Monday, October 08, 2007

consumer church

In yesterday's message, "A People Committed" based on Hebrews 10:19-25, we looked at the undermining effects of consumerism on commitment. Only the Gospel can move us from consumerism to commitment!

Nicky Jensen, a gal involved in our College Ministry, sent me a link to this great reflection (sort of a rant) on the consumer church by musical artist, Justin McRoberts. I had never heard of McRoberts, but the music samples on his website sound great and similar to the style of Caedmon's Call. I've been looking for some new music. Click over and check him out.

Here's Justin's rant. . . . it'll get you thinking on Monday. . . .what are your thoughts/reactions?

Reflect on this... I think Consumerism undergirds almost every decision the modern American makes. (notice you and I are in this group)

Overstatement?

I'm not so sure. The church is sailing in the deep waters and strong currents of a consumeristic whirlpool. She's spinning and she's lost her bearings. On board things seem fairly normal. Yes the church is beginning to notice her members lives lack depth... but they do not know why. Systemically the church has problems it does not know it has... or at the very least she significantly underestimates them. In other words most churches today consider consumerism a given for people who live in the USA and perhaps more importantly... they believe that the gospel can co-exist with this mentality.

The Consumer church might look something this. The absence of authority ---the final authority in the consumer church is the individual attendee. To truly submit to the direction of an elder/pastor and their spiritual leadership is laughable. Biblical headship has faded.

The desire to please the congregation supersedes the desire to please God. With authority gone who's in charge? It is spiritual anarchy with a fancy Christian mask.

The staff are highly specialized hired guns to do the work of the ministry for the church. I had an influential attorney in a large church I worked with tell me, "The day (the Sr. Pastor) stops preaching good sermons, and administrating well...I'm calling for him to be fired." I guess Moses would never have made it as pastor there.

Religious activity and developing a "spiritual menu" of programs takes the place of prayer, silence, community and obedience. Superficiality takes the place of depth. - In a consumer culture we love things to happen fast. If we sit in a drive through for more than 5 minutes it seems like an eternity. If our church services go 5 minutes long we complain. Superficiality is a child of consumerism. If I'm a consumer, I'm really only interested in me which leads to an inability to love others. When I'm a consumer, I'm interested in knowing you primarily for one reason...what you can give me. I become a manipulator and a user. I lose track of what's happening in the real lives of "friends" and fellow believers because I'm not really interested in their pain, fear, loneliness, or joy. I'm only interested in mine. Depth always comes slowly and the church who allows a sinful and worldly perspective to run rampant without correction is simply selling out the gospel of God and his plans, purposes and agenda for his children. The gospel again becomes a product that enhances peoples lives and the church begins to making better citizens of America. The truth of God is exchanged for a lie.

After superficiality comes image. Image is the consumer's greatest idol. Churches should be prayerful of how they "advertise", if they should "advertise" at all...... Isn't advertising the triumph of image over reality? If we're going to advertise.... be real...Instead of "An exciting, relevant, contemporary, family church with dynamic ministries for God" that really translates into: "we're a bunch of boring people who want to be exciting, we've recently added guitar (or synthesizer) to our services... we don't really know each other very well but we have things for everyone in your family to do while your here." Advertising that would be more truthful of my church.. " a bunch of normal people who are really messed up. we desire to follow Jesus, but we find we've found we're mostly interested in serving ourselves and being busy and we want to stop..... we really love God but we often fall short of worshiping him the way we really want to... pray for us...." but frankly ... that doesn't do it either. The fact is you can't promote or advertise the body of Christ. Much of what we experience in our lives these days is not reality. The church does not need to add to the confusion of noise advertising or eye sore billboards but throwing out lies on behalf of Truth. Being the Body should be enough advertising. (Oh and please take down all messages on your marquee's other than "Church signs are stupid")

