By Major Chick Yuill –
Last Saturday evening was a lot of fun. The young adults from the corps held their annual progressive dinner. You know the kind of thing–appetizers at the first house, salad at the second, main course at the next, and dessert at the final port of call.
Margaret had agreed we would provide the main course. So, at about nine o’clock, 30 of our young friends spread themselves over our living room floor–we don’t have a table big enough for 30 people–with plates of lasagna, chicken fettuccini, or chicken with noodles. Most of the guys have very healthy appetites, so they took the opportunity to load up their dishes with all three! Like I say, it was great fun, not a drop of food or drink was spilled on the carpet, and Steve made his usual speech for such occasions expressing gratitude for the hospitality and reminding everyone present just what wonderful people we were in allowing them to eat our food in our house.
We were touched by Steve’s words, but not so deeply touched that we are blinded to the hard truth about progressive dinners. These kids are smart, and if we don’t make them welcome and feed them well, they will politely turn down our invitation to dine with us next year and happily progress to enjoy the hospitality of someone else. Just for a few moments after they’d gone, as we cleaned out the oven and washed up the pots, I was tempted to think that might not be such a bad idea!
You won’t be surprised to discover I think there is a lesson to be learned from this progressive dinner idea. For many years, people were intensely loyal to the particular Christian denomination in which they worshiped and served. Once a Methodist, always a Methodist; once a Baptist, always a Baptist; and most of all, once a Salvationist, always a Salvationist. But those days, I strongly suspect, have gone forever. We live in the age of progressive dinners in matters of the spirit as well as in matters of the stomach. People are much more willing to move from church to church than once they were. And they are not reluctant to sample and compare what is offered from the different churches they see around them.
Such a change in the Christian culture is not without its dangers, of course. We all know people who travel through life in a fruitless quest to find the perfect church. If they ever find it, let’s hope they don’t join it. As the rest of us are all too aware, they’ll only spoil it! And the age of the progressive worshippers can mean a decrease in the already devalued coinage of commitment. When the going gets tough or when there’s a disagreement among the saints, it’s too easy to move on to where the grass looks greener, the members seem more holy, and the pastor has more personal charisma.
For all that, the post-denominational age is upon us. And we’d better be aware of it if we want to survive. Of course, I often tell my congregation we don’t come to church for what we can get out of it; the supreme purpose of worship is not our personal gratification, but God’s glorification. But I dare not forget that they don’t have to worship at the Army. And that places a huge responsibility on me as their pastor and on us as a church.
Some time ago I spoke to a Salvationist family who had left the Army following a personal difficulty. Their original intention was to step back for a month or two and then return when things had settled down. After a couple of years, however, they were still attending the Baptist church to which they had gone for what they thought was a temporary stay. “The problem for us,” they explained, “is we feel we are being fed spiritually for the first time in many years.” And the problem for me was that, knowing the situation they had left, I could not disagree with their decision.
The Salvation Army is the part of the Christian church in which I was brought to faith; the part of the Christian church which, at its best, combines evangelism and social service in a unique manner; the part of the Christian church in which music can often be the handmaiden of the Holy Spirit; the part of the Christian church from which too many of my friends have moved on in the last decade. And in the age of progressive diners, I suggest we had better take notice and take whatever action is necessary. The prospect of serving meals at an empty table is not one that any of us would relish.