I remember once standing in a supermarket with a returning third-world missionary. Paralysed by the choice on offer she stood gawping at the shelves, unable to make a choice. There was simply too much to choose from. She’d come from a culture where there was one type of coffee, one type of cereal, two types of chocolate if she was lucky. And in that moment I saw how we become so entrenched in our own culture that it’s difficult to see what’s happening around us. It’s only when we step outside of our culture that we can see it for what it really is.
Our supermarkets are stacked with numerous similar products, each marketed and packaged slightly differently. We can even choose whether or not we even want to visit the supermarket. We can sit in the comfort of our home, press a few buttons, choose what time we want a delivery and our shopping arrives at the door.
Life revolves around me, my convenience, my comfort, my wants, my desires.
My choice, my terms.
Technology has taken consumerism to a new level. We can browse on the internet to find the best option. We can choose which individual songs we want on our ipod; we don’t have to buy the whole album anymore. Facebook, twitter and other social media appeal to our consumerist tendencies. We can choose what news we want to receive from which “friends”. We can choose how we want to “market” ourselves by selecting what information we share.
Take a bit of this and that. Share a bit of this and that.
My choice, my terms
We’re products of our consumer society and it’s inevitable that it’s seeped into the church.
The following is a poignant illustration of “consumer church”:
“Jesus-followers from China, when they visit our church services, compare them to a theatre experience:
- You are met by an usher
- He escorts you into an auditorium.
- He gives you a program.
- The production has been rehearsed.
- It takes place on a stage.
- Everyone is seated facing the stage.
- The only difference is you pay for admission halfway through.
In China, they meet in homes. They encourage one another and worship together. Of necessity, they keep it simple.
Maybe in another hundred years the pendulum will have swung to the Chinese model of church. Maybe Jesus-followers in that distant time will look back with bemusement on this epoch of consumerism run amok.”
(Source: Taken from the Blog of Seth Barnes, Director of Adventures in Missions. You can find his blog here http://www.sethbarnes.com/?filename=the-consumer-church. AIM is an interdenominational mission organisation focussed on discipleship)
We’re not throwing the “celebration model” out of the window. We believe in “temple” and “gathering”. But we do want to challenge the prevailing culture. We shop around to find the best church. We choose the church that offers us the best teaching, best worship, best kids work, best coffee. And if we don’t like what we’re consuming then we can just go and consume elsewhere. There’s no cost involved. If things go wrong someone else is to blame. We can leave before things get too costly, too involved, too demanding.
My choice, my terms.
Transfer growth amongst churches is a recent phenomenon, a product of our society. It can fool us into thinking our church is growing with new “converts” where in reality we’re just absorbing a few more dissatisfied customers from the church down the road.
It couldn’t be any further from the life that Jesus called us to.
Jesus didn’t call us to consume.
When He called his disciples they left their nets and everything they had. The call was to sacrifice. When Jesus left them he commanded them to ‘go and make disciples’.
The call was to produce.
In the end all but one of them were martyred for their faith. He called us to serve, to participate, to die to self: to be a disciple and to disciple others.
How did we get from laying down our lives to church shopping?
What’s your church culture looking like?
# Are you re-producing disciples or church consumers?
# Is there a good balance of encouragement and challenge?
# Is there a value on participation – ‘one body with my parts’
# Are people embracing the cost of love, service, sacrifice in their relationships with each other both in and outside church?
We will start to unpack this idea of discipleship more in the next post, so stay tuned….