Playing into the consumer-driven religious marketplace

If a bird abandons the eggs she has been sitting on, she prevents them from hatching, and in the same way monks or nuns will grow cold and their faith will perish if they go around from one place to another

– The desert mother Amma Syncletica as quoted by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture

Christopher L. Heuertz writes of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book:

For Jonathan, “Staying is the new going.” North American Christians seem to have a credibility crisis in our theology and practice of “location.” And this is reflected in how we’ve come to understand our vocations of service.

A vocation of cross-cultural service can become little more than sanctified tourism. Raised as opportunistic individuals, we bounce from one emersion experience to the next. We keep our options open and avoid committing to any one community or set of relationships….

The challenge for our communities of service is working with those who are culturally conditioned to subvert stability, those who are brilliant yet doctrinally conflicted and so they avoid plugging into local churches; those who feel alienated and lonely yet community-resistant; those who are cause-driven while unable to commit themselves to fighting for justice; idealistic yet cynical; magnanimous yet suspicious; and, not least, over-educated yet deep in debt. To challenge them to establish stability in their faith, vocations and communities by cultivating authentic friendships and relationships sometimes seems impossible.

To be a bit more magnanimous to “them” let’s just say we, too, resemble that remark.

Have today’s churches lost their way? Chuck Leddy reviews Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. Leddy writes:

Consumer-driven churches, MacDonald argues, have chosen to downplay biblical teachings about self-control, the need for sacrifice, and delayed gratification: “A strong correlation has emerged between the consumer-driven religious marketplace and the decay of Christian moral character.”

MacDonald describes a growing loss of self-control that has led to a national boom in obesity, materialism, financial overextension, and marital infidelity. “Pastors may still have a strong sense of what’s right and wrong,” MacDonald notes, “but they’ve learned to keep it to themselves.”

MacDonald continually calls upon churches to renew their commitment to moral purpose, to stress that “the life of faith is actually a sacrificial one.” MacDonald concludes by describing a few examples of successful churches that “reinforce the notion that spiritual growth is supposed to be difficult and uncomfortable at times.”

Chris Hedges says the institutional church has bought into the consumer culture, to it own demise.

In Pastor Amy Butler’s opinion: “One of the great hardships of being a pastor is that the job involves two very important tasks that generally do not work well together: sales and offending people.”

Last, but not least, on this theme is today’s Daily Episcopalian by The Rev. Richard E. Helmer. Read it all. Here’s an excerpt:

I commented on a thread at Episcopal Cafe on Monday on the subject of church growth. Frankly, the subject is starting to wear quite thin on me, because it so often turns to matters of institutional preservation, which is not only deadly dull, but I am increasingly convinced deadly spiritually.

At the end of the day, a lot of congregational development writing and talk is about ego — feeding the ego by possessing “how to grow a church” through specialized knowledge or methodology. Or feeding the ego by romanticizing a supposedly greater past. Or feeding the ego by projecting current trends in a straight line and claiming we have control over the future, or at least some special knowledge about it. Or feeding the ego because “my family and I depend on this job.” None serve us or the Christian Gospel at all well. We need to stop if we are to move forward. Idolatry is one way to talk about our egotistical obsessions. Idolatry is one way to talk about much of our chatter over church growth.

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