On Consumerism

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For the last few days I’ve written about how we invite existing believers into our house churches: we invite them into relationships, we invite them to lay their lives down, and we invite them into mutual discipleship. As I wrote, I found myself tip-toeing around the concept of consumerism in the church so I wanted to take a minute and explain the problem with consumerism.

Consumerism is a lifestyle built around the consumption of a product. It drives many economies, and in particular ours in the West. Car companies, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and countless other companies thrive, not because you need another car, phone, or computer, but because they’ve taught us to want the newest model. They’ve trained the masses to want the next best thing. Many people throughout the cultural West find their identity not in who they are, but based on what they have.

This is a problem by itself–We should find our identity in Jesus Christ and Him alone. With this shift in mindset, the church has increasingly adapted the methods of the world in order to “reach” society. I’ve known churches to offer iPads or similar electronic devices as a prize for the child who invites the most unchurched friends to Sunday School. All of this is in the name of the Gospel, but what it teaches us is to be motivated by stuff and not Jesus.

At a higher level, this infects churches and cripples ministry. The pursuit of many churches is growth. This means they have to continually move to the edges of a city where young families tend to live in order to attract new attenders with the money to sustain a ministry. Big buildings with crippling debt are the means to this end. And woe to the church or ministry who makes the wrong bet on a ministry direction and offends the wrong people. They are left with a building and debt that no one is around to pay for.  This frequently hinders the proclamation of the gospel. I’ve literally seen churches (and by this I don’t just mean the building, I mean the ministry, the people, everything) sold to another minister. I refuse to listen to another church talk about their brand.  I’ve watched viable churches closed because there wasn’t enough money. The list can go on and on.

Consumerism attempts to turn everything that we do into a transaction. It cheapens love. It never calls people sacrifice or to suffer. In everything, it encourages people to look for a reward in relationship to whatever they participate in, whether it’s physical reward or an ideological one (being part of the cool crowd/church/people).  As you can probably see by this point, these attitudes are opposed to God’s Kingdom which is built on sacrificial love.

Don’t misunderstand me–there is a reward that we are offered in this age and the age to come for following Christ, but these are different than iPads or being part of the in-crowd. Our reward, first and foremost, is fellowship with the indwelling Christ. We get God! And then God gives us the reward of His Kingdom, spiritual family, and even possibly material gain for obedience.  But these come from His hand and are attained through following Him in adverse circumstances (see Mark 10:29-30).

Friends, we serve Jesus. God the Father has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He was raised from the dead and promised to raise us with Him.  We have access to the authority and power of God’s Kingship. We don’t need to be motivated by the things of this world: success, fame, power, money. But it’s not enough that we ourselves aren’t motivated by these things. As a church, we have to repent of building systems that motivate individuals by anything other than faithfulness to Jesus.  At the end of the day, at the end of the age, those are the things that will keep us faithful, not our stuff.

So would you join me, church, regardless of what type of church you are part of, from building God’s Kingdom with the straw of this world? Can we say “no” to motivating people in the flesh to follow God? Can we together disciple a coming generation to follow Christ because He is good?

It may mean a decrease in your crowd, but the disciples you’ll have left will change the world.

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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

6 responses to “On Consumerism”

  1. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    Travis: Good stuff here. People today, in my experience, generally tend to pick a church based on a quality about it — a good pastor, a good youth group, good worship, good ministries, the list is endless. And, if they run across a church with a better pastor, or a better youth group, or a better singles group, more exciting worship, etc, they leave the first church and go to the second church. I think that church is built around relationships with everyone giving — and if you have given your life to these people, and have opened your heart to them, you won’t lightly leave them just because you can find a better “experience” somewhere else.

    Gunnar

  2. Charis Psallo says :

    Yes! We sometimes recognize that covetousness runs the market place, but we often fail to recognize when covetousness runs our church constructs. What is God saying instead?

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