I think we need to update the list of deadly sins – and I vote that shopping just might be the greatest modern enemy to living the Jesus life.
The church in North America is in such a dangerous place and we hardly know it. We exist in an environment of consumerism; it’s the air we breathe and so we hardly notice it – even in church. The demon is in deep and we’ve been discipled into a consumer way of life instead of a Jesus way of life. It shapes our expectations of church, our hopes for the Christian life, the desires of our hearts. And I’ll be the first to own this: “Hi my name is Phil and consumer living has co-opted my allegiances and heart desires.”
We need to start frank conversations in churches about this. There’s a few good books out addressing this reality. For example, James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom explores how we are formed by our desires and less so our thoughts. It’s a very important introduction to the reality of how we are formed, despite what we might cognitively hold to be true. Skye Jethani’s The Divine Commodity is an accessible critique of the consumerism that grips the North American church.
And there’s a new book out I’m looking forward to reading called The Renovation of the Church. Here’s a soberingly good quote from the book:
I don’t know how to say this in a gentle way, but we should not assume that those people who are attracted to our church have been captivated by the message of Christ and his alternative vision of life. In truth, most North American Christians are not riding courageously on warrior steeds with swords waving wildly in the air, crying out, “Let’s change the world for Christ.” Rather, they come in the air-conditioned comfort of their SUV or minivan with their Visa card held high in the air, crying out, “Let’s go to the mall!”
We should be more truthful with each other here. They come because their high-school kid likes the youth program, or because their children don’t get bored, or because they like the music, or because the pastor preaches the Bible the way they believe it should be preached, or because they happened to be greeted by a smiling face one day, or because the worship leaders looks like Brad Pitt.
This is the hard, raw reality of life in the North American church. The people who come to our churches have been formed into spiritual consumers. This is who we are. It is our most instinctive response to life. And you can hardly blame us. Almost everything in our culture shapes us in this direction. But we must become deeply convinced that this is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who invited us to deny ourselves and lose our lives in order to find them. If we do nothing to confront this in our churches, we are merely putting a religious veneer over consumerism and nothing is changed. We offer no real, viable, attractive, alternative way of living. And what is worse, our churches become part of the problem. By harnessing the power of consumerism to grow our churches, we are more firmly forming our people into consumers. Pastors end up being as helpful as bartenders at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We do not offer what people really need.