There are not a few tragedies in the history of the church. The Crusades, the killing of those who do not line up with the Christian faith (or one particular branch of the faith), mixing the Christian faith with colonialism, particular church denominations aligning themselves with particular political parties, the despising of 2,000 years of church history…and we could probably go on and on.
But one of the great tragedies of the church today is simply this: Consumerism.
This tragic reality peaks its head around many a corners in many a ways. From how we tailor our services, to the teams of musicians that lead us, to the over-the-top concert-style productions, to the expectations set upon children’s ministries, to the need we feel to take pics during the gathered times of worship and post on social media, to the desire to formulate the next best hashtag campaign on Twitter, to a host of other gimmicks. We are running this thing like an entertainment center or business corporation.
I recently saw a promo video pop up on my Facebook feed for a local church. The video was about 2 minutes and it’s focus was this: “Come and see.”
Now, those 3 words are actually some of my most favorite words in all of Scripture. They are found upon the lips of Jesus himself in John 1:35-39. In the account, two of John the Baptizer’s disciples start following Jesus (literally on a dusty road) after John had pointed him out and declared, “Look, the Lamb of God.” Jesus inquires what these two men are looking for and they respond by inquiring as to where he is staying. Jesus replies, “Come and see.”
Those are words very different from the modern-day use. Jesus invites them into his life, literally to where he was staying. Dirt, a long road to travel, food, living quarters (if even temporary for Jesus). It’s a beautiful picture of true learning in life. The words used today in many church promo videos and social media platforms are more about, “Come and look at our cool and unique way of ‘doing’ church.”
Saturday nights and Sunday mornings can be some of the most disheartening times on social media. Why? Because everyone joins in the chorus of posting all their fancy hashtags for their upcoming or currently happening services. From worship setlists (that’s already an odd phrase to me, as if we’re treating things as a concert) to capturing pics in the midst of the gathered worship to tweeting snappy one-liners from the pastor’s sermon, we are shaped towards consumeristic ways.
Last night, one of the largest churches in America put up tweets of how all first-time guests would get a free copy of their famous pastor’s book in the morning and then followed it up with the hashtag tagline of #SitWithMe. “Sit with me” communicates “come and be entertained.” But here I was under the impression that church is a participation in the life and community of God. I can imagine this church will only have a total of 3 people to communicate anything of substance in their service. And one of those people will be the person sharing the announcements. Something says we might not be aware of words like those found in 1 Cor 14:26.
But it sells and draws the people in, right? And we’re doing it all to glorify God and see folk come to know Jesus…right?
The church growth movement of the 1990’s is as strong as ever.
And a most disconcerting thing is that so many of these pastors and churches really believe they are doing something revolutionary and edgy. Yet these kinds of consumeristic measures have been going on for a few decades now, if not more. It all sounds and looks pretty much the same.
Come and see.
Bigger is better.
Franchising our church, style, and product.
What have we come to?
The evangelical pastor of America stands up on a Sunday morning to share a new and revolutionary vision of where the church is going.
“We have a new vision, something revolutionary. It’s going to be life-changing, city-changing, world-changing.”
All sit with bated breath as to what this vision might be.
“We are building a multi-million dollar complex and we are believing that God will fill the seats.”
Many churches can say in unison, “Been there. Done that,” at least in some measure.
These are all mottos, MO’s, and mindsets of the modernist church. The thing is that, those who really want something authentic, something deep, something of wonder, something of beauty, something true, they will see past the ploys.
These types of churches are mainly growing through transfer-growth – members of one church shuffling to the next, whether because they are looking for something “bigger and better” or because of some conflict that’s unresolved in their former church. So the seats might get filled, but will they be filled until someone else provides something bigger and better or new conflict arises?
I’m reminded of Abraham and how, in Hebrews, we are told that he was looking for a city whose architect and builder is God. He didn’t see it, but he was looking. And though the paramaters might not have been 100% clear, I feel quite sure he had a sense of what it should look like.
Why can’t we have prophetic, Abrahamic eyes?
Whether this city could be a full reality now, in the present, it’s hard to say. But we can start building towards it step by step, little by little. We can, as Smith and Pattison subtitled their book, Slow Church, stary by “cultivating community in the patient way of Jesus.”
Everything looks and feels great amongst these entertainment-driven churches. There’s some really good stuff that would work well in the business and marketing world. But something is also lacking, gravely lacking. The back door is just as wide as the front. Depth and sincerity are abandoned. Nothing is taking root in good soil. We’re not truly transforming lives and neighborhoods. But we’ve got a club where we can jump around as if we’re in the bouncy castle of life or simply sit and be entertained.
Sounds judgmental, I know. But I believe judgments are ok. Judgmentalism, no. Judgments, yes. And as I reflect on Scripture, the ways of the church historic, and ultimately the ways of Jesus, I’m convinced this “come and see” consumerist perspective is a far cry from anything that reminds us of Christ and the city Abraham was looking for. I believe it is literally killing us, draining the deep life of the Spirit right out of us.
We need to kill consumerism or it will continue to kill us.