by Dustin Payne
For the better part of a year, my church, The Forum, has been trying to address this issue of consumerism that so plagues the church in America. We’ve been asking as a church, “How do we move from consumer to producer?” or better put, “How do we live missionally and not just as a bystander of the faith.” For example, In the United States, you can have Jesus on Sundays delivered to you theatre style as you sit in a stadium seat surrounded by a large group of people who you don’t even know or broadcasted live to you from across the nation directly to the comfort of your own home as you lounge in your pajamas with your iPad logged into Facebook, all for the purpose of how you feel. At the core of consumerism is feeling. Because feelings are important, right?
Feeling plays a big part in faith. And not just in faith. Feeling plays a big part in life.
A majority of us pick friends, presidents, and products all based on how their message makes us feel. We enjoy sermons and music that make us feel good, and we naturally avoid feelings that lead us to feel any different. If you don’t believe this to be true, allow me to ask one examining question:
“Did you initially choose to date your spouse because it was a good economic decision or because he or she made you feel good?
Americans initially choose the person they promise to spend the rest of their life with based on how they feel when they’re around them. What then should we say of our houses, cars, preachers, politicians, products, or churches? Psychologist Peter Murray noted in a Psychology Today article from 2013 that “the richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.”
Allow me to say plainly what I believe Murray asserts here: People like things that make them feel good.
It’s a good thing you and I never saw Jesus preach because we may have never followed him. Jesus always taught really difficult truths often veiled in mystery, but sometimes presented plainly before his audience. In Matthew 27, Jesus curses the religious leaders of the temple seven times, calling them out for looking good on the outside, but being corrupt at their inner-most parts.
Jesus isn’t particularly concerned with feeding you a message that will always make you feel good.
The gospel is confrontational.
Often times we treat the gospel as a sort of bedtime story. We tell our children that there are realities that affect the physical and seen world, but we often struggle with showing our faith to our kids by living a life that is consistent with the Christian message. And why do we struggle with this? Two reasons:
- The gospel will make you feel bad before it makes you feel good (and if it doesn’t you’re not being honest with yourself, God, or others)
- People don’t like confrontation
The gospel confronts: depravity, sickness, depression, pessimism, injustice and wrongdoing. In a daily way, the gospel confronts sinners with their sin.
The Christian life is one that is constantly self-examined, and I know many people who wish this weren’t true. They live a sort of functional atheism, professing belief in God with their mouths, but their bodies and attitudes proclaim a different worldview. As God says through his prophet Isaiah, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
But this isn’t how it’s suppose to be. There is hope. We weren’t made to consume church; we were made to be church.
“Church,” this old archaic word that I love so much, it means “fellowship, assembly, or gathering.” We weren’t made to consume fellowship. Rather, we were made to fellowship. I believe this is what Cyprian of Carthage means when he says, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.”
So, back to my original problem, how do we create a church culture where we let Christ produce in us his goodness, while not being drawn into a heresy of a passive gospel that consumes only what makes us feel good? How do we let the gospel challenge us and move us to be and act differently, to confront and restore?
- To echo a past president’s saying, “Don’t ask what the church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.”
- Create a space where you know God outside of Sunday, and go to that space daily.
- Read more Jesus. Reading the Bible is great, but we as Christians (literally Christ like people) should read and know Christ’s difficult teachings. He will challenge you. I guarantee it.
Please join me in crafting a church culture of confrontation that leads to restoration. A church that feels all sorts of feelings, not just the good ones.