Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Infestation of Consumerism in the Church

Over the years I have seen more than my fair share of people who travel from church to church, stay a few months, and then move on when the find something they don’t like. They are constantly on the lookout for something better. They don’t commit – they just attend for a while – and then move on because “God leads” them somewhere else.

Even worse, some church hoppers don’t simply jump from church to church – they actually attend several at the same time. Maybe they like their small group at this church, the music at that church, or the youth group at that one. It’s like they are shopping for paper towels – they get whatever is on sale and discard them after being used. Even more troubling, they almost never contribute anything to these very churches they feed off of.

Church hoppers look for what a church can do for them instead of what they can do for the church. They are more interested in a church that makes them feel a certain way than they are in sacrificially serving. Because they aren’t committed to any church, they are sporadic and unreliable in all churches. They are easily offended and constantly comparison shop.

This is a disease that infects Christianity which results in unhealthy churches and narcissistic Christians. I'm sure it happens everywhere, but this is an epidemic here in the deep south - almost an accepted cultural practice and considered normal by so many. In fact, it is the spirit of the world; the spirit of anti Christ, because it hurts the cause of Christ.

While pastors and church leaders often complain about this trend, we do little to address the problem ourselves. In fact, many churches and church leaders play right into the system. We palaver over these people when they walk through our doors in the hope they will choose us over the other churches in town. This unhealthy practice causes us to compete with other churches, just like a business competes for customers. It’s sickening… if not sinful.

I refuse to do it, and I refuse to play that game.

Since simply pointing out problems rarely does any good, I have made it a deliberate purpose of my pastoral ministry to combat consumerism at PCC. I consider this responsibility to be as important as anything else I do as a shepherd. My goal is to have a healthy New Testament Church, governed by New Testament principles, that is full of fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I do:
  • I regularly teach our congregation how unhealthy it is to be a church hopper and address the trend from the pulpit.

  • I confront the consumer mentality with individuals, in face to face conversations, reminding them that Christ has called us to sacrificially serve, not only to be served.

  • We teach the importance of making commitments in our Seminar System, emphasizing that we always become like the things we are most committed to.

  • When Christian people come to our church from another church as the result of unresolved conflict, I will often call their previous pastor to get the other side of the story, and then encourage these people to go back to the former church to work out their problems just like the Bible tells us to do.

  • I teach that every Christian should give and financially support the church they worship at or benefit from. Yes, "every" Christian should give.

  • I write about this subject on my blog to let people know what I think about it. (Just click “church hopper” on the sidebar index to read several entries).

  • I have written a lot of personal letters to people specifically pointing out their self-centered tendencies, informing them that they might be happier somewhere else. My position is this: if they don’t mind writing me a letter pointing out how our church has “failed to meet their need” then I don’t mind writing them back pointing out how they didn’t meet ‘our’ need.

  • I remind people that “the customer is NOT always right.” That is a philosophy of the world (i.e., the customer is always right) and has no place in the church. A couple of years ago a lady yelled, “Have you even bothered to poll the congregation to ask them what ‘they’ want?” In this painful incident she was demanding that we bend our church in a certain direction, (to meet her demands, yes demands), but we could not. God is not intimidated when people threaten to ‘take their business elsewhere’ - and neither were we. She left.

  • I do not steal sheep from other churches and will not build PCC by raiding the pews of my neighbor. This is an inexcusable practice by some pastors. It reinforces the consumer mentality when sheep are treated as a commodity to be catered to and lured away by enticements or brides. Quite frankly, it spoils some of them to the point they become thoroughly corrupted.

There you have it. That’s why I am disliked by a lot of folk - I don’t cater. But it also explains why PCC is healthy - the people who stay with us become sacrificially serving Christians.

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