What keeps bringing you back? That’s the question I had in my mind as I walked out of the Apple Store yesterday. A friend recently bought a new laptop (congrats!), and we visited the store together. In Korea, the Apple Store isn’t your normal Apple Store. At the end of your purchase, they ask to announce that you just bought one of their products, and the whole store erupts with applause, laughter, and cheers. One of the staff who helped us previously began to show us different programs that they offer. His kindness and sincerity struck me, along with something he said: “We aren’t just about products. We desire to help the community. The reason why it’s called ‘Apple Myeongdong’ and not [just] Apple Store is because we hope to influence and help the surrounding community.” Those words struck me. A secular company based on productivity desires to influence and change the community. Now to some, the cheering may feel embarrassing or awkward, but I couldn’t help but connect it to the meaning of church.
As I walked out of the store, I asked my friend, “What makes you want to come back to Apple?” My friend began to list several reasons. One was that she had felt a little down during the week, and after experiencing the shouts of joy and cheers, her mood was uplifted. That is how I envision church, I responded.
What brings you back? What is it that your church does to make people want to come back to fellowship and celebrate together? I’ve struggled with the structure and the formalities of church. To be very honest, I’m tired. I love my church, but it pains me to see how our church has treated the “least of these.” I desire the church to look like Apple. Now before you stone me, seriously ask yourself, “What makes me want to come back to church, or what is it that draws people in?” It’s not going to be the doctrines we preach or the prophecies we decode and apply. It’s not the number of members we have or all the awesome programs we provide. It’s simple. It’s how we respond, care, and love.
I’ve lived in South Korea for the past nine years, and it took me a while to find my community. I think that is a major part of church. The heart of church lies in community—it lies with the people you connect with. I’m the mission coordinator here at the Sahmyook Language School. I work with some of the most hardworking missionaries in the field, and it is a privilege to work alongside them as well as walk with them in their journey in South Korea. It has been my desire that Jesus be the transforming power missionaries experience while serving here. It is my hope that missionaries leave not the same but different. And that is what I desire for the church as well. I resonate with this text from 2 Corinthians 4:5–7 (NLT):
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
I find this striking, as many companies and even churches try to get your attention with the latest trends, the latest materials, sermons, programs, etc. Paul expresses that we don’t go “preaching ourselves” but that “we preach that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Full Stop! We are just “servants.” It is this light that we are given, the true light that “shines in the darkness.” Does light shine through our hearts, or do people only see our doctrines, our “rightness,” our holding fast to our “25 points?” Are we reflecting the love, peace, and grace of Jesus? Does our church rejoice when one of the least of these returns to the fold? Does our church reflect the face of Jesus to those who see us and turn to us? Our power, our influence, our impact do not come from ourselves but from God, as Paul clearly states.
So, I envision our church to look like Apple, not in Apple’s organizational structure or products but in the sincerity of its employees and the desire to make an impact. This is the church I envision, a church based on solely following Jesus, turning our hearts and lights toward him. Though broken and fragmented as jars of clay, we are remolded and restored in his great light to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” And in doing so, we build a community that uplifts Christ and him crucified.
Matthew Frias is a missionary English teacher and co-teaching pastor in South Korea. He studied theology at Pacific Union College and has an MA in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary.
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