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Snares of the Modern Church, Part III: Consumer Christianity

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Blog, Opinion, Religion, The Church, Theology | 0 comments

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As we continue our exploration of the snares of the modern church, a challenging, yet important, topic comes to the fore: Consumer Christianity. This term, while perhaps unfamiliar to some, paints a vivid picture of a troubling trend. It points to the conversion of the church and worship into a commodity, the reduction of faith into a product to be marketed, purchased, and consumed, rather than interacted with and being edified. This transactional perspective is a far cry from the vibrant, selfless, and sacrificial faith that Scripture commends.

Consumer Christianity is somewhat related to the snare of entertainment that we previously wrote about, however, it manifests itself in multiple ways. Unfortunately, even the true church is not immune to this. There is a burgeoning emphasis on being served rather than serving, on receiving rather than giving, and on being entertained rather than being edified. Churchgoers often become passive spectators, tuning in for the weekly sermon, but checking out when it comes to actively participating in the life of the church. The rich tapestry of Christian fellowship, prayer, worship, and service is reduced to a slickly packaged product, consumed for personal satisfaction rather than for spiritual growth.

Another manifestation of this consumerist mentality is found in the realm of Big Evangelicalism or “Big Eva.” This term refers to the influential individuals, organizations, and institutions that shape the evangelical landscape. On the surface, Big Eva may appear to promote spiritual growth through books, conferences, speaking engagements, and the like. However, underneath this glossy veneer, a different reality lurks.

Big Eva, for all its apparent benefits, is guilty of catering to an elite class of Church leaders, speakers, and authors. The marketing and selling of spiritual resources can be beneficial, equipping Christians with a deeper understanding and application of their faith. However, when it becomes a highly profitable enterprise that primarily enriches a small group of people, it just reinforces a consumerist mentality. The church, rather than being a community of people with diverse spiritual gifts serving each other in love, becomes stratified, dividing into a consumer class and an elite class.

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This scenario has detrimental consequences. It distracts professing believers from serving the body of Christ. Instead of being active participants in the life of the church, they become passive consumers of spiritual products. The emphasis on consuming spiritual content, while not inherently wrong, can obscure the call to put faith into action through service and love for one another.

In our present-day reality, the glorification of Christian celebrities can indeed lead to a distorted view of the faith. The core message of the gospel risks being diluted when faith becomes associated with following influential personalities, consuming their products, and adapting their practices, instead of primarily being about following Christ and serving His body, the church.

Consider, for instance, the contemporary worship industry. It has witnessed an unprecedented rise in “celebrity worship leaders,” whose music often becomes the focus rather than the means to worship. One of the most blatant examples of this is Florida Southern Baptist megachurch, Church by the Glades, which markets itself, according to its own website, as a “hyper-creative and a fully-charged church where no perfect people are allowed.” This church, which we’ve written about numerous times, often forsakes even remotely Christian music in favor of cover performances of popular secular bands—and often filthy ones, at that.

Churches like this do not have a congregation, they have fans. And these fans end up worshiping the artist and the art rather than Christ through their music. In most cases, concert-like worship services promote a culture where people attend for the exhilarating experience rather than the authentic worship of God.

In a similar vein, the growing phenomenon of the celebrity pastor and the megachurch industry is another case in point. These charismatic leaders, often at the helm of multi-site churches with thousands of attendees—where they can get lost in the crowd and hide from any accountability—can command a level of admiration and influence that shifts focus from the message to the messenger. Churchgoers might find themselves more drawn to the pastor’s charisma, leadership style, or even lifestyle than to the gospel message they preach, if they even preach the gospel. (I’m thinking about Andy Stanley here.)

The products associated with these personalities, such as books, sermon series, podcasts, and merchandise, often become commodities that fans collect, further fuelling the consumer Christianity mindset. Followers may equate spiritual growth with accumulating these products, rather than developing a personal, profound relationship with Christ and fellowship with other believers.

In addition to a lack of accountability for church attendees and members, In many cases, this celebrity culture within the church can even cultivate an environment where accountability is lacking for the leadership as well. The celebrity status of these leaders often insulates them from critique or correction, leading to unchecked behavior and potential moral failings.

In essence, the glorification of Christian celebrities and the associated consumer mentality shifts the focus from a Christ-centered faith to a personality-driven one. This shift is subtle yet significant, turning Christianity from an active commitment to a passive form of entertainment. As followers of Christ, it’s extremely important to be aware of this snare and continuously refocus our faith on Christ Himself, serving His body, and the church, and not merely consuming what the celebrity Christian culture offers.

What, then, is the antidote to this snare of Consumer Christianity? It is the rediscovery and reemphasis of the Biblical model of church life and discipleship. This model does not dismiss the value of books, conferences, or respected leaders, but it reminds us that these are not the essence of our faith. Instead, the essence of practicing Christianity is a relationship with Christ that sanctifies us into selfless servants actively participating in the life of the church. It is a journey away from consumerism and towards Christlikeness, from passivity to participation, from being served to serving. It is a natural outpouring of grace as we demonstrate the grace that was given to us in God’s merciful election of us in Him.

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