We live in a consumer culture. We begin our training as consumers the moment we enter the world. People expect this. We’re programmed from infancy to look for the best deal for us—and if we don’t like it we dump it and buy another product better suited to our need or taste. Sadly the Church isn’t immune. We now have “ChurchMarts”. Instead of being in the discipleship business, pastors are being beguiled into changing the “product” to suit the ever-changing tastes and preferences of customers that say “keep us happy”. Running blue tag sales to prevent them from taking their business elsewhere. Our country is the premier consumer society in the world and now we’ve got churches that have turned themselves into consumer churches. But, if we rely on consumer methods to develop our congregations, we’re almost guaranteeing immaturity.
As Eugene Peterson puts it, a consumer church is good at, “dispensing religious goods and services”. Consumer church-goers expect their leaders to do what they want. Many spiritual leaders have given in and become religious shopkeepers taking care of the “business” of running the church, preoccupied with things like serving their customers, keeping them happy and entertained, luring customers away from competitors, packaging their product in a way that attracts new customers and keeps their present patrons coming back and paying for it.
The popular view of church and of the Christian faith is that it’s something about “me”—its purpose is to help me be a better person – a winner! But that isn’t really what the gospel’s about. That’s not what Jesus is doing. He’s created a new kind of community where we live a life of obedience, compassion and sacrifice together with him. Like salt, making life better in the place it finds itself in the real world rather than in some consumeristic bubble. It’s a life of getting what he wants not necessarily what we want – which as it turns out is the bargain of a lifetime.
After worshipping God for no other reason than that he’s God and he’s good, the number one activity of the church is to make disciples that form communities that make disciples that form communities. In order to do that we need spiritual leaders who are willing to do the necessary thing not necessarily the popular thing. We need leaders that are disciples themselves that know how to navigate this beguiling consumerist world while not buying into it (pardon the pun). We need spiritual leaders whose bottom line is disciples not just fannies in the seats, paying the bills and running well oiled programs.