Abandon the consumeristic Christian virus

This post is from the defunct blog "Dying Church"

iMonk on The Christian-Industrial Complex:

Get yourself and your families out of this mess. Look at what's happening and say NO to it. Pastors: Talk to your people about books worth reading. Get your sermons from the Bible, not some marketer. Critique the fads. Most of all, present the savior and the call to follow him. Tell Lifeway to take their next marketing ploy to the shredder. Resist the remaking of the Christian faith into buying stuff, wearing stuff, going to stuff, doing programs and spending money. Remake your Christian experience this year into something that's not just another fad. Get angry if you need to, or just quietly say "I'm not part of this anymore." Get off the train and walk. Wave at the sheep on their way to the next sheep convention to get a sheep shirt and a bag of sheep books.

Get your people reading the Bible, reading good books, talking to each other, doing ministry in your community and grounded in simple Christianity. Reduce your consumeristic discipleship by half, and then look at the half that's left and see what you really think of it. Jesus said that if we find the treasure in the field, we don't buy, we sell. We give away. It's a revolution, not a convention or a market. Jesus went to a religious marketplace once. It didn't turn out well.

What I Long For in 2007

My latest column at Christian Week:

"Nothing changes on New Year's Day," sings Bono, lead singer of U2. Later in the same song, Bono continues, "I will begin again." Nothing changes as we start 2007, but I pray it is possible, in some ways, to begin again.

Speaking in Toronto last year, pastor and author Gordon MacDonald defined revival as bringing something back to life. We need two kinds of revival, MacDonald argued. One is big-R Revival, which is needed at crisis points five or six times within one's life. The other is small-r revival, which we need on a daily basis. I long for both kinds of revival in the coming year.

Big-R Revival

I grew up in the church. I am used to North American Christianity. Somehow I've picked up some modern ways of thinking about church which really aren't helpful and have lead me to some crisis points. I hope to continue the big-R Revival in how I think about effective ministry.

I need, for instance, to give up my longing for Christendom. Part of me still longs for the days when Christianity was dominant within Canadian culture and the Church had influence. Those days aren't coming back, but that is okay. God is more than up to the challenge.

I need to give up my reliance on techniques and pragmatism. At no stage in Christian history have we had better programs, techniques, and leadership theories. New programs and techniques come out almost daily. Despite all these techniques, the North American church is struggling at its core. The late Canadian theologian Stanley Grenz wrote that a pragmatic approach to ministry is "self-defeating, simply because it transforms the community of faith into an institution whose chief end is not the glory of God and the fulfillment of a divinely-given mandate, but survival." Real change does not come from better techniques.

I need a revival in the way that I think about the gospel. Canadian theologian J.I. Packer says, "Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product, which, though it looks similar in enough points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in days proved itself so mighty." Recovering the gospel, and bringing our ministries back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing need, according to Packer.

I also need to deal with my pastoral ambitions. "I am convinced that personal pastoral ambition, and a pastoral ethic centered around productivity and success is brutal to our souls and destructive to the souls of the people we lead," writes one pastor, Kent Carlson. "We must become skilled at detecting the odor of personal ambition, then flee from it as if the church's future depends on it. For I believe it does."

Mostly, I need to rediscover true Biblical ministry, centered not around meeting human needs with a truncated gospel in an attempt to win people over to a human institution. Rather, it is about becoming an alternate community shaped by the Gospel, sent by God to participate in his mission to the world.

Small-R Revival

I confided to a friend recently that I don't know if I have what it takes to lead a congregation to effective ministry in a changing culture. This isn't false modesty. It is relatively easy to be a transactional leader who maintains a congregation; it is much more difficult to be a transformational leader who sees real change at the deepest levels. Nobody is able to do this on their own.

I hope to be revived on a daily basis this year so I'm reminded I don't have to lead on my own. "I want to encourage you," a friend wrote to me recently, "that you don't have to fix anyone's problems. You just need to point them to Jesus. He does the work - you are just the vehicle that he works through." As Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing." I want to learn this and live this on a daily basis.

These are the revivals, big and small, that I long for this coming year.