We are looking at the rise of what we are calling, “Consumer Church” over the past 30-40 years in our nation. One of the things we must ask when examining Consumer Church is what message is being preached by it? Let’s take a look at that in our second installment of Consumer Church.
By its very nature Consumer Church has as its main goal reaching those they consider consumers. But who is the “consumer?” Since the Consumer Church identifies them as the “unchurched” – the consumer becomes those who do not presently attend a church in whatever area a church is located. Therefore the message of Consumer Church becomes, “Come to church.” This may sound like a good message at first – but when placed beside the biblical message of salvation – it is found wanting. THE message of the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It matters little if someone is coming to church (i.e. they have become “churched”) if they are still in their sin. They will stand before God with a church membership certificate – and maybe even a church t-shirt and hat – but that will do nothing to pay for their sins against a holy God.
Another thing that is normative about Consumer Church is how they use polls among the unchurched to find out what they need to do in ministry. Thus the message of Consumer Church is in some ways constantly morphing due to the “felt needs” or desires of the unchurched in its area. This is evident as Consumer Church changes regularly to accommodate the desires of those in the community. What is truly sad is when change is embraced even on a theological level. This is where Consumer Church becomes dangerous to those who attend. It is possible in seeking to be “relevant” to society that we find ourselves irrelevant to God.
The message of the church – at least the true church – has not changed since its inception over 2000 years ago. The message of the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that man is a sinner by nature and by choice. Sin separates us from God – and requires God’s just punishment for what man has done. The only way that punishment can be paid by men – is for them to pay it forever in hell. The good news is that God Himself provided a payment for sin – and that was accomplished at the cross where Jesus took sin upon Himself and paid to the uttermost its horrible price. He was buried and resurrected from the dead after 3 days. God, through this amazing grace, now saves those who respond to the gospel with repentance and faith. That is – has been – and always will be the message of the church. It will never change for all eternity.
The message of salvation from sin and the wrath of God through Jesus Christ is the message of the church. Regardless of how the unchurched feel about this message – it is the only way of salvation available. When Consumer Church conforms to the desires of the unchurched, it is preaching a message of self rather than salvation. The “self-life” is something the New Testament identifies as sin. The self-life does not need to be something we cater to in the church, it is rather something to be exposed (Both in the lost and the saved – because even those redeemed by Jesus can become selfish and self-centered in their lives as well as in church). Give any honest survey of what Jesus teaches in your community and people will not be happy with Jesus. They will not like Him calling them to die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. They will not like Him saying that to be His disciple they will have to hate their father and mother, wife and children, and even their own lives. They definitely won’t care for His statement, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” That is WAY too exclusive for most of the “unchurched.” Throw in a healthy helping of Him affirming what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah, a six-day long creation, as well as Him stating that He is God, and you’ll have a poll that makes it clear that the world would like a different Messiah. What is truly fascinating is that this was the problem in the first place – that the world rejected Him because He didn’t compromise Who He was or what He was to do. He didn’t take a poll to guide Him into His purpose and plan – that He received from the Father (God as exclusively masculine also doesn’t poll well nowadays either).
Please understand that I am NOT saying that the church should be inflexible when it comes to putting the gospel into the context of each society and culture where it is preached. Paul spoke of being all things to all men – but that never included the message of the gospel itself. It never included God’s call for us to be a holy and separate people. It never included an escape clause from being conformed to the image of Christ in our attitudes and actions. But when it comes to things clearly taught in the Scriptures – we do not have the luxury of changing or ignoring them without great loss on our part. The message of the church will forever be salvation by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – whether a cultural and societal survey likes it or not.
Consumer Church, part 1 of 4
Who Exactly is the Consumer?
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you and bring you to a place where you desire what He desires in His church. This week I will begin my series of articles on “Consumer Church.”
When the whole idea of “Consumer Church” came on the scene, it began with churches thinking it would be a good idea to begin polling people as to what they wanted in church. It was not long before churches were in surrounding neighborhoods going door to door asking people in their city what they wanted at church. Statistics were gathered from these polls and strategies were formed to “reach the unchurched.” Subsequently, a church program was developed that would minister to the felt needs that existed among the community. Over time the churches grew due to their ability to address the felt needs of their community. The unchurched were reached in large numbers – which eventually gave rise to the mega-churches of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Success, right? Before we begin our celebration we might consider a fundamental problem that exists with this model of “doing church.”
There is a problem that is inherently part of the “Consumer Church” model. That problem is that the consumer changes over time. This is why companies like Apple constantly poll the consumer. They do so to stay ahead of their ever-changing desires. The consumer actually drives what is happening in “Consumer Church.” If his or her felt needs are not met, he or she will be looking for a church that will meet their needs. In the years that I have been a pastor I’ve watched the “Consumer Church” change numerous times. They had to revamp just about everything because they learned that the busters did not want the same things as the boomers. A couple of years later they found out that the Gen X crowd had different desires than the Gen-next group. Even preaching and worship styles changed every few years. They learned that certain words – and even the symbol of the cross was seen in a negative way – so they morphed to meet those desires of the consumer. In time some churches even set up different worship services for different age groups so they could continue meeting the felt needs of the last group they just reached.
This whole scenario begs for an answer to a very pressing question. Who are we supposed to be pleasing in the church? The “Consumer Church” model says that we are to be please the consumer. But what happens when the consumer wants something that God does not? What happens when the consumer’s desires reflect the very lost and sinful condition God wants addressed in the gospel? What happens when the consumer wants a less convicting atmosphere or preaching that acknowledges there is more than one way to get to heaven? What happens when society becomes more open toward sexual immorality and the consumer calls for a broader mindset toward alternate lifestyles? Is the consumer always right? Is the church always beholden to shift her views and stands accordingly?
The core problem with “Consumer Church” is that the consumer is treated as the supreme authority in how church is done – and often even in what the church preaches. Biblical church sees the revelation of God in Scripture as supreme. This is the radical difference between “Consumer Church” and “Christ-centered Church.” The “Christ-centered Church” believes that there is already an infallible rule for faith and for practice in God’s church. God did not set up His church to be a consumer driven endeavor. God calls His church to honor and glorify Him. He commands the church to seek His face and submit to what He desires. The way one does this is not by taking polls of the lost community. The way one does this is to read and study the Scriptures so that we know God – and in so doing – know what He wants in His church.
Please understand that God will not lead us to be rude or disparaging toward the “consumer” or better said, the lost person in our community. God calls us to serve and love them – to minister to them – and lay down our lives as we share the gospel with them. But that being said, the “Christ-centered Church” does not have the freedom to ignore God’s desires because they conflict with those of the lost, consumer in our area. Our first and greatest priority in the church is to glorify God and make much of Him in everything we do at church. To make more of our potential “consumer” than we make of God is idolatry – and in the end it will not bring blessing to the church. We have to remember that our target audience is just One person in the end – God Himself. What I find interesting is that God is referred to as a “consuming fire” by Scripture. So actually, we are conforming to the consumer. It is just that we are defining the consumer as THE Consumer. It is very appropriate to poll and consult THE Consumer. What we then learn of and from Him rules all decisions and reigns in the focus, direction, and program of His church. May God make us ever more sensitive to THE One and Only Consumer, making sure that whatever He wants is done in His church!
Most of these articles are taken from the Calvary Courier, a weekly newsletter that is sent to the folks who attend Calvary Chapel Jonesboro. Due to the response to these articles, we've decided to print some of them which proved to be very helpful to God's people at the fellowship.
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