I was sitting on an airplane looking over the shoulder of a guy across the aisle. He was perusing one of those SkyMall magazines that offer items for sale you didn’t even know you needed. A fully programmable, food dispensing pet feeder. A toaster that imprints the image of your favorite dog breed right on your morning slice. Or, get this, a skin colored shirt top with faux tattoos printed on it!
Having been a businessman, I certainly appreciate ingenuity and the ability to make a buck. But really, my morning toast needs to affirm my love for my favorite dachshund?
Consumerism, the drive to buy stuff and in so doing provide a certain level of happiness, is killing us. Advertising dollars are solicited and spent at a rate greater than ever. Competition from purveyors of every kind of good or service threatens our own success so we must up the ante to increase market share. Marketing itself has become a finely tuned science and focused to any niche consumer you demand.
The church has succumbed to the same consumeristic mentality reducing many, not all thankfully, to complex business operations to the exclusion, unfortunately, of the original call to make disciples.
Listen to this snippet from the book, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, by authors Halter and Smay:
“A consumer is not a disciple and a disciple is not a consumer! Consumerism reflects what Jesus came to call people out of. . . if we look at the amount of time, money, and focus that is spent on providing services for people and the results don’t reflect a fading consumerism in the lives of our people, it’s time to take a walk in the woods and talk to the Head of the church.”
Let’s look at any number of followers of Jesus who we venerate as saints: Paul, any of the apostles, St Francis, Mother Teresa, dozens of un-named, unknown followers of Jesus who gave all and basically had no worldly goods, yet they had their needs provided for. These didn’t seek to accumulate stuff nor did they have stuff but they gave away stuff. They “lost their life;” and “died to self” so they might gain their lives in the Missional directive that Jesus gave when he left us.
Now look at us. Many of us, and the “successful” leaders we have today, have all kinds of resources both organizationally and personally. Many enjoy luxurious homes, recreational times and toys that rival the most affluent in society. Is that wrong? Maybe not. Is that our mission? Likely not. Does that portray our call to die to self in order to live out The Main Thing?
Ninety-nine percent of us are consumers. We want the stuff. We want to be successful in building churches, building our own kingdoms, finding the latest color co-ordinated feathers for our nests and accumulating a bigger flock of birds and more birdseed than the next flock.
Trouble is, Jesus reminded us that every bird has her nest but he didn’t even have a place to lay his head; no home to go to. If we claim to desire to live like Jesus how far are we willing to go? Do we want the power he had, the Spirit he had, the gifts he had but not the life he had? I don’t mean we should all be broke. God has called, blessed and gifted some to provide the means for others to go places and do things in the mission of making disciples, of course, but is that what our resources are primarily dedicated for? Are we mostly givers or consumers? No doubt, when Jesus went away to pray it was at an all-inclusive resort complete with 24 hour restaurant and massage services.
No, none of that is wrong. That is not the point. The question I am addressing is what is right, or what serves my call to the mission of “making disciples?” If I must die to self, as scripture insists, what does that truly look like? Must I never enjoy any comforts? Our affluent society has so enculturated us into consumerism that it is impossible for us to envision any other lifestyle. Are we then to be total, indigent itinerants? No possessions of any kind?
Truly we have been blessed in this country. Several key figures in scripture were wealthy, yes. There were those in the NT who were patrons for the apostles and Jesus who used their resources to fund the apostles and missionary travels. No, wealth is not wrong. The key is how we steward the posession and use of that wealth.
If we can understand that it is a gift from God that still belongs entirely to Him we are starting to grasp the purpose of that wealth. It is to enable us to make disciples, not be or make consumers. The two are incompatible.
Now maybe we can understand the statement quoted earlier in this post: “A consumer is not a disciple and a disciple is not a consumer.”