In missional church circles, it’s taken as received revelation that we are against something called “consumer church.” But what exactly does that mean? The phrase itself doesn’t indicate what is being consumed, and doesn’t the content of the consumption determine whether it’s a good or bad thing?
Say we meet for lunch at the park. You bring a homemade salad and I bring a super-sized “value meal” from Burger King. We’re going to have very different gastro-intestinal results a few hours later, but we’re still both consumers, right?
So it seems to me that the term “consumer church” is too vague to be helpful. It’s overly-simplistic.
I have been thinking about this because a couple of my Ecclesia Network comrades have been talking about this recently. Winn Collier reminds that there is a kind of consuming we need to do if we are to be faithful in mission, and Bob Hyatt argues that the church is, in fact, there to “meet your needs,” but maybe not in the way you thought.
So what are you consuming when you “go to church?” What are you taking in? What are you feeding on? What are you seeking to receive? And pastors, what are you serving up? What kind of environment are you cultivating? What are you really trying to do at that “church service?”
When people disparage “consumer church,” they’re usually talking about the lamentable tendency that we have to cultivate and consume things that are temporarily titillating, but of no ultimate value. And that’s not a new problem. It’s as old as sin. “Why spend your money on what is not bread,” Isaiah grieved, “your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good!” So it’s really all about what (Who) we’re consuming when we gather. We need to be consuming True Bread, That Which Satisfies, That Which Gives Abundant Life.
In our community, every time we gather for worship, we come around the table to partake in the Eucharist, the Communion Meal. We believe this is so much more than just a handy reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection (as if we’d forgotten all about it!). We believe that it is a participation in the life of Christ, and that as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are feeding on Christ in a vital way, receiving grace from him as we partake in faith. The prayer we pray over the elements speaks about a faithful “consuming” that results in transformation by grace.
Come, O Spirit of Christ
and brood over these elements, this bread and this fruit of the vine.
May they be for us the body and blood of Christ;
Vibrant with life, healing, renewing and making us whole.
And draw us into your blazing heart,
that as your gifts are consumed in us,
we might be consumed in transfiguring love
and thus become one with you,
Come and make of your gathered people
the real presence of Christ for the world,
living our prayer and praying our life
till earth and heaven are reconciled,
the powers of evil are thrown down
death itself is destroyed,
and the glory of the Lord covers the earth
as the waters cover the sea.
Then you will have made all things new, O God,
and mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
As Winn poignantly put it:
At Jesus’ Table, all we do is come and receive; we gorge on grace. We do not come to Jesus to work. We come to rest. We come to allow grace to work on us. The Christian’s work is what happens when resting people find the free life of the Spirit flowing among them. Work is what we do when the Kingdom has taken root and joyful obedience begins to sprout. But first, we rest. First, we consume.