Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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Consumed_articleI support a consumer mentality in the church. The Hebrew verb for consume means “devour,” or “take in whole.” Both the word and the activity are thoroughly woven throughout the Bible, so the concept of consumption is not foreign to God, but it’s important to consider “Who is the consumer?”

Clearly and repeatedly, God does the consuming. Dozens of verses depict God as a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). God is described as consuming things such as offerings, people, fortresses, enemies, food, the whole earth, the outskirts of a camp, and the city of Jerusalem. In Psalm 119:20, the Psalmist cries, “my soul is consumed with longing for your laws.” In John 2, as Jesus clears the temple, the disciples recall Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” In these instances, the individual is not the consumer, but rather the object of the consuming. Grasping for words to describe such divine encounters, biblical writers land on the language of being consumed in relation to God.

To some degree, human beings have always been consumers—consuming food, shelter, and other necessities. The 20th century saw human consumption expand to new levels. Consumerism, embedded in our economy and culture, coupled with mass production, marketing, and hyper-individualism, unleashed a world-shaping force with far-reaching impact. In a culture of consumerism, people’s identities have become wrapped up in their desire for more stuff and bigger barns to contain it. The merits of consumerism within our economy and culture can be debated, but my concern is what it does to the church when the church mirrors the world.

When consumerism seeps into religious life, the church becomes a vendor of goods and services, clergy become shopkeepers, and congregants (or potential ones) become patrons with purchasing power.

When consumerism seeps into religious life, the church becomes a vendor of goods and services, clergy become shopkeepers, and congregants (or potential ones) become patrons with purchasing power. The mission of the church is reduced to pleasing people for the sake of keeping members and gaining more.

When consumerism guides churches, we send the wrong message to our congregation and heighten the consumer mentality. Instead of shaping self-emptying disciples who follow the crucified Christ, we inadvertently encourage people to be customers who focus on self-satisfaction. In other words, Christlike and consumer are mutually exclusive terms. Keep in mind that the first instance of sin was an act of self-focused consumption. As Christian culture wanes in the West, the temptation for clergy and churches is to cave to the pressure and give the people what they want as consumers. After all, there is a bigger box-store church down the road that is willing to satisfy consumers on their terms if we don’t.

I often tell my church, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying.” Evangelism is essential to gospel work. We have good news to share, and we must share it. The gospel is attractive and relevant because it is the good news of God’s salvation for all people. It is not attractive or relevant because of our attempts to make it so. In fact, many people see through such efforts and are turned off. Real is the new relevant. Nothing makes a church more attractive than