Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, May 09, 2008

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.


At 9/5/08 18:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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?"

The issue of satellite churches has come up in the church I currently attend, called Valley Bible Fellowship (, and I have been wondering myself if this is a necessary thing. Is it necessary for VBF to create these satellite churches to reach people it normally couldn't, or can the churches in these communities do just as good of a job as VBF? It can't be that Valley Bible is the only one teaching truth. Other churches are serving their congregations and communities well, right? It's something that I've been praying about and something I wouldn't mind hearing your opinion on. It's something I know goes down to the heart of the church and whether it is truly doing the will of God or branching out for some other reasons.

Hope you don't mind going off point from your post's original intent.

At 10/5/08 07:02, Blogger Meepsie-dom said...

I think market share is almost immaterial in Seattle because there are so many lost sheep who need the message of Jesus Christ's love and saving grace, and a church community. It's a huge untapped market in business terms and we need missionaries right here.
I think satellite churches can be diluting because key staff cannot get to know the local community as well and be focused on its needs and people. I think birthing churches makes more sense - where a group from a church that have moved a distance help seed a new community in their neighborhood with local leadership and the opportunity to grow and be self-sustaining in that place to the glory of God.

At 10/5/08 16:34, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the effort to try and find the imperative in this discussion, I am reminded of 1Chronicles 28:9; “the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts…also 1Corinthians 4:5 where Paul says that God will “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.
After this truth was exposed to my understanding, I find myself very often asking Yahweh to expose my true motives for most everything I do. Even in writing this, am I trying to show off my pitiful biblical knowledge, set another blogger straight, just sound pithy, or am I truly trying to come to terms with Richard’s main focus while keeping my own bias and perspective pertinent, rather than muddying up the communication.
It seems to me that if a church or group of people collectively examine their true motivation and discover it to be “helping people encounter the living Christ”, then no matter what they do, be it becoming more user friendly, convenient, staying with the tried and true old ways, better serving their congregation and community, starting a satellite or birthing a new work, they would not be “uncritically captured by the consumerist mindset” nor driven by a “fear of losing market share” nor starting another denomination nor fighting for self-preservation.


Post a Comment

<< Home