Posted by: Hugh Griffiths | May 4, 2006

Fleeing Consumerism or Feeding it?

‘Leadership’ magazine’s blog ‘Out of Ur‘ has just posted an article about the effect of consumerism on the church. The contributor, Spencer Burke, has previously been a teaching pastor in a US megachurch and now runs a website www.theooze.com.

He makes some interesting points about the need for the church to adjust to the needs of today’s society and in particular to respond to the flexibility society now demands:

The situation reminds of the banking industry. At one time, if you wanted to deposit or withdraw money, you had to go to the bank and stand in line. You had to fill out a slip and wait for someone to serve you. Today, there are independent ATMs capable of instantly dispensing cash everywhere—from grocery stores and restaurants, to sports stadiums and bars. I can’t remember the last time I actually “went to the bank.” It’s not that I’ve stopped needing money; it’s just that I choose to get it in other ways.

But the church seems largely oblivious to this trend toward flexible, on-demand service in our culture. We still expect people to come to us, at our buildings, to do transactions with God or make deposits in their spiritual account. When congregants complain about pastors and churches not fitting their lifestyle, the church cries foul in the form of “consumer!” But does anyone ask whether the church is delivering what the market needs?

Imagine if people were encouraged to do their spiritual banking in ways that fit their lifestyle. They could watch some of the world’s best speakers on TiVo, DVDs or download resources for their iPod, then gather in smaller groups to discuss and apply what they’ve heard. A church wouldn’t necessarily need its own teaching pastor on the payroll anymore, and people wouldn’t need to leave their community in search of better teaching.

However, despite the general accuracy of the observations on culture, I find some of the conclusions very uncomfortable. For example, it extremely difficult to accept that a church does not need a teaching pastor and that somehow DVD and the iPod can replace this through ‘ministry-on-demand’.

I believe some of the leadership issues at stake are these:

  • There are no other pastors other than ‘teaching pastors’ since every shepherding role requires biblical instruction. Wherever spiritual authority is held, there must be an ability to directly teach and shape individuals from Scripture. Discussion is not biblical discipleship
  • Spiritual leadership/eldership also requires the teaching ministry. Even when a church is in its infancy, it requires more than indirect teaching from remote ministries. Instead a leader who is dependent on the Holy Spirit needs to seek God and search the Scriptures for a specific message. Both the man and the message are immediately present for effective ministry.
  • While resources are good and helpful, they can never be a replacement for Spirit-led preaching which interacts directly and powerfully with other people. I love having MP3 or video sermons and messages – but they cannot replace the community experience of effective preaching.

Personally, I find the title of the article misleading. It is called ‘The Church that Consumerism Built and Why I Fled’. However, from the proposals made in the article, it appears that far from rejecting consumerism, perhaps it is being even more wholeheartedly embraced. Fragementing a shared experience into personalised choices of teaching/ministry, turning corporate spirituality into individualised 24/7 ‘on-demand’ resources, encouraging a virtual community rather than building real community – all these seem to be feeding consumerism more than resisting it.

Not so much the ’emergent church’ but the ‘merging church’!

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Responses

  1. hugh,

    great insights. i hope you get a chance to read the entire article (not just the excerpt on the blog).

    i am not suggesting we stop gathering together – but i am challenging the notion that the sunday morning event IS church. my definition would be much larger to include many other opportunities we have to BE church together.

    i find it interesting that you equate leadership of the church (and it seems every other aspect of the church) with local / relational teaching. the new testament is dominated with remote (not local / relational) teaching. they did not have iPods but paul was the primary teacher over many churches through his letter writing.

  2. I must confess straight away that I regularly benefit from the fantastic sermons and teaching materials available on the web. However, I think it would be a tragedy if we all chose to simply worship alone in our homes choosing the service to suit our taste (… I think I’ll have some Hillsong DVD worship, followed by a bit of John Piper MP3 teaching, and then make myself a cup of tea … no notices and no offering bowl!).

    2 Tim 4:3,4 virtually prophesies this consumer-driven approach to teaching: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ”

    You might also want to check our a recent post by Scot McKnight on similar called “church borging” – http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=828


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