Constraining Church Assumption – Number 5
Keeping as many people happy and comfortable as long as possible is our defacto guiding principle
“We exist to be an excellent provider of
religious goods and services, resulting in contented members.”
-De facto Mission Statement of Consumer Church
It’s always been there…the effort of churches to make people comfortable. Even so, this effort is ramped up in our current contextual atmosphere, jacked-up on steroids. What’s driving churches to lower their aspirations, so drastically, focusing on the comfort of their people at this point in time?
1. The decline of many churches and denominations is driving some to the belief that their mission is to hold on to the members they currently have. While doing listening groups in a large church several years ago, I clearly remember the facial expression, tone, and actual words of a member in the group who said, “With all the changes in the world around us, we just want to hold onto the members we have.”
2. Consumerism, plain and simple. Since we live in a free market society, wherein those with goods and services to sell are bombarding us constantly with enticements to look their way, we have come to see ourselves as consumers (not surprisingly). So, when we show up at church, we bring our consumer mindsets right along with us, thinking to ourselves, “Well church, what have you got for me today?” Most people are aware enough to avoid actually saying this, yet we are very familiar with the phrase “church shopping” by now. This phrase is a very clear statement about our belief that being part of a church is based on consumeristic thinking.
Clearly, this way of being church is spiritually depressing. This is a sure-fire way to hasten the demise of a congregation; to live defensively, trying to please and placate the very people we are charged with transforming. If we want a church atmosphere of lethargy, apathy, burn-out, despair, and fear, then adopting the mission statement of the consumer church (above) will take us quickly there.
Instead, let’s return to our roots with this focusing question: Is this what Jesus had in mind? Keeping as many members as happy as possible for as long as possible…is that God’s hope for God’s Church?
That Jesus again….the author and perfecter of our faith. He just didn’t seem to care about the comfort of people. The disciples were always trying to get him to tone it down, to avoid saying certain things, knowing he would scare off prospective members. But Jesus went right ahead anyway. Do we remember all those sayings about taking up our crosses, dying to self, and grain falling to the ground? Why in the world would Jesus be so straightforward about the fact that joining God’s movement is not about our personal preferences?
Certainly I don’t know the answers to why Jesus said what he said. My guess is that Jesus knew that when we take our eyes off ourselves and turn to God, then we come alive. When we lay down our wills, and take up God’s will, then we discover how grand life really is. It’s when we stop grasping, clawing, struggling, and otherwise trying to make ourselves happy…it’s when we trust God with it all, that we discover new life. When we stop focusing on comfort and we convert to focus on God, then interest in personal comfort dramatically declines. Then we know what phrases like “the pearl of great price” and “the treasure buried in a field” really mean. Then we are alive in the adventure of Jesus, to borrow a phrase (thanks Brian McLaren).
So then, how do we get there? How do we reject consumerism in our churches and pursue joining God’s mission to remake this world toward God’s hopes and dreams for it (kingdom of God)? There are so many answers to these questions, yet one activity you might do with your church is to look at the contrasting lists of questions below which we use in Making The Shift Events (and found in Shift: Three Big Moves For The 21st Century Church, p. 188). Every pastor, church staff team, lay leadership team, and church is driven by a set of questions. When we listen closely to the conversation in meetings we can tell which set below drives our expression of church.
So let’s do it. Let’s shift our church culture from consumeristic expectations toward life-giving disciple development and missional engagement. Let’s join God’s invitation to be caught up in God’s movement in this world. Let’s lay aside the weight and sin which clings so closely, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Let’s come alive in the adventure of Jesus!