I am a consumer. I love nice things. I love new products, the shinier the gadget, the better. I also really like good service, and I really like to be entertained. So, when you are able to entertain me with the presentation of a new service or new shiny product...I am sold. Ask my wife. She will tell you, without her voice of reason we would be dead broke, and I would be swimming in a sea of finely bound Bibles, Apple products and Filson gear. I am not unique in this; I am simply a product of the society we live in.
The western world is a consumeristic, capitalistic and materialistic society.
With that in mind, I think we would agree that the western church has adapted to its environment, and many successful and fruitful churches now have services that are finely polished productions, complete with bright lights, quality music, an engaging sermon, and of course, really good coffee.
Now, let me first say, I don’t think that this is a bad thing. The Apostle Paul is a great example of culturally contextualized gospel ministry - meeting people where they are, on the intellectual, emotional and even spiritual plain on which he found them, in order to communicate the un-compromised word of God in a way that they would understand (i.e. Acts 17:22-34).
However, I do believe there are inherent dangers that come with this model of church. Though we may be effectively attracting people to our churches, I am afraid this fine tuned service may, at times, enable congregants to view church as a service they can come to as consumers and as spectators.
I think we see this exemplified in the way we shop for new churches:
“The church down the street has a great worship band, but the pastor is a bit boring.” “This church over here has powerful sermons, but the coffee is terrible; and the children’s ministry is not that great.”
For many, looking for a new church feels a lot like being in the market for a new car.
Biblically, church is not a service we receive as consumers, but rather, it is a community we commit to selflessly give our lives to. Church is not a production we go to as spectators; it is a gathering of God’s people in which we are all vital participants.
1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
I love the imagery the scriptures give us for the church: We are referred to as a body, a family and a flock. As we consider those pictures, all three simply do not allow for anything other than committed participation from every member.
As Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12, every member of a body has a unique and crucial function to fulfill in order for the whole body to be healthy. Being part of a family comes with certain responsibilities and expectations. What family member just sits on a couch and watches as their family eats together, laughs together, shares gifts at holidays, celebrates birthdays and so on? And finally, in a flock, there is safety in numbers. The flock follows the shepherd together, as he leads to green pastures and still waters and guards and protects them. A sheep that is watching from the outside will either starve or be eaten by a wolf.
So in light of this, I believe we, as the Church, simply need to be on guard.
It is good for us to engage our culture in a way that will be attractive to people, and it is good for our church services to strive for excellence in all things. We serve an excellent God, and we want to reach the lost with the un-compromised good news of Christ in any way possible. But we need to keep a tension; we mustn’t allow our church service to be a production that is geared towards a consumeristic congregation of spectators.
For those of us who are pastors, may we seek God to find ways to challenge our congregants to serve the Body of Christ. Let’s be willing to risk things being a little messy in order to facilitate participation for more members in the life of the Church. I have found discussion based community groups are very helpful, and on Sunday mornings, we build into our service a time, where anyone can read out a passage from the scriptures that they feel would encourage the congregation.
And Christian, faithful church member, may I encourage you to go to church services, meetings and events, with the mindset that asks what you can bring, how you can be a blessing to your brothers and sisters, and how you can serve and love your church community (and I don’t necessarily mean in a formal capacity). And as you do, I guarantee God will bless you.
He will meet your needs, and you will find that church is more enjoyable and fulfilling than you could ever otherwise experience.