what they have away, then they have less money ... which means less freedom to do what they want to do with their money. But in fact the (illogical) opposite is true. If a person gives their money away, they are no longer slave to their money. But it's virtually impossible to convince people of this, especially using logic.
Which is where faith (in this case, known as trust) comes in. When a person hears enough times, from enough people they trust, that there is freedom in giving ourselves away (money, and otherwise), we will start to believe that maybe there's some merit to this. The trouble is that those of us who have experienced this freedom are reluctant to share, because (maybe) we're scared of frightening people away by promoting commitment or obligation or discipline.
For myself, though, discipline is necessary. Of course, I don't mean the 'punish the children because they did something wrong' kind, but rather the kind where we compel ourselves toward regular and faithful practices of discipleship.
The discipline of giving, of showing up, of committing to relationship, of actually working for something seems antithetical to our cultural standards these days ~ our cultural standards which tend more toward the lottery mindset (a little investment on my part just might pay off big-time). But I think the stereotypical old protestants ~ you know, the ones with the work ethic ~ knew something about finding freedom in discipline, and I think they knew something that we've all but lost these days.
Unfortunately, it won't be easy to regain that ... it'll probably take discipline on the part of those who have discovered the freedom found in giving ourselves away. And it'll probably continue to be hard to be the church ~ but if it wasn't hard, then I'd worry we were missing something significant about our faith.