Is consumerism killing your faith?

Is consumerism killing your faith?

Choice is not enough

At the John Lewis distribution centre in the UK a robotic arm swoops down and picks out this year’s top selling game “Pie Face”, from a vast container containing the store’s 87,000 most popular products. As the robot drops Pie Face onto a conveyer belt human staff who can pack 55 items per hour take over. Meanwhile at the Amazon warehouse down the road a worker uses her sat-nav (GPS) to work out the quickest route from the Sony TVs to the shelf that stocks Bratz dolls.

… I was reading a newspaper article about transformations in shopping, and yes I’ve been shopping in the sales too. Most websites now will promise to deliver items ordered in the evening by next morning. This is what we demand. In surveys 96% of shoppers say they expect goods ordered online to arrive within 3 days. Amazon will already deliver within 1 hour in some locations, and you may even have seen the upcoming drones cutting delivery times to minutes.

John Lewis UK

“It must fit me” culture

The staggering efficiency with which ordered items are delivered has also sparked new trends like “shopping in your own home”. People order several items in the knowledge that at most they will purchase one – but it costs nothing to return unwanted items – so why not?

Today our expectation is that everything, the product the delivery schedule, the service, the return service must ALL fit me. I must be able to order items with a “single click” system like PayPal. I should receive everything I might want the next day so I can return everything I don’t want at no cost to me.

Amazon Delivery

These are new ways of thinking about shopping – which I am reliably informed is no longer a necessity but “an experience”.  Bricks and clicks, gargantuan warehouses unconvincingly painted to look like the sky, 24 hour working practices, and astonishing technology – it’s all new.

But a question
Does this new consumerism impact the way we think about our faith?
Answer
If we are constantly fed the idea “everything must fit me”, how could it possibly not?

Consumerism comes to church

I recall my college principal Glen Marshall commenting: Consumerism isn’t just about going shopping in the mall. Consumerism is when I feed myself the idea that I have the right to choose …. everything. I can choose which school my kids go to, my house, my car, I choose every aspect of how I look, and of course I choose how I exercise my faith .. I choose a church where they play the songs I like, where they worship the way I want, where I only do what I choose, and where my kids are taught in the way I approve.

Wish List of Church Activities

Accompanying the “it must fit me” culture, many of us also have an instant fix mentality. Give me something right now that will encourage me without me thinking too hard. Give me Spring Harvest standard worship right here so I can feel uplifted, even spontaneous, right now.

Of course it’s important that we are taught well in churches and that worshipping together is special – where somehow the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. The problem is that unchecked consumerism means we measure all things simply by how we like to consume them. Applied to church and faith we quickly measure and rate things on their ability to give us a quick and satisfying effect. And if they don’t deliver, well we have the ultimate sanction that we will leave and … shop around for a church that fits us better. Individual choice dictates everything.

Increasingly people choose churches not according to what can God do with me here but simply what can I get here. Worship becomes a leisure time activity where we receive but don’t expect to give, entertainment is a prerequisite, boredom is unacceptable.

Church as entertainment

But sometimes God might want us to be still, might want us to wait and that might even include for a time, “feeling bored”.

Being counter-cultural

In private

  1. In our prayer times it’s good sometimes just to acknowledge who God is and thank him for a multitude of blessings –save that list of requests for another time. Try it!
  2. In reading scripture, occasionally try reading a whole chunk in one go. And if you really want truth nailed to your heart, try memorizing verses.

In church

  1. A living sacrifice: The question what can I give here? should also be a reason for attending any church as well as what can I receive here?
  2. Work out your salvation: We should always aim for impactful worship and teaching – but quick fixes and instant gratification must not be the focus.Consumerism and church

Because you’re worth it

Apologies for the poor pun, but remember … God didn’t choose you for a quick fix or because it suited him that day. His plan to save you wasn’t picked because it had a 24 hour fulfilment promise … and he won’t change his mind and send you back tomorrow.