This image forming is about hype. This mental pollution starts from when our alarms go off in the morning to wee hours of the late night TV. It's like Kalle Lasn in his book Culture Jam says "Corporate Advertising (or is it the commercial media?) is the largest single psychological project ever undertaken by the human race" I like what Dennis Miller says too. "Hype is the glittering rhinestone on the jumpsuit of mediocrity that catches our eye and makes us think, "Hey maybe the Spice girls don't suck" It's the triumph of substance over style, predicated on the sad truth that most of us, if the gift-wrapping on the outside of the box is fancy enough, we won't notice that inside there's nothing but a big pile of dung" A consumer church will find that people pick their church because it has great music, the pastor is entertaining. Think about how many times you've heard "mature" believers say.... "I just don't get anything out of ...church.... the bible... worship." As pastors we read the Bible and "look" for something profound for our sermons. This is contrary to historical Christianity and to scripture itself... it all changes with Guttenburg's invention of the printing press and people have God's word in their hands to "look through". But historically Scripture has been heard. The story told.
What if we're called to listen more than look. What if more pastors started listening to what God is doing in the lives of his people... and helping them to listen as well.

2 comments:

Joe Pollon said...

It is an easy lament of the “enlightened,” to look down on those walking the very path they walked and say “Now that I get it, I shouldn’t have needed all that ‘Consumer church’ stuff and neither should anyone else. So let’s stop doing that and get to the Real church stuff.”

However, if there is going to be manipulation (marketing) of the “uninformed” masses, there is no better cause than steering them toward G-d. It is reality that an army of marketing executives is trying to snatch up souls for the sake of almighty dollar. Therefore, is it wrong, low or distasteful to use those effective tools to save souls for G-d?

Any successful company trying to sell a product has two departments: marketing and sales. The marketing attempts to draw the consumer’s interest to that company, its stores and products. Low prices and an attractive shop make stepping over the threshold less frightening. It then becomes the sales department’s task to learn that person’s needs (or vulnerabilities) and close the deal.

Is it wrong for a church to follow the same model? Advertising, word of mouth and admirable members of the faith draw attention to the world of the Church. An attractive facility, which offers pleasant services and a variety of activities, make stepping over the threshold less frightening. A compelling sermon focuses the consumer on the Word and his need for G-d. Then a growth group, a pastor/elder or a seasoned believer personally shepherds them to the door where G-d invites him in.

Once the person becomes a Believer, all the consumerism can be rigorously challenged and they become open to submission and direction/correction from leadership. Things begin to function as they “should.” But that doesn’t mean the Consumer church stuff is turned off. It just becomes understood in a different way and for what it is.

My guess is that the great challenge of any church is to balance the preaching of the hard reality of G-d’s Word and His commandments without frightening off the uninitiated it is commissioned to seek out—holding the mature Believer AND attracting the new or non-believer. Thankfully, we live in a country where the Church must compete and we must exercise our Free Will. Without that, any faith is empty.

Suzette said...

Maybe I fall in the catagory Joe mentioned in his post, but I just don't think that God needs us or our slick marketing to accomplish His will.

It brings to mind a favorite quote of mine from Kay Arthur"s "Our Covenant God":

"I wonder what would happen if we did 'honest advertising' for the church? If we put a sign in the front of churches that said:

Christianity Is Not for Cowards

Join Us and Become a Blood Brother of Jesus Christ...

Committed to the Death - Assured of Life.

While it might diminish our numbers, I believe it would certainly strengthen our ranks!"

Not very "seeker friendly" I guess, but does God need advertising or fluff? He did not need it in the first century even competing against all the temptations of the Roman Empire. God really works in counter intuitive ways. Who would ever have thought that allowing all the missionaries to flee or be killed in 1900 would be part of God's long term plan to build and strengthen the church in China. Doesn't seem like a good strategy from a human perspective. But our ways are not God's ways. Using the worlds methods seems like something to be very careful and prayerful about.

Maybe we could do a test. We could advertise a lot one month and see the results and then the next month (maybe a traditionally slower month even) cut out all advertising and just have a small group pray every day at 7AM from where ever they are at that time and see what the Lord does.

Or is that just weird?