<![CDATA[I drove by a sign the other day that said: 'When All Else Fails Try Jesus". As I read that sign I immediately was struck by two things. One was - the honesty of the person who took the time to put the letters up there to make that message. I believe they sincerely want to extend GOD's grace to those of us who are driving by- in some small way maybe plant a seed in someone's mind that, instead of giving up on life, they would look to Jesus for a renewed life. The other thought that struck me was how consumeristic it sounded. As if Jesus was a product of some kind - that, after tasting the line up of competing products - we would finally become devoted Jesus consumers. I guess maybe the metaphor of consuming Jesus isn't so bad - afterall - Jesus himself told the crowds to eat his body and drink his blood. But on second thought - that was the exact moment when the throngs of religious 'consumers' turned away from him. They could not understand him with their natural minds because he was speaking of a spiritual reality. It's amazing how easy it is to become a religious consumer and miss really being a disciple of Jesus. It is easy being in the crowd and following him at a distance. And it is easy being offended at things that he says. But we are invited to become so much more than passive consumers of a comfortable religious system. If we really are his disciples - we must begin to recognize the ways in which this consumer mentality is subverting the true power of the Gospel to transform us and our communities. Maybe we need to examine our patterns of life as individuals and as church communities - and begin to ask the LORD to free us from the ways in which we have allowed the self-absorbed patterns of our culture to shape the expression of our Christian faith. As Alan and Debra Hirsch have written in the book 'Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship‘:
“Of all the ways culture influences the church, nothing has had more of an impact on us than that of a consumerist vision of society…we are daily being nurtured in the worldview generated by late capitalism of the twenty-first century – consumerism…It is a religious scripting born of a powerful economic system. As we have already seen, consumerism exhibits the hallmarks of a very virile meta-spirituality offering meaning, identity, purpose, and belonging to it’s various devotees. The church, far from being immune, has drunk deeply from its wells. In fact, we have pretty much designed contemporary expressions of church around consumer values…It’s as though the church-as-vendor has become a giant feeding trough where largely capable, middle-class people come to eat their fill. Actually, many don’t even eat for themselves; they come to “get fed”! The very language of “getting fed” at church betrays the fact that many attendees are not disciples at all, but rather passive consumers. Want to test this? Simply stop preaching every Sunday for six weeks, or close down the children’s ministry, or stop some other “service” or another, even temporarily, and see what happens. Attendance and tithing will drop immediately…” (Untamed – p.138-139)Maybe this could be a message to ourselves as the Church – “When All Else Fails Try Jesus’- when all our programs and methodologies for marketing and growing our churches has failed – maybe we will again return to simply learning and living as disciples of Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t be offended if he smashes our road-side marquees in the same way he overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple at Jerusalem.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)]]>
Hi Jason. Thanks for your thoughts and continued faithfulness blogging. I need to admit that I have mixed feelings about Hirsch’s writing. Their proper exposure of spiritual consumerism is, I fear, at risk of leading a pendulum swing in a different direction. In the name of discipleship, I see increasingly bold articulations that minimize the role of teaching and preaching. I understand the trough mentality and the danger of passivity all too well, but would caution that Eph 4 says that pastors and teachers are gifts to the church, not curses. They’re given to equip the saints. If instead of equipping, American churches are guilty of creating a sort of spiritual obesity – the answer is surely not to become spiritual anorexics. Teaching and preaching will remain vital to church health until Christ returns.
Hi Richard, Thanks for continuing to be a part of the conversation. If you look at the broad spectrum of Alan Hirsch’s writings he is not an advocate of throwing out church leadership and their varied roles. I highly recommend his book The Forgotten Ways where he lays forth a robust vision for the renewal of the church – beginning with a return to an apostolic leadership and a renewed sense of the mission of GOD here in the West. If Alan seems to be throwing out the pastor in my excerpt it’s only because I may be using the excerpt irresponsibly. In all his books he is challenging a sleeping people to awaken to the latent power of the Gospel and GOD’s ability to release ‘Jesus movements’ or what he calls ‘apostolic genius’ through us. In his writings he is advocating for a fullness of the fivefold equipping ministry (APEPT: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) and he works through various avenues of teaching and mentoring to raise up missional leaders.
It seems that for too long we have structured the church as an institution and not as a movement. We have struggled to create deeply rooted disciples of Jesus – and instead we are manufacturing church people. Something has to change but I agree we can’t throw out the pastoral role – we must retool church leadership to lead people out of the worldview of the dominant culture (including exiting consumerism) and to activate the inherent life of GOD that is waiting to be released. I look forward to continuing in conversation!