I was talking to somebody recently who was explaining why so many of the smaller churches in the area were hurting, why so many of their congregants were transferring to larger churches. It wasn't because the teaching was better or the communities were more devoted disciples; it was because larger churches just had more of the things families "need." Things like gymnasiums and exciting youth programming and family life centers, etc. I suppose you could add in other things like coffee bars, rockin' worship bands, and bigger parking lots.
All of those things, by the way, are neutral things. There's nothing sinful about a church serving coffee or featuring a rockin' worship band.
But these offerings as key appeals in both transfer growth (Christians leaving less "exciting" churches for more "exciting" churches) and conversion growth (seekers preferring one church because it doesn't look or feel like church) do speak to the not-neutral spirit of consumerism.
As Matt Chandler says, "The reason the suburbs are so toxic is because they make us think everything is about us."
We are used to having things our way, to believing that comfort and convenience and whatever else we want are our rights. We act entitled. And nothing is more contrary to the gospel of grace in Jesus than the insidious insistence that we are entitled to anything.
So it astounds people -- Christian people -- when a disciple doesn't act like a consumer. It makes them uncomfortable when someone intentionally chooses ongoing sacrifice. Read this entry from one of the BHT's newest fellows (and I believe, the iMonk's son-in-law), Ryan:
We are moving in a few weeks to a ministry in, more or less, the middle of no where, in order to be teachers to all kinds of students. The county we are moving to is one of the poorest in the country. We will be living in housing provided and owned by the ministry. My wife and I will be annually compensated $5,000 each. A large portion of our food, and other things, will be from donation, and we will eat many meals from the school’s cafeteria. We also plan to grow and preserve a lot of our own food (see: Wendell Berry for that one :-) ). We will be living in a very tight community, and privacy/anonymity will be minimal.I loved that.
This is choice in life has been somewhat shocking to my family and to some of my other influences. My family thinks it’s crazy that I would want to move so far away from where I grew up in order to make little money. My friends and college professors think it’s a shame that I have no real plans for grad school (at graduation, I had a professor practically begging me to work for a Phd). I know that my wife’s friends at work would be quite alarmed as well if they knew the whole story.
That being said, we think this is our opportunity to live simple, and forsake a lot of the things the world values (read: material things). We’re going to have to be deliberate about our spending and budgeting, which is something most Americans are unable to do. There is not going to be an ideal, AMiA parish around so we are going to make a home in a local church. It’s a lot of risk for us, but however it works, we feel as if this is what Jesus would have us do.