I remember the first time I saw the meme, first world problem. My first response was “LOLZ! SO TRUE!” I kept on looking at hilarious meme after hilarious meme. And the second response I had, which came right on the heels of the first, was a mental and spiritual gut punch.
Stop Focusing on Your Church’s #FirstWorldProblems
First Word Problems Explained
Once you explain a joke, it ceases to be funny. Nonetheless, at the expense of ruining a good meme, I want to dig into the issue of first world problems. This is an important issue, because I think it has a parallel to our first world churches.
The idea behind first world problems goes like this. We experience what we think is a “problem” when in reality, it’s a minor inconvenience caused by our incredible privilege. For example — frustration that your iPhone charging cord is too short to reach from your outlet to where you’re laying on your bed. Or the sticky self-closing package on the Oreos keeps closing before you can grab a handful and you can’t use your other hand because it’s holding your glass of milk. Those are first world problems.
Knowyourmeme.com defines it as “frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.” Churches experience first world problems, too. When a church has first world problems, they can distract us from true mission and our real purpose in the world today.
Does your church have first world problems?
If you have to cut the donut budget to pay for the new $2.4 million building project, you may be experiencing a first world problem. Let’s put this into perspective. Maybe there’s a dire need in your community. There is an economically depressed and socially problematic area of your town. Young men are in and out of jail. Families are shattered. Children go hungry. Young unwed mothers are desperate for care. Houses are falling down. Drug abuse is rampant. Break-ins are prevalent. Violence is endemic. Prostitution is shattering the lives of women.
Half a mile away, you’re breaking ground on a posh welcome center with marble floors, Bose sound, beautiful lighting, wood trim, expensive glass doors, and custom lighting that costs the equivalent of a small ranch…And you’re “struggling” to raise money to support your building project.
In the three paragraphs above, I’ve created somewhat of a false dichotomy. My understated point is that you ought to be working to remedy the social ills in your community rather than tend to a building project. The realistic truth, of course, lies somewhere in between the extremes of 1) pouring all the building project money into community recovery, and 2) allocating every penny in the church coffers to the community recovery project.
The point is this: We so often spend money and effort on our luxuries or our wants, rather than the kingdom building needs of the church today. We face a first world problem, and we scurry off to find a first world solution. In reality, however, our “problems” aren’t real problems. They’re first world problems.
Let’s take another example.
Let’s say you have a disagreement in your church. You want to use the English Standard Version of the Bible. Another group thinks that the English Standard Version is corrupt and compromised. They, instead, insist upon using the King James Bible. Rancorous deacon meetings end in late-night brawls. Two deacons resign. Several families leave the church. Church “business meetings” turn into shouting matches over the “corrupt and damned adulterations of the Bible,” and ad hominem attacks against those who use “devilish translations.” Eventually, the pastor resigns. The church splits. Hatred festers. Bitterness grows.
A few thousand miles away, there is a group of indigenous tribespeople. A national pastor is laboring among them. He knows the truth, and has bits of Scripture in the dialect of the people. But they lack something crucial — God’s word in their language. Although the local evangelist knows the national trade language and can read Scripture in a language he understands, no one in the community does. No one can read the truth for themselves. They have no Bible in their language.
Again, I’m painting two scenarios that create a harsh contrast in your mind. My point is not that you should completely neglect crucial translation issues in your local church, but to bring awareness of our own puny “problems” versus the larger problems that exist in the world around us.
I could go on, tracing out more contrasting examples, but the point is this: Determine if your “problems” are actually “problems” or just first world problems.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You Think You have First World Problems
What are your biggest problems or concerns? Right now, make a mental list of the biggest concerns that you have in your church life right now? Are they really problems? Are these problems of souls, lives, marriages, or families? If your biggest problems are actually first world problems, then maybe you need to find bigger problems to solve.
Do you care more about theological quibbles than meaningful love? Theology is important — always has been, always will be. But love is important, too. Don’t lose perspective of the fact that without love you are nothing. Don’t love theology more than people. Too often, our theological issues are first world problems. Why are you debating supralapsarianism, when there are millions of people who haven’t even heard the name “Jesus?”
Are you more passionate about growing your local church empire, or building God’s eternal kingdom? If our churches degenerate into sanctified colonialism, we’ve failed. Our goal is not a multi-site campus, multiple services, or seven-figure weekly offerings. Our goal is to lift up Christ, and him crucified. To the world, it seems foolish. But to those who have been changed from the inside out, it’s the only true purpose in life.
I still like the first world problems meme. And I can always use the reminder that our first world problems are just that — first world problems.