Consuming Worship?

Consuming Worship? June 19, 2023

Do lay people think of themselves as customers consuming worship? Pastors, like me, are appalled to hear lay people refer to a concert provided by a religious musician as worship. It does not help when church leaders in the American South say they want churches to be filled with people as “excited about Jesus as they are about college football.” Honestly? Are we really thinking this through? All anyone needs to do is check social media after the local team has lost to see that “excitement” is precisely what we already have in churches. “The refs have it in for us,” means the same thing as “the pastor has an agenda.” What choir director wants to hear how boring their half-time show (or cantata) is?

Gluttony as Consuming

Gluttony is people making their stomachs into a god. The early disciples of Jesus were often told when accepting hospitality to eat what is put before them. If your primary focus in life is eating, then your purpose is to serve your own desires. American culture is defined by consumerism. Having what people want to consume is supposed to motivate every person in business. Demand requires supply. Yet, demand is created by economic propaganda. We call it advertising.

Propaganda is turning the minds of people to a desired action. If I want to sell cake, I need people to want to buy it. I could advertise on some media about how good my cake is. It will not sell many cakes. But if I fund a study that says to the public, “You will have to buy more cake in order for producers to keep producing cake,” then I have a winning strategy that has nothing to do with people being hungry. Clearly, that is insane. But, it works.

Values Consumption

Christian pop music is an example of consuming based on values. Years ago, when I was in Youth Ministry, I overheard a pre-teen say, “My mother only gave me twenty dollars. I am not sure she would want me to spend it on (a compact disc of the music of the band performing at the program).” An adult told the child I am sure she would rather you spend it on this than some other music.” I glowered at the woman. She was shaming the kid into spending money based on the supposed values upheld by the performers. Guilting some vulnerable person into a purchase – at church no less – is despicable.

Parachurch “ministries” use this tactic. Values consumption is guilt consumption. “You can’t possibly vote for a pro-choice candidate. You must vote for this authoritarian instead.” People buy into something they have a hard time explaining why they do it. They don’t want to admit it is due to guilt.

Worship for Consuming

“I do not get anything from your sermons.” I agree. Active listening takes effort.

“I do not feel that I am being fed.” This is also what my kids said when I offered healthier snacks. It indicates a taste for spiritual junk food.

“I feel like I worshiped.” This means, “I am satisfied by getting what I wanted.”

These statements indicate people are programmed to consume. Not only that, they believe that consuming is the purpose of their lives. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Leaving aside gender issues, what does our consumerist culture say about this text? Nothing. Enjoying, as in being joyful in the company of another person, is a foreign word.

Concluding Thoughts

Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act) is wrong. Church is not about butts in seats. It is about hands at work. Or as someone said, “Do for others what your would have them do for you.”  Someone could ask, “Are we not glorifying God when we praise God with a band of musicians?” Possibly. However, no one seriously bases discipleship on musical tastes. We measure it in different ways.

Getting away from consumerist mentality is not easy. It requires a different stage of deconstruction. Nothing easy is ever worth doing. It is worth discarding the consumerist mentality for a greater freedom of the mind and heart. The gospel of Christ is key to overcoming bad theology. It is also the way to relate to the world differently.

C. Don Jones is a United Methodist Pastor in East Tennessee who serves Andersonville UMC and (soon) Heiskell UMC. His new book "The Sun Still Shines; The Legend of a Drunken Pastor" is available from Resource Publications. You can read more about the author here.

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