If you enjoyed reading this post try Buying Stuff Will Make You Happy
This blog was also published by Premier Christianity and The Baptist Times

  • exit83

    Your description of westernized Christianity I believe is accurate. In my church, I know people (like me) who are solid to the core, there to support Gods mission to bring heaven to earth one person at a time, regardless of the demographic details. And then we have the country clubbers and feel gooders that like the social aspect just to say they were there, already so impacted by their status, incomes or idols, like we all have been, that it takes a bit of time before they realize some simple truths like…1.) We are not in control of anything although we think we are and 2.) We all need a savior.
    All church bodies will have that, but in ours it’s a trap: these folks will benefit from the culture and the gospel teaching and their lives will be impacted by a God who loves them. They don’t impact us, so essentially, their quick fix mentality eventually matches our church vision to be a Multi-ethnic, Multi- generational, mission shaped community that loves God completely UPWARD, ourselves correctly INWARD and can then love others compassionately OUTWARD.
    I love your phrase counter cultural. If we aren’t being the salt and light ,then we should consider if we truly have only a “said” faith as opposed to an actual faith. I have heard James Macdonald from Chicago say it best.” Perhaps we aren’t running our flag all the way to the top of the flag pole”
    Nice article by the way.
    Chris

    • Hi – Yes I think in any church community folks are at many different places in their faith and in their ability to serve others, and in being able to understand the two are closely related – ie the upward/inward/outward ideas you describe are in fact dependent on each other Thanks for your thoughts here.

  • Anon

    Hi Chris. I sometimes think life and its pressures is killing my faith?; Or I feel like giving up when I feel worn out, angry, sad, disappointed! At times like this I fear that God will say “Get out of my sight, you’ve not matched up and you’re a fraud”! How depression and exhaustion distorts our thinking. Yet we don’t have to pretend with our Lord, he is always there, alongside and all we need to do is ask him in and we can access his grace and compassion for us whatever our circumstounds! This is not easy believeism but being real with the one who died for us that we might have eternal life

    • I think we are all fraudulent from time to time in that we just don’t measure up to the height, the length and the depth of God’s love for us. Who can? But I don’t think that makes us frauds, it makes us recipients of grace – as you point out. Or as the Lord said to Paul in 2 Cor 12: “my grace sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness”, and as Yancey puts it “… our weaknesses are the landing strip for God’s grace”. Thanks for your very real comment.

  • Paul Hobson

    Thanks Chris. Great piece to start the year with – consumerism has to be impacting the way we look at our churches

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Paul

  • Thank you Chris for highlighting how self-centred our faith can become. Yes a symptom of that is how much I expect everything to revolve around me and my convenience. And yet Scripture so often emphasises the importance of waiting, patience and perseverance!

  • Peter Oliver

    The first question for me is always “What did Jesus say?” Jesus didn’t leave us any guidelines as to how we should structure the occasions when we meet together. He told us to love each other (and said that it is by this love that the world will know that we are his disciples). He told us to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that he commanded the apostles. When we meet together the structure of our meetings must, firstly and fully, enable and encourage us to achieve His aim

  • Cheryl J Smith Hess

    We live in a culture that encourages us to buy more and more. No longer are we encouraged to live within our means. We are tempted to buy more than just the necessities and tempted to spend more on luxuries.
    The Bible warns us about this. Proverbs 21:17 says, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich. ”A tragic aspect of consumerism is that there is never enough. There is always the desire for more because each purchase only satisfies for short while. Then there is the need for more and more. Essentially, it is the law of diminishing returns. Economists use a more technical term—the law of diminishing marginal return. Simply put, the more we get, the less it satisfies and the more we wan

    • Thanks Cheryl …“Wealth is like health. Its absence breeds misery, but having it doesn’t guarantee happiness” … Liz Hoggard

  • Robert Dallmann

    Good stuff… a couple of thoughts…
    Since I have been a Christian, I have often heard that in most churches 10% of the people do 90% of the work.
    Prayer – I remember a time when I prayed and had finished listing all my many needs and requests (it was quite lengthy)… I talked and talked… I was about to end with “Amen”… then I “heard” (not audibly) God speak. He said… “When the two of us get together, which one of us has more important things to say?” After that, I have always tried to include plenty of time for “LISTENING” to God!

    • So true about the 10% doing 90% of the work Robert! That’s not only a resourcing problem its a faith/maturity problem since the best way of developing one’s faith is through service. Thanks!

  • Jerry Watson

    I have found that I receive more from church than what I give. Of course that was what I thought for a long time, but I started giving more with my time, money and support to the church; and have found I can never out give what is freely given to me.

    I have also found that if we ask for a persons help, the 10% grows to 11%. I don’t worry about being amongst the few who gives. However I do tend to mentor someone even when not asked, by asking for their help

    • Jerry – I agree with your technique of increasing the 10% to 11% by directly asking people to do “more than just watch”. The church I am in currently has no full time minister (I am only part time) – so lots of opportunities for asking people to step up. It just has to be managed well, or as you say, mentored where possible.

  • Stephen

    Chris, I am a bit worried as I agreed with all of this!

    • Yes I see what you mean – its much more fun when you and I disagree. Maybe next time 🙂

  • Paul Grundey

    I would also point to the dangers of materialism and the disappointingly large number of members of the academic community whom are committed to defend the materialist philosophy as a presupposition.

  • Sam Fetters

    Wouldn’t time be better spent actually helping those in need than going to church? What is there to learn in a church that people can’t figure out for themselves? Do people really need to be “taught” how to help others with less fortune than themselves? Isn’t church itself but mindless consumerism? The fancy buildings, the marketing materials, the stained glass, the pews, the alters, the robes, the crucifixes, the chalices, the decorative lighting, the organs/pianos/choirs, the sound system, the hymnals, the religious symbols, the fancy clothing people feel compelled to wear to attend services, etc., etc., etc……

    Do you realize millions of people live without proper food/nutrition, without adequate clothing, without shelter, without beds to sleep in, without clean water, without many basic necessities of life.

    What does it matter what you can give in a church, if you can’t give directly to your fellow human in need.

    What’s more important, memorizing versus in a bible or trying to live better by helping others? Does it matter if you can recite versus if you don’t assist those that really need your help? Does it matter if you remember passages if you can’t live by the words you remember?

    Churches have become another form of mindless entertainment, much like tv, or movies. Attendees have become but passive audience members, feeling good about themselves while other truly suffer.

    Perhaps, rather than shopping around for a better church that selfishly makes one feel better about themselves, people should instead “shop around” for a better purpose in the world.

    • Hi Sam and thanks for your comments – I appreciate your taking the time.
      I agree with your sentiments that attending church and paying no attention to the poorest in our world is hypocritical (and actually in conflict with many passages in the Bible) and that discovering purpose is much more important than “looking for the perfect church to go to”.
      However :
      1. You seem to assume an “either or” here. Either people attend a church or do something altruistic. Of course a vast number of church goers do support work in many parts of the world. Eg I was reading that 45000 projects in the community have been started by faith based groups (not just Christians) in the UK, and I was hearing yesterday how the Catholic church is the largest single organisation that educates girls worldwide and esp in those countries where girls would normally have no chance of an education
      2. There are many Christian organisations whose sole purpose is to channel the giving of Christians into the poorest areas of our world such as Tear Fund or Christian Aid
      3. You could then say “why not just give the money – why go to church at all”? Just hand over the cash
      But there are 2 reasons why this argument fails:
      a. It’s the fact that people follow a faith that demands that we pay attention to the poorest people which inspires (and commands_ them to give and
      b. The argument can be applied endlessly eg why don’t you and I both sell our houses, cars and possessions and give it up for the poor.
      And just to note a small point: many churches these days (inc all the ones I attend) don’t actually have most of the things you list.

      My blog was written to address church goers who (like any of us) can be sucked into consumerism mentality, and we all have something to learn (me included).

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