Consumer Liturgies

I recently read a book called Church in the Present Tense. It is a book with 4 different contributors, all giving an academic response to Emerging Church. Every chapter was fantastic; I’d love to follow those guys around to hear them lecture.

Jason Clark had to say some beneficial things concerning Consumerism and how ministry is often shaped by consumerism, as well. Here are some thoughts he shared:

Beginning with the right question- instead of asking “how do we do church better so that people do not leave (or what can we do to make people come),” begin to ask, “how do we recover church for our context?” What does it look like to be the church where we are? What type of Messianic tribe is God gathering in our neck of the woods?

Clark sums up his deep ache with pastoring in a consumer society, “We have so many people experiencing love, care, support, (financially, materially, relationally), and, within our charismatic identity, answers to prayer and experiences of Jesus intervening. Yet, after all this, there is all to often an almost existential shrug, as if to say, ‘That was nice,’ and then a turn to the real business of life, well away from any ongoing experience of Christianity, with us or with others.”

Clark discovered that even thought he was ministering in a secular and consumer society where it was assumed that people were nonreligious, they were in fact deeply religious. The flow of consumption was their worship.

Clark uses a definition from Vincent Miller on consumerism and belief that I found to be profound. It used to be that beliefs held us, but now in consumerism liturgies, “believers hold beliefs.” Isn’t that interesting?

Clark defines consumerism as “embodied imagination,” consisting of a story of human nature (anthropology) and human destiny (telos, end). The question is posed, “What is a good life? Its answer: living somewhere nice, living a ripe old age, having certain life experiences before we die. And it offers to save us from the worst of all human fates: boredom.”

Clark notes how we can practice consumerism, it is a “perverted liturgy.” Notice the things we do and the molds that consumer society squeezes us into including our body shape, our technology, our time, our leisure, etc… In the midst of it all, Christianity becomes a “mere supplement, a cultural accessory?”

Clark continues on to other parts of consumerism and faith, offering ways to have “deep church” in the midst of consumer liturgies.

The discussion reminds me of the book Freakonomics, where Economics is described as the study of incentives. Human beings move because of incentives. A person will do things way outside of their normal rhythm, conviction, and character. For instance, I once decided to be a Nebraska Cornhusker fan because I had a crush on a girl who was from Lincoln. I had an incentive to do so and after a few years of following the Big Red, I decided that the incentive was no longer there, so, my allegiance was no longer supported.

Back to Vincent Miller’s idea of how consumerism transferred the idea of beliefs holding us to us holding beliefs. This is a devastating turn of events. If we are not being held by beliefs, we will find ourselves struggling to know the real Christ. If we do not know the real Christ, the richness of life in Him will never make sense or be sincere. We will never be satisfied; we will require churches to spend energy on things that allure our attention, but will never be able to win our allegiance to the Gospel calling.

On a side note, Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel examines the way we should hear the Gospel story, and, if Scot is leading us to a proper place (which I believe he does), the Gospel message will have the power to “gospel” us into a place where we are held by or beliefs; it won’t be about us, it will be about the Story that has been unfolding for centuries, the story of God that has been rescuing and redeeming, building and restoring- a story that sweeps us away and leaves us undone.

I guess a place to start is to ask ourselves, in regards to our current church set up, “Why am I here?”

Wait, ask again and be honest, “Why am I here?”

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