We pastors like to rant against consumerism. How it’s evil, bad, naughty, soul-destroying, godless, relationship killing, idol making, ________.
But before we rant, we need to acknowledge the good. Jobs, economic growth (which if you pastor in a struggling area, say a declining suburb or inner city, you pray and work for), improved health (jobs/economic growth=insurance and better quality of food in grocery stores), and better quality of life. The gospel certainly isn’t against those things. It’s just that in the idol factories that our are hearts and minds, we have a tendency to confuse the effect with the cause.
Back to our rant: We all know that our American churches are filled with consumers. And that we want a culture of contributors and producers instead. And that we pastors see it right and everyone else sees it wrong. But Instead of railing against it, I am learning to accept the task of changing it. Leaders, after all, define culture. Maybe I have a greater hand in creating and sustaining this consumer church culture than I care to admit.
But here’s the subtle thing I’ve realized about consumerism in my own life and how it’s gripped my own heart. Consumerism–that is the idol in my heart that makes me turn my comfort from a good thing into an ultimate thing–has the subtle ability to make me think that I am doing something significant when I consume the “right” things. That is, when the things I consume are what I deem to be good, nice, pleasing, cool, _________. I find myself thinking “wow, this really matters” and I feel myself inflated with feelings of self-importance and having arrived.
What’s so deceptive is that I am in reality still taking and receiving, not giving and being fruitful. When Jesus talks about it being better to give than receive, he is articulating a better way to go about life. Significance comes from giving, not taking. So my feelings are lying.
Here’s how I see this working its way into church life. It’s entirely possible for people to come to a service/program/event, soak in our singing, listen to our carefully crafted message, enjoy the activity–and go home thinking, “wow, this really matters.” We even tell them: “Be there, it really matters.” However, the reality is that they are still taking and receiving, not giving and being fruitful. And to make matters worse, when I hear people say what I hoped they’d say, I feel those same feelings of self-importance rise in my heart. Somehow, I did it “right” to produce the effect I was hired to produce. But our feelings are lying.
Let me say that there is a place to receive, to abide, to soak something in, to relax. In the language of LifeShapes, it is called the semi-circle: The rhythm of life each person needs to articulate to approach life in a John 15 way–to let fruitfulness and work come from a place of abiding and rest. (By the way, one of the primary tasks of discipleship is helping people do this.) What I’m talking about is creating a church culture where the norm is for everyone to give because they see it as a better way to live. That’s an entirely different culture–a discipling culture in fact. And it won’t happen by accident.