An Innovative Approach to Church Life … from 1916


The following tidbit from history surprised me. It just seems so natural to walk into the store, make my selections while I walk up and down the aisles, and check out. But there was a time …

Prior to 1916, you went to the local grocer and simply handed him your list. He went to the back, got the items, and brought them out to you. Every store did that, including the store Clarence Saunders operated in Memphis. By the process bugged Saunders. It was time consuming. He wanted a faster way to serve customers—and serve more customers.

This sounds so ordinary to us, but he rocked the shopper’s world when they walked into his new store and found all the products were out front—not in the back. He handed shoppers a basket and empowered them to pick up their own items!

Some people expected this approach to buying groceries to fail. The naysayers expected a negative reaction: I should be paying less since I’m doing the bulk of the work. (That was my attitude the first time I used a self-service gas station in the 70s. Gas prices were going up, yet I was the one now doing the work of pumping gas.)  But when Saunders opened his new store on September 6, 1916, his innovation took off. And here we are 100 years later, gladly standing in the chip aisle, trying to choose between Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos.

And some of us still shop in the store bearing the same name as the 1916 original: Piggly Wiggly. (Or as I call it: Hoggly Woggly.)


I think it’s well past time for believers to approach the Christian life with the same attitude we have when we enter the grocery store. If you need something, you go get it. Instead, too many Christians go to church expecting others—in particular, the church staff—to do things for them.

  • Pastor, I need you to pray for my Uncle Murray. Because God listens more to pastors.
  • Pastor, you need to share the gospel with my neighbor. If he was saved, he’d keep his dog out of my yard. Because the message of salvation only has meaning when it comes from the pastor—and not from someone who has been yelling at the neighbor’s dog.
  • Pastor, you need to visit Martha. She’s upset because she’s been ill yet no one came to see her. Because only pastors are allowed to visit the sick.
  • Pastor, the restroom is out of paper towels—again.

Anyone who has ever pastored can tell you these are exactly the kinds of things many church members expect their leaders to do. And it never crosses their minds that they could do these things themselves!

Church members need to get out of 1915! Let’s move into 1916 with its innovative approach to grocery shopping and apply the same principle to church life. If you see something in life and ministry that needs to be done, do it. Don’t present your list to the pastor and expect him to do it.

Notice who does the work of ministry in this passage:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service” (Eph. 4:11-12).

Don’t give your ministry shopping list to your pastor. Take care of it yourself—as God leads you and works through you.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet. 4:8-10).

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