Consumerism turns Christ followers into customers, and turns believers in a person to believers in a product.
So what is consumerism and how has it found its way to church? Attempts to define consumerism range from religion, addiction, rights of customers, drive to purchase, dissatisfaction and unquenched hunger for more to shop till you drop mentality. Many articles have been written about how the impact of today’s demand for choice and emphasis on customer rights and privileges is affecting the church.
And then there is prosperity gospel. We do not talk too much about it here in the western world but that does not mean it does not exist in our thinking and expectations. It is a bit more muted, it may come in a less obvious form, but it is there. We may not be duped to think that giving £10 to a church will earn us back £100 from God… but we may have false expectation on what it means to follow Christ.
Take buying a house for example, a highly stressful thing to do in today’s volatile and uncertain climate, with all the pressure from estate agents forcing you to believe you are getting a great deal, and your own fears that you need to get on the ladder. Is that it? Or is there more to life? As my friend once said in a brilliantly simply and profound statement: “I do not own a house, the bank does.” Obvious isn’t it, and yet we fool ourselves that it is otherwise, that we are in control and that we have the right to be blessed. This sense of false security does not have to come from buying a property, it can come from a relationship, career even ministry.
Of course disappointment follows on the heels of putting trust in things that are perishable… sooner or later we realise that what we thought will fill us has left us empty and off we go again in search of fulfilment, this time more wild, more ‘substantial’, more expensive. We have been sold a lie, a lie of exaggerated life, life edited, life on steroids, unnatural, and unintended for us by a good God who comes in to expose all this scaffolding we have put around our feeble frames of meaning. As a Christ follower I realise I am not immune to the allure of consumerism.
In chapter 6 of the gospel of John we see Jesus sought after for all the wrong reasons. The chapter starts with Jesus feeding the crowd by multiplying the bread and the fish; after the event Jesus leaves the crowds, and after a miraculous walk on water we reconnect with him again on the other side of the sea. The crowds in the meantime, after a good dose of carbs and a good snooze, wake up hungry again and they are after him… “we had our dinner, now give us the breakfast.” Free food – who does not like free food? Doesn’t food always taste better when someone else made it? So off they go to find him, and here is what Jesus says to them. “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)
Are we looking in the right place but for the wrong things? Yes, he invited us to come, but he invites us to come to him for him, not for what he can give us. Maybe now is the time to search our hearts and think deeply and honestly about why we are following him on the narrow path. Do we have a relationship with Jesus or a transaction on our terms?
Joanna has a passion for mentoring female leaders to become mentors for a new generation. She is a founding director of One Rock, a board member of Renovare UK, a lecturer with Westminster Theological College, and is studying for a doctorate with Asbury Theological Seminary. She has written a biographies on Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael.