Down With Consumerism
Our world today is a consumeristic world. Advertising is everywhere. Something is always being sold. We are constantly being influenced by the world toward discontentment and selfishness. We are told to think about what we need and want for ourselves and for our own happiness as our number one priority. Now this can be subtle or it can be direct. Most of us know that buying the Budweiser from the beer commercial won't instantaneously transform us into a hip young twenty-something partying with beautiful people on a mountain top. Yet that advertising somehow works. That is blatant consumerism, but it can be more subtle as you know, and this type of thing pervades our entire culture. Sadly, it can even affect us in how we think about and participate in the church.
The most obvious example of consumerism in the church is the seeker-sensitive church model. This is what you see in most mega churches. The service, the programs, the environment, has all been tailored to meet the wants and desires of the consumer, sorry, I mean congregation. Comfy seats, relaxing or entertaining lighting, coffee shops, free babysitting, concert-quality music, motivational speaker, and minimal effort for the consumer. In this model it is the pastor, his staff, and a team of volunteers that do all the work. All you have to do is show up, fill a seat, listen, leave before the next service, and oh, don't forget to give some money. But is that what church should be? Did Paul instruct the church to have a Coldplay concert followed by a Ted talk? No, indeed he did not.
Pastors were not called to be CEO's of a large staff charged to put out a great product every week for the consumer. According to Paul in Ephesians they are a gift to the church to equip each member for service in the body.
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12)
So let me bring this down to the point. Are you a consumer or are you a minister? Do you see your Christian life as something of a passive experience? You go to church sometimes, you listen to a sermon, you listen to people sing, you listen to people pray, you eat food that other people prepared, and then you go home. Or do you see your Christian life as something active? You are committed to going to church faithfully. You plan your life in such a way that you don't miss gathering with your local church. You actively listen to the sermons, seeking to learn and grow. You add your voice to the choir of God's people, singing from the heart. You actively pray along with the church as they go before the throne. You talk to people, you ask questions, you listen well, you pray for people, you give gifts, you bring food, you encourage the saints. Which picture are you? And maybe you would say I'm not so bad as the first person, the one hundred percent consumer Christian. But maybe you would be challenged by the second picture of the active ministering Christian. And if so that is good. We should all be challenged to grow in how we serve the church.
What I really want to challenge us on is to see how this culture of consumerism has affected us. We are quick to look for programs; we look for the church to provide what we want and need. But in doing so we miss the picture that we are the church. We each get to be the church to one another. We are not to be like a group of communists in a bread-line, waiting for our rations. We are to be more like a big household, each doing our part to build up the house, in turn serving and being served.
I think that some people come to a smaller church like Redeemer and they think – where are all the programs? And what I want to tell someone like that is – we don't have them yet because you weren't here yet. And what I mean is that, the piece that you feel is missing, perhaps is the ministry that God would have you do. We need to stop thinking like consumers. Thinking, I want a church with this ministry and with that, and it has to be this big, and the music has to be just like I like it, and the pastor has to never call me out on my sin and flakiness. But honestly, deep down, if you are a true Christian, do you really want the consumeristic church? I mean really? Being a true, in the trenches, life on life, active, every-member-ministry, kind of church is where it is at. You might not get the lights and the show, you might have to sit on a hard pew through a hard sermon, you might have to be vulnerable with others, but in the end you are part of a real and authentic church. You are in good company with the New Testament saints who met from house to house. You are in good company with the global church that has often gathered without a building, without the consumer comforts, under a tree or in the catacombs. To know one another and to be known can be a challenge. To take on responsibility and be counted on by others can be a challenge. To faithfully attend and serve and give and encourage others can be a challenge. But what did you expect, you signed up to follow Jesus, right? And his path is a path of self-sacrificial service. If we are to be His church, we should look like Him.
And don't get the wrong idea that I am advocating works-righteousness instead of faith alone. When you come to Christ you are not working for Him, or actively partnering with God in your salvation. No, in and of yourself you are entirely passive. Being saved by faith alone is simply the joyful reception of a great gift. We come with nothing to give, we come only to receive. Yet once we are adopted by God and in the family of God, we are empowered by Him to work. As the Scriptures say, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). And so I ask again, are you a consumer or a minister? We all need to consume the gospel by God's grace, but then, transformed by that gospel we are empowered to serve Him and one another as ministers.
So in conclusion, consumerism is lame. Passive, entertainment-driven mega-churches are lame. Serving Christ together in a growing body of believers is a beautiful thing. Keeping things simple and biblical and hard, is good. God wants us to grow in strength as we actively minister to one another, he doesn't want us to fatten up in passive self-indulgence. So serve one another. Use your gifts. Jump in with both feet. Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church. Ok, that quote was a little much. But in the end remember the words of Jesus, quoted by Paul as he encouraged the Ephesian elders – "It is more blessed to give than to receive".
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