The church is being consumed. I first came to understand that when I picked up a used book by Bruce and Marshall Shelley (father and son authors). The book, The Consumer Church (InterVarsity Press, 1992), builds a case that the American church is in danger of falling into American capitalism as its main operations model. They have built the case that the fight between style and tradition is forcing the church to the extremes, and leaves behind the true work of the church which is the work of the gospel.
Now, 20 years later, we see a church where traditionalism is more or less dead in the church, and style, usually called relevance, is the guide for most church practices. While it is important that we connect the gospel we are entrusted with to the culture where we live, without a connection to or the traditions of the church, the church is left with forms that are almost exclusively driven by the desires and wants of consumers. Thus the church is being consumed.
Here are 3 ways to test your church to see if it is being consumed.
1. You might be a consumed church when the pastor and church staff are only hired hands, responsible to listen to the will of the people and run programs that the people want.
Paying pastors and staff is not the problem, but it becomes a problem when payment is used to ensure that the staff is serving the will of the people. Church leaders should serve the will of God and provide wise, and sometimes hard, leadership to address the needs of the people, not to provide for the wants of the people. Church leaders are not managers of programs for the people, but elder brothers and sisters who are given responsibility over the care of church family.
2. You might be a consumed church when your church happens at a certain time and in a certain place.
The Church exists universally, around the whole world. Local churches (called congregations) exist in a geographic region as a specific manifestation of the universal church. The church, both universally and locally, exists 24/7 wherever the people of the church act as bearers of the good news of Jesus.
The ideas and language many use to indicate that the church meets on Sunday, or some other time, in a particular location are false. They leave the church body consumed by the image that the church is a program or a building, not a family. Jesus left the church in the world, not in a building or 501c3, nonprofit organization.
3. Numbers and trends mean more than each person in the care of the church.
When a church is consumed, each person loses value. They are only as valuable as numbers to demonstrate the desirability of the church. Upward trends in attendance and giving are good. Downward trends are bad. However, the consumed church cannot be bothered by the loss of a person here or a person there. In fact, often the consumed church welcomes church family members to leave when they don’t want the same things that everyone else wants.
The antidote to being a consumed church is to renew relationship. The church needs to renew the church as family. Brothers and sisters exist because they are in relationship to one another. They care for one another, and they work hard to stay together. Losing a family member is always a reason for grieving.
Check out the next part of this post, Practically Unconsumable.