Many have said that we now live in a consumeristic culture; that is, a culture where the consumers’ needs/desires/preferences dictate everything.
In the business world people often say ‘the customer is king’ – in other words, what the customer wants is more important than anything else. This has had lots of positive results including better marketing, increased accountability for companies to deliver value to their customers as was promised, and therefore an improved customer service. These are a great thing.
However, a consumeristic culture should give us lots of reasons to pause for thought.
A Consumeristic Culture
A consumerist culture values transience and mobility rather than duration and stability, and the newness of things and reinvention of oneself over endurance. It is a hurried culture that expects immediacy and has no use for delays, and one that values individualism and temporary communities over deep, meaningful, and lasting connection to others…
a consumerist culture is a “nowist” culture that values immediate or quickly acquired satisfaction…
So we always have to be ‘up-to-date’ with the latest hair style, clothes or mobile phone. We cannot slip behind. We must fit into the consumeristic culture that we live in. And ultimately:
“Responsibility now means, first and last, responsibility to oneself (‘you owe this to yourself’, ‘you deserve it’…), while ‘responsible choices’ are, first and last, those moves serving the interests and satisfying the desires of the self.”
What does this mean for our lives, for the way we do community and the way we interact with church? Romans 12:2 says:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
So whilst we don’t have to reject everything that is part and parcel of our consumeristic culture, we must make sure we are not capitulating to it, particularly when it comes to church and our relationship with God. We must have our minds renewed by truth and learn to approve what God wants, rather than what the world tells us. Instead of conforming to the world (being sucked in!) we must be transformed by God’s truth (be changed internally!)
Think about it on two planes:
- Self – God calls us to love others, to develop perseverance, patience and contentment in all circumstances and to forfeit temporary pleasure for greater gains, whether of character growth or eternal life (see Matthew 23:37-40, Romans 5:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Hebrews 11:24-28). A consumeristic culture tells us to love ourselves, to make immediate changes if things are not working out and to seek instant gratification.
- Community – God calls us to live in community and love those who are different from us, forgive our enemies and enter community with an attitude of service not selfishness (see Matthew 5:43-48, Philippians 2:1-5). A consumeristic culture tells us to live superficially, don’t get too vulnerable (as that could get you hurt!) and opt in/out as suits our feelings and desires… don’t be constrained by any ties to community, do what you want.
As we consider ourselves and our community we must decide if (a) we’re going to conform to the pattern of this world, or (b) be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
So what does it look like to ‘be church’ in a consumeristic culture?
American sociology of religion expert Robert Wuthnow*, Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, reflects on church small groups and has found that:
Small groups mainly provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone’s opinion. Never criticise. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied.
In Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life*, two Boston psychiatrists suggest that:
Groups fail to replicate the sense of belonging we have lost. Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group – all of these factors work against the growth of true community.
Tim Keller* reflecting on these quotes says:
Christians expect to find community by attending church services and coming to a small group. However as these sociologists and psychiatrists point out, it is possible to hold a weekly small group meeting without adding the elements that create real community. Because our idols and the habits of our heart church events simply become places that individuals ‘focus on themselves in the presence of others’. It takes deep reflection and costly commitment to live in community.
In line with Keller’s point, we want to put some time aside to reflect on what the Bible says about being church and to learn exercise a ‘filter’ on what we should accept, reject or redeem from the culture around us. Here are the different weeks of our series:
25th February: Shining Lights (Philippians 2) – whilst we are very often at odds with the world around us and it can feel like a hostile environment, God wants us to “hold out the word of life” so that we become like shining stars in a dark world. We’re called to stand out and be different, to be witnesses to Jesus even if we face opposition. The church is not just about those internally, it’s about reaching out to those around us. And to do that we’ll have to consider other people’s interests above our own, like Jesus, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus did.
11th March: Truth Tellers (Ephesians 4, Proverbs) – a key way in which we grow as Christians is through speaking and hearing truth within Christian community; not just through the Sunday Sermon, but through encouraging and challenging one another. The New Testament calls us to admonish or rebuke each other, which means to speak the ‘hard truth’ in love to each other, not to judge or criticise, but to promote holiness. Proverbs calls it ‘iron sharpening iron’ – it can be painful and difficult on the ears, but it makes us more beautiful in the end. This takes trust, care, humility and a willingness to be taught/instructed. But if we lack these things we’ll never grow as God wants us to and our relationships will only be surface level.
18th March: Burden Carriers (Galatians 6:1-6) – Sharing resources and possessions is one way to become vulnerable to others in a community (hospitality), but many who are willing to share resources are not willing to be transparent and open about their own problems – material, emotional, and spiritual. Yet the Bible calls us to that as well. We are to let others in on our grief and weakness and allow them to give us their love and support. Plus not only must we be willing to help others with their weakness but also we must refuse not to hide our own. That is a form of hypocrisy. We must be able to give unselfishly to others and receive help unashamedly from others. Many of us are not willing to let others in… when you know how you’re accepted in Christ despite your mistakes, you’ll let others accept you in your mistakes.
25th March: Servants (1 Corinthians 12) – Learning that God has given us all different gifts, like a body has different parts, and we’re to use our gifts not to boost our egos but to serve others. And that serving others and participating in community is a joy not just a duty. We’re made in the image of a triune God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – where each member of the trinity is serving and putting the other first. So we are to image the divine community of love in the church and by doing so we become ‘truly human’.
Underneath each week and the call to live by God’s standards rather than the world’s ways, is an understanding and application of the gospel. Without a clear understanding of Jesus’ costly self-sacrificial love which brings us freedom, forgiveness, identity and hope, we’d never have the power and perspective to live up to God’s calling on our lives.
If we try to be these five things through our own effort or through a sense of duty, we’ll fail, we’ll burn out and we’ll quickly be disappointed. But when we know him, and we allow him to live in and through us by His Holy Spirit, we are freed to live and love as he wants us to.
- Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12)… and through him we deal with the darkness in our lives and find hope and confidence to share that with others.
- Jesus is the truth teller (John 1:14 & John 14:6)… and though his words might sometimes wound us, they are wounds from a friend that we can trust. As we learn to trust his words we can learn to help others by speaking the truth in love.
- Jesus is the the host (Psalm 23:5-6)… despite being enemies he welcomes us in and earns for us a seat at the Father’s table, to feast with him. Out of that abundance we can give to others.
- Jesus is the burden carrier (Matthew 11:28-30)… who calls us to cast our burdens on him and allow him to take the emotional weight in our lives so we can live lightly and have strength to help others.
- Jesus is the servant (Philippians 2:5-11)… who stoops down, picks up the bowl and the towel, washes our feet and gives us an exalted status as God’s children. As we experience him lifting us up, we are able to serve others with humility.
It’s as we know Jesus, are found in him, rely on him and ask him to move in us that we can do all these things.
*All quotes taken from ‘Chapter 4 – Community: The Context For Change’, in The Gospel In Life – How Grace Changes Everything – and in our series we’ll be unpacking the 9 practices of authentic community which we looked at on City Group Sunday in our Messy Church talk.