Friday, January 29, 2010

"Guilty of consumerism in the pews"

Part II of "Work and Leisure" is still coming, but in the meantime...

The title of this post is a quote from someone on a message board (in which I used to be a regular participator) that jumped out at me when I read it.

As someone who has done a lot of thinking lately about our consumer culture, and has felt disillusioned about how our country seems welcome to turn back to consumption as a way out of our economic mess (and subsequently setting itself up for yet another collapse), the way this attitude has crept into our thinking about church came off the screen at me in a way I hadn't thought of it before.

It's not as if I have been unaware of the tendency of American Christians to "church-shop." Even within the name itself is an implied consumerist attitude, and with it all the same attitudes that come with, say, shopping for a car. If it doesn't meet your exact specs, you'll keep looking until you find something that does.

Once again, there's something to be said for finding a church that you feel like is a good fit for you - it lines up with your beliefs about the Bible, it is a place that welcomes children, it's outward-focused and driven by missions, it has a healthy worship service with a style you enjoy, etc. That's completely acceptable. However, finding a church ought to be more like your search for a spouse than your search for a car. And once you make a commitment to a church, leaving it ought to be as serious to you as considering leaving your spouse.

But I'm less concerned in this post, really, with the trend of church-shopping, but rather the source of where this attitude comes from and what it tells us about ourselves. If we can boil down our selection of our spiritual community to a shopping decision, like whether we buy an F-150 or a Tundra, or go to Church A with the rockin' worship band or Church B with the phenomenal preacher, what does that tell us about our perception of what church is?

At least one thing it tells us is that we view church as a product like any other, that we believe it will make our lives better or happier when we buy it. And while this may be very true, to base the entire concept of church attendance on whether it meets your standards and makes you happy is flimsy and unbiblical, going against the very reason church exists. Church was meant to be a body - not a filling station or a fast-food joint. Church wasn't meant to be something you "attend," but something you belong to and live in and are a part of. The church is the body of Christ, His hands and feet on earth, and the idea that church is something we "go to" on Sundays is wrong-headed.

So we begin from the wrong starting point: rather than looking at the Church as the whole and us simply a part of it trying to find where we fit, we look at ourselves as the whole, and the Church as the sustenance for our singular body. This in turn leads us to see ourselves as far more important than we are. Church becomes a thing upon which we make demands it can't meet. Since we think, or at least act like, it exists solely to give us food and nourishment (which it does exist to do, don't mistake what I say here), we then approach it like we approach anything else in our lives that feed us. Church becomes an extension of our consumption: another product we buy to keep us fat and happy, just like Safeway or Red Robin or Blockbuster. And if it stops serving our favorite burger or we find a better deal on potatoes somewhere else, what's to stop us from leaving? Brand loyalty?

And while it's hard to tell which came first - "attendees" viewing the church as a product or churches viewing themselves as competitors with the world for members - the current response by churches has been to accept themselves as products and then act accordingly. They market themselves with advertisement and programs, trying to create essentially a brand image that will appeal to target demographics - just like any "good" corporation. They feed into the willingness of Christians to treat them like a product to be consumed by reducing themselves to just that.

Until we see Christians willing to believe that the Church is not something one optionally participates in, but is a part of by nature of their salvation and participation in the universal Body of Christ, we will continue in this unhealthy trend of "church-shoppers."

The church cannot function in this way. If indeed Paul knew what he was saying when he talked about Christians as "members of one body," the Body of Christ, who worked together and suffered together and lived life together, can a person truly experience being a part of the Body if he jumps from church to church, or just "attends" on Sundays? Paul made no mention of the "pew-filling" part of the body, only active, participating, valuable members who each have a unique function. There is no separation between the leadership, members, and attendees, but rather equally important roles with differing responsibilities. Christians must realize that in fully participating in the body, there is inifinitely more satisfaction found in church. Christians who are invested in their local body are Christians who love their local body and the people who belong to it.

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