In our modern churches today, the concept of a church is ever changing. One of the things that is driving this change is a pivot from service postured church to consumer postured church. A church becomes “consumerist” by definition, when its congregants spend 50% or more of their time either idle or receiving services from the church. This is not always a bad thing. There are times when a person needs to consume in a church, and a certain level of consumerism is healthy. There are certainly populations within the church and those a church would serve that require more consumption than service.
- Mentally ill
- Loss of income
The issue comes in when a person becomes a permanent consumer, while also having the time and ability to serve. This is where most of the western church sits today- we go to church to be entertained by music, moved by sermons and cared for by people.
The Churches Purpose Has Been Muddled
Entertainment or eliciting emotion is not the purpose of the church. The problem begins with the language we use when we think of what church is. The idea of church has been muddled because we do not understand that the context of the word church has changed from the time of Jesus to today. In the modern western sense, when we think of church, we think of the definition of the Scottish word “kirk”. That is, the building and the things the church does or the mechanisms. The idea of a place or location has become the common understanding of church.
But this is not the original definition of the word church used by Jesus. And when we view the church in this very physical and corporate way, it is no wonder we view the church as something made to serve us. We begin to see it like any other building- Walmart, target, burger king.
The problem here is that we are not using the correct language to define the biblical concept of “church”. I believe if we understood the context, we would not view the church as something to simply be used.
The Ekklesia as Church.
The Greek word used in scripture is ekklēsía meaning “out from and to” and “to call”) – properly, people called out from the world and with the outcome of the church (the mystical body of Christ), i.e. The universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into his eternal kingdom.
Take matt 16:18 for example “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades will not overpower it. The church as Jesus describes is not a place or a mechanism but a living and breathing assembly of those called out by Christ from the world.
This explains why church buildings close everyday yet the church remains.
Do the Gates of Hell Overcome the Church?
I remember in a church service where the church was on the verge of closing. This verse (Matt 16:18) between Jesus and Peter was used to promise the congregation that their church would not close. yet within 5 days it ceased to exist. Many in the congregation believed the gates of hell had prevailed and it had happened because they had done something wrong. This is the epitome of the consumerist mentality “the building isn’t continuing because the people have failed, and the gates of hell have overcome.”
Now, why it failed in this case is irrelevant- what actually matters is that Christ’s words remained true- the building that closed down was not the church- those called out, the assembly is the church. Where the western world believes that the building is what will not be overcome, scripture points to people. It points to organism, not mechanism.
Human made mechanisms rise and fall all the time- but there has not been a day since Jesus walked the earth that their hasn’t been a set of called out believers carrying his liberating gospel message. The gates of hell will not prevail against the called-out ones. But a church that is managed poorly will. This is not because of anything spiritual, but physical. The Church Jesus is describing isn’t a mechanism, its an organism.
A Phone it In Faith (The Product of Mechanism)
The second thing we get wrong especially in wealthy churches is the phone it in mentality. We think paying for service is service in and of itself. I’m not saying don’t donate to the church, it needs donation to survive. I’m saying don’t phone in your commitment to serve people by throwing money at problems. You see, we are back to serving mechanism and not organism. Consider Matthew 14:15-20
15 when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “this place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 but Jesus said to them, “they do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” 17 they said* to him, “we have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 and he said, “bring them here to me.” 19 ordering the people to sit down on the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, he blessed the food, and breaking the loaves he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied.
Notice who fed the people. The food was provided by the power of Jesus. But the actual act of service was directed to be performed by the disciples.
We Cant “Phone it In”
As Christians we aren’t allowed to phone it in- we are called to get dirty. The problem is the western church for so long has had the wealth to separate themselves from their ministry that they don’t realize they are phoning it in. Donations are important to the work of Christ- but workers are invaluable. In order to stop consumerism in the church we have to value the organism over the mechanism. People over buildings and gospel over comfort. We must return to the living and breathing church that provides a liberating Gospel. We must move away from being focused on buildings and programs. Transformation instead of Institutionalization.