Spiritual Commuters

I’ve been a tent-maker.

For the past twenty-one years, I’ve been a tent-maker. If you don’t recognize that term, let me elucidate (I just love that word).

Tent Making is a reference to the vocation of the Apostle Paul. He made, repaired, and restored tents for a living. That seems like an unlikely livelihood in our day and age. In his, however, it could be quite lucrative.

Accounting–Almost as exciting at tent-making…

We apply this term to people who are heavily involved in Christian ministry but earn the bulk of their living in secular work. I’ve been a preacher but have earned my living as an accountant (not overly exciting work, but probably on a par with sewing up tents).

For many of those years, I had a relatively long commute. Each day, I drove around the beltway of Washington DC. Any of you who’ve ever done that know what a treat it can be to maneuver the perils of multi-lanes of traffic while traveling at high rates of speed. On a really good day, I could make it in forty-five minutes. Good days were a rarity. It seldom took less than an hour and was usually well over that (one way). Still, commuting was the norm. Who wants to live where they work?traffic

I was reminded of this by a term I heard recently—“spiritual commuters.” The coiner of this short phrase had some particular people in mind. He was referring to folks who shoot into worship services on Sundays (sometimes often enough to get their name on the rolls) and zoom back out again. I’m not so certain how “spiritual” that is, but the “commuter” part surely fits.

I’ve never been one of that ilk; so I’m not totally sure what the perceived benefits of such an arrangement happen to be. I hope you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess is that spiritual commuters feel better simply because they’ve attended worship.

“I always feel good when I’m here!”

I think that because of a guy who used to attend services with a congregation I served many moons ago. At the end of worship hour, he would shake my hand and say to me, “Dave, I always feel really good when I’m here.” I think that statement speaks volumes. It translates (at least to my way of thinking) to what one of my old seminary professors used to call “feel-good religion.”

Please don’t get me wrong here. I loved that feel-good guy with all my heart. In fvisitor parkingact, he was one of my favorites (please don’t tell anyone I’ve had favorites over the years). I’m glad (even ecstatic) that he came to worship with us. The problem is, I believe people like him are cheating themselves.

Our faith is lived in the trenches of life. If we merely look for that feel-good experience, we’re missing out on the bulk of the journey. It’s nice to be airdropped in and flown out. But the real victories are won when we get our hands dirty. It’s in everyday discipleship that we’ll find real fulfillment.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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