Consumer Church

We need more people coming to church ready to consume. We need more churches ready to give the people the product they need. That's the trouble with the "hating on the consumer" mentality-- it's not always wrong. "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation... Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Is 12:3; 55:1 ESV). It turns out that God wants--even commands--His people to come with no other intent than to receive, i.e. to plunder God, if you will, for all He's worth, to feast on His expense, and then keep coming back for more. Such an attitude respects who God is, as our infinite sustainer and provider. A greedy consumerist attitude when it comes to church is the godly one to have, provided that the product is God Himself. 'What church will help me receive the most God I possibly can?'

Beyond that good and healthy question, however, motivations become muddled. 'Is it the delivery of God I have come here to consume, or is it a neatly packaged delivery of convenience, of readily accessible programs and social connections, of engaging and professional music and teaching?' Note that none of the aforementioned 'packages' are bad. They're not. That's what makes discerning and untangling "consumer-based values" a delicate business. The apostle Paul demonstrates the polarity of motivations in meeting others with the gospel.

Christ sent Paul to preach "not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (I Cor 1:17 ESV). Strange to hear Paul, a brilliant, precise, and logical communicator describe himself as preaching 'without words of eloquent wisdom.' It's doubtful that Christ was asking him to 'dumb it down' or 'make it personal, and tell a few more stories'. What God desires is that preachers develop an allergy to anything that smells like glitz, glamor, and fireworks dressing up the message of the cross. It's like lighting a precious jewel with a disco ball. Paul is intentionally leaning away from tactics he could employ to draw a crowd, not because eloquent words are sinful, but for the same reason God stripped Gideon's men down to three hundred. God's redemptive work through the cross of Christ should command our focus.

So that means no drums, no video, and no stadium seating, right? Not according to Paul's same letter, as he later describes his ministry philosophy: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. to those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law...I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel." (I Cor 9:20-23) We won't find a much stronger directive to become a chameleon - to adapt and to accommodate to whatever culture and audience we encounter. The last sentence in the quote above weighs down the anchor of truth which controls these shifts. Our eager efforts as Christians to remove obstacles to the gospel come, as obvious as this may sound, in service to the gospel. We want the gospel itself to shine forth, without distraction, in its full, unapologetic, Spirit-filled glory.

This means, despite the temptation to draw broad stroke, short-cut evaluations of churches' faithfulness to Christ based on their forms of worship (music, liturgy, ministries), these can be misleading. Remember consumerism itself is not bad. The mentality is what matters. There are two vastly different mentalities which motivate a 'consumer-friendly' atmosphere:

1. Customer-service mentality. This is 'the customer is always right' idea. It goes like this: "Give them what they want know...Jesus. Our boss wants us to serve you." Or to use Christ Pratt's advice, which he himself practiced in his acceptance speech, while touching on broad Christian truths: "Give a dog medicine by wrapping it in a hamburger so they won't know they're eating it." Sadly, many church leaders, more by their actions and approach than by explicit confession, believe just that. Slip the unpleasant medicine of the gospel into the hamburger of cleverly designed programming.

2. God-service mentality. This is 'the customer always needs Jesus' idea. This mentality leads with the question, "How do I help sinners see that their particular and personal needs are crying out for a universal solution?"

The external delivery system for both of these approaches may look remarkably similar, but only the second operates through an active faith in God to deliver His help through His means.

Justin Poythress


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