You understand consumerism. America is made up of consumers. Companies make stuff and we consume it. That’s the cycle of economics which is based upon the law of supply and demand. Demand drives the process. And who does the demanding? Consumers…also us…people. Consumerism is predicated upon our choice to purchase things based on our preferences and needs. If we have a family of six and we need a vehicle which can carry all of us together – Mini van here we come. Healthy consumerism drives a healthy economy and the freedom to choose is at the core of this. That’s why capitalism thrives in countries where the people are free to make their own choices. Consumerism, however, does not make for a healthy church.
Consider this all too familiar scenario. We start off in our walk with Jesus with a fair amount of idealism. Not the pie-in-the-sky kind, I’m talking about the healthy kind that causes you to lay awake at night praying and dreaming about the crazy stuff God wants to do in and through you to change the world. Your heart burns to make a difference and go on a wild journey in God, changing nations. Somewhere along the line you realize that God’s desire to change the nations starts with you. The process of world reformation slows down and zeroes in on your own heart. With the addition of a spouse and family, your needs grow rather than diminish. Through people challenges, church challenges, money challenges, family challenges, faith challenges, job challenges, and the like, your passion to turn the world up-side-down lulls to a near halt while you find yourself just hoping to pay the bills, get the kids to school on time and maybe, just maybe, make it to small group this week.
Amazingly the same messages about changing the world that pierced your heart in your twenties, don’t move you in your thirties. What you really need is a Church that understands you and is focused on meeting your needs. And Thus the search is on for that full-service church family that is has an amazing kid’s ministry, challenging men’s ministry, inspiring women’s ministry, a vibrant youth group, touches the poor, the lost, the shut-in, the nations(you still want to change the world, a little bit at least), classes for marriage, financial stewardship, parenting, small groups, singles, seniors, counseling and the list goes on and on and on. Once you find the “perfect” place you make a few concessions because deep down you know, no place is perfect. “The worship isn’t that great, but the kid’s ministry is”, and so you settle in to the church that will most meet your needs.
You add church to your already busy schedule. You connect to a small group and an extra class or two (when you can make it), and you attend Sunday service a couple times a month. You find yourself at thirty-five laying in bed thinking about the days in your youth when you wanted to change the world and you wonder what happened to you. You could chalk it up as youthful zeal, foolish idealism or you could examine your current status and wonder if this is really what God had in mind for you. I vote for the latter.
What happened? You became a consumer and didn’t realize it. Trained by a culture that worships at the altar of “my needs and wants” you actually fell into the same trap and applied it to your relationship with Jesus and His church. You chose a church based on how it would meet your needs rather than how the Lord wanted you to fit in the body. The reason this is so deadly is that it’s exactly opposite of Jesus’ dream for His Church. God is the one who sets members in the body as He wills…that’s not our prerogative (1 Cor 12:18). The church was never to be an inward focused people looking to meet their own needs. We were to always be an upward focused people looking to love God and others extravagantly.
When we approach choosing a church the same way we approach where to buy our groceries we step into a consumer mindset which we carry with us during our entire lifetime in the church. We will then complain when the “goods and services” offered are not up to our liking. We will look to “management” to make changes to satisfy our needs. And if our needs are not met, we will vote with our feet, because everybody knows, “the customer is always right.” Is this Jesus’ dream for His church?
We then go from church to church looking for the latest thrill or best programs to meet our needs and the cycle of consumerism goes without end. It’s just killing us, beloved. Rather than the church being the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15) we largely resemble a fickle customer base susceptible to the latest marketing appeals. Rather than us being the “ecclesia” (the governing body of heaven on earth) we tend to look like a self-focused, self-help group boasting that we have something to meet everyone’s individual needs. And oh how we languish.
The Church is the global community of the kingdom of God. It exists in smaller local congregations. These congregations are to function as spiritual families, dedicated together to teaching, prayer, fellowship, & community (Acts 2:42). The natural overflow of a church that carries these dedications is outreach, discipleship, miracles, and heavenly awe (Acts 2:43–47). The church was never supposed to be a consumer oriented environment. Don’t get me wrong, when functioning properly, the community of the church is a powerful need-meeting organism. However, those who would join the church are to come with one need in mind, their need for Jesus. This is the basis for admittance and continual requirement for membership in the church.
Jesus, the head of the church, is the One from whom life flows into the body. When we come together to love Jesus, we will, in turn, love one another. It’s the natural product of a heart that has been touched with love (John 15:1-13, 1 John 4:20). Intentionality is critical. In other words we must choose to love others in practical ways. And in the end, our love for one another is the basis for all evangelism. John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
It’s impossible for a body to enter into this kind of life and love when the chief question on everyone’s mind is, “What’s in it for me?” Consumer Christianity derails us from the original commission of the Church (Mat 28:18). We get so self focused that we forget the Head and His heart. I propose if we look upward, rather than inward, we will find fresh idealism, regardless of our station in life. Can a thirty-five year old home school mom be fiery for Jesus? ABSOLUTELY. Can a forty year old, corporate-America-working dad continue to carry the passion he had in his twenties? WITHOUT QUESTION. Jesus has not changed. The One who lit you on fire at twenty is still lighting fires today.
The church is to be a people brimming with passionate love for Jesus and others, flowing in the power and values of the kingdom. This is our portion in life, to engage with God and function as an extension of His Kingdom on the earth. The purpose of the Church is to communicate to a lost world, through a myriad of ways, what life in the Kingdom looks like. In the church we are to experience this life together and then call others into it, always emphasizing this single critical issue – Have you come to Jesus to meet your most critical need, salvation?
I encourage you to ask Jesus to give you a fresh vision of what He desires for His church. Ask Him what your part is in it. If you find that you’ve been unknowingly sucked into a consumer mindset, repent and ask the Lord to give you His perspective. Unquestionably, He wants to meet your needs AND He wants to fill you with an idealistic passion to change the world.
I know I likely raised more questions then I answered with this blog. My goal here is not to address all the issues, but rather call us to refocus our gaze on Jesus in relation to our participation in the community of the Kingdom, His Church. Feel free to comment. I’d love to interact on this topic.