Spiritual Consumerism... nothing new
Maybe you already know the story of Rehoboam, Solomon's son, and Jeroboam, Rehoboam's adversary. The whole story, found in I Kings 12, has to do with who will be heir to the throne. The bottom line is that Rehoboam is given the southern kingdom, and Jeroboam the north, thus beginning the era of a divided Israel. This is arguably the birth of denominationalism, competition among God's people for territory, and the era of the personality cult.
Though J has the bulk of the land, R has the temple, and since worship in the temple is mandated, J is worried that all the people of his territory will inevitably switch loyalties as they travel south to worship in Jerusalem. So Jeroboam has a novel idead: He..."made two golden calves and he said to (his people): 'it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.' He set these idols up in the northern country, thus creating the first move towards consumerizing worship. "Make it convenient and they will come."
Don't we do the same thing today? "Make it entertaining, relevant, kid-friendly, reinforcing of our already adhered to politics/theology, technologically savvy with the best web-presence... and they will come." We try to capture the 'market share' by being better, in the same way that Starbucks tries to beat Diva and Ladro. Thus do the hottest musicians, hippest preachers, and most user friendly worship formats gain market share while thus stuck in old ways shrivel and die.
There's so much to say about this that if I go into too much depth, I'll miss my snowshoeing window (it is, after all, Friday). But let me make some simple observations and then invite comment:
1. Jeroboam was truly motivated by a fear of losing market share. Any action taken that grows out from that fear, that motive, is destined to create weak saints and divide the church.
2. Fear of losing market share can also become an agressive attempt to 'take' market share, as invariably occurs in the subsequent territorial skirmishes between northern and southern kingdom. In the church business this is called, 'church splits' and 'sheep stealing'. It doesn't get any uglier.
3. On the other hand, the crux of the problem for Jeroboam seems to me to be his heart and motivation. I'm wondering, if the church I pastor were to start a satellite in order to help some people from our congregation become more missional in their own neighborhoods, and save the resources consumed by the commute, would we be consumerist or good stewards?
4. And what about our commitment to technology, or our desire to provide clean space for kids, or convenient worship times in a warm inviting space? Again, it seems that the issue is motivation. I can be motivated to build a name for myself, or motivated by a desire for people to encounter the living Christ through the testimony of His people and the power of His Word. It's possible, in fact, to be motivated by a little bit of both.
5. But surely, the goal must be that we have relinquished our addiction to praise, power, position, pay, and any other destructive p's you'd care to add to the list. I'm reminded of the scene where Ben Kenobee (sp?) of Star Wars fames, stops fighting.
When we who are the church, and we who are it's leaders stop fighting? I don't just mean that we need to stop fighting each other. I mean that we need to stop fighting for our self-preservation, believing that 'he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake, will find it." This, it seems to me, is MISSION CRITICAL ("all caps" = me speaking loudly). And yet it eludes us, primarily because we have allowed ourselves to be uncritically captured by the consumerist mindset.