The Believers’ Buffet

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

In my previous article, I reflected on the church being minimized to our own individualistic pursuits. This “Church of Claus” approach interferes with the hope that worship becomes an audience of one (God), thus ultimately stunting our spiritual growth. Today, I want to continue down this same path. There is quite a bit of our culture that has slithered its way into the church that actually poses a threat not just to the church but the very gospel as well.

These days of Pandemic have not only presented unique challenges, they have also brought forth great opportunities. As a Pastor, I have enjoyed the adventure of trying new things. I have enjoyed not being tied to a building or maintaining the status quo. It is as if the Spirit has been loosened, and the stranglehold of tradition is relinquishing its death grip. Furthermore, it has been exciting for believers to recall the joy of being together, and for us to be reminded of our own hunger and thirsting for the Lord.

What I do not look forward to when we gather again is a reverting back to a worship that is driven by consumerism. It is steeped in our culture. We are gatherers of information. We are constantly in search for the next big adventure. We are hoarders of stuff and experiences. This includes the “worship experience”. I cannot tell you the amount of anonymous cards, letters, emails, and on occasion an actual visit designed to critique the music, to complain about too much lighting, or to complain about not enough lighting. The sound is too loud, the sound is not loud enough. We spend too much money on others. We do not spend enough on others. We are not big enough. The church is too big. I don’t like the youth pastor.  And the list just keeps going.

It is exhausting. As a pastor, I must confess…there is no way to win with consumers. It begins to suck the air (the spirit) right out of the church. What was intended to assist believers in belonging, believing, and becoming like Christ has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.

“Consumption is a system of meaning.”[1] We define our identity and construct meaning for our lives through the brands we consume. Unfortunately, church has been diminished to a label. “Shopping occupies a role in society that once belonged to religion—the power to give meaning and construct identity.”[2] Furthermore, we approach church as if we are scrolling through Amazon or lingering at a buffet. How can this place feed me? How might I obtain the most consistent Jesus high? “A core characteristic of consumerism is freedom of choice.”[3] In the US we not only enjoy choice, we flaunt it. There is always a tension between choice and commitment, between comfort and community.

In the process, Sally Morgenthaler notes,

We are not producing real worshippers in this country. Rather we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirit craves.[4]

We must learn again what it means to be still and know that He is God.[5] We must settle into the presence of His Spirit in order that God might shape us into the people He desires us to be. We do not have to go chasing after the wind. “The dilemma posed by consumerism is not the endless manufacturing of desires, but the temptation to settle for desires below what we are created for.”[6] What we were created for is relationship, connection, community. God is still speaking. He is still on the move. If we are open to Him, He can use anything to draw us close to Him. May we choose to pursue Him, and may we do it together.

It is together, in community, that we discover how to live into the looming unknown of the future. We remind one another that God’s faithfulness is found in His love for us, not in what we can consume. We begin to realize God’s call takes us beyond our own desires in order that we might meet the needs of the world. We are the body of believers—men, women, and children filled with God’s Spirit, living in communion with Him, one another, and the world. “It is a spiritual and relational entity. And this church is critical to the advancement of God’s mission in the world and an essential component of our spiritual formation.”[7]

We are more than our desires, and our lives are not sustained by fulfilling them. The Christian’s greatest desire, like Jesus’, ought to be to know Him and live in His love. “Not my will, but yours, be done.”[8]

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and you labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.[9]

 

[1] Naomi Klein. No Logo. (New York: Macmillan), 2000. 21.

[2] Skye Jethani. The Divine Commodity: 53.

[3] Jethani. 126.

[4] Sally Morgenthaler. Exploring the Worship Spectrum. ed Paul A. Basden. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2004. 104.

[5] Psalm 46:10.

[6] Jethani. 114.

[7] Jethani. 102.

[8] Matthew 26:39

[9] Isaiah 55:1-3

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