And in my 6th and final submission on the trouble with ‘Church,’ I give to you…. WIFM, or, as a friend of mine calls it, “the wifim,” for “What’s In It For Me.” I know. We are all guilty of that, to a certain extent. I don’t know anyone who came to Christ because they believed that their lives would get progressively worse. For me, I was 4 and my mom told me about these two places one would go after he died. She painted a rather gloomy picture of hell and a very beautiful one of heaven, then she popped the question: “Where would you like to go after you pass away?”

“Hmmm… Let me think.” No, not really. I was 4 but I was not stupid. Strangely, though, I still maintain that something really awesome happened on that day inside my soul. I still mark my redemption to that auspicious night many years ago, but that is for another post.

What are some of the signs that we suffer from WIFM in our churches?

First, we see it in the songs we sing. We focus almost exclusively on what pastor and writer Steve Sjogren calls the “top line message of the Bible,” namely, that God loves ME. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s worth celebrating. So we sing “Jesus loves ME,” “He loves me, Oh, He loves me,” “The Lord is MY rock and MY salvation,” etc., etc. But it is not okay to do this if in the process of doing it we forget the “bottom line message of the Bible,” namely, He blesses me so I can be a blessing to others. To put it another way, He loves THEM as well.

There is a golden thread through Scriptures, the story that ties it all together, and that is God’s redemptive plan for mankind. We see this in Old Testament stories such as the one of Daniel in the lion’s den, for example, where the end result was that the Name of the true God was proclaimed throughout the then-known world (Daniel 6:25-28).

So when our kids were small, my wife and I were intentional about finding ways to keep coming back to this bottom line message every time we taught them the Scriptures. For example, in our household, when they learned “Jesus loves me this I know… Yes, Jesus loves ME… The Bible tells me so,” we added another stanza that said, “Jesus loves me this is true, but He loves the Muslims too, and this is His last command, take my Gospel to each land. Yes Jesus loves THEM… The Bible tells me so.”

Secondly, we see signs of WIFM when we bring a consumerist mindset to church. So now churches must have cutting age programs for people of all ages, neatly packaged in bite size chunks delivered at the speed of cool. To focus just in one area, I understand that is it highly critical for parents to make sure that their children are cared for in a church environment that is age appropriate, creative and safe beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the extent to which churches go to attract and keep parents with kids to buildings that resemble more spaceships than houses of worship is outrageous to me.

The consumerist mentality even affects the language we use. It is okay now to say that people are “church shopping.” And it is true that if people don’t like the “product,” they will drop your church the same way they replace Wal-Mart with Target if the latter decides to no longer carry their favorite brand of mouth wash. People now consider themselves regular attenders if they show up to church once a month. When asked why they left, it is not uncommon to hear people answer with a vague, “It was just not my thing.”

I wonder what would happen if followers of Christ decided en masse that they would come to church primarily to give rather than receive. Well, for one, I wouldn’t need to ever write a post like this again. But more importantly, we would see the church become truly the Church of Jesus Christ because our Master came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom to many.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

P.S. Here are a few signs that you may have a severe case of WIFM:

  1. If you always hang out with your friends in church and never make an effort to meet someone new or outside of your inner circle.
  2. If you deem a service successful only if you personally got something out of it;
  3. If your giving is, in your mind, commensurate with the amount or quality of “service” you think you are receiving;
  4. If you think that others must take the initiative to interact with you instead of you doing it first;
  5. If you always leave church more pumped when you received something awesome than when you gave something awesome;
  6. If you remember only the three songs you didn’t like or couldn’t sing instead of the one you did like and could sing;
  7. If you remember only the points you wished the pastor would have made instead of the ones he did make;
  8. If you noticed someone whose countenance seemed sad but because you were so preoccupied with your own problems that you didn’t do anything about it;
  9. If you resented someone speaking of the needs of other people when you know you yourself have needs that have gone unmet for a while;
  10. If you were incapable of rejoicing over the testimony of someone who obtained a huge blessing because you wish you were the one receiving such a blessing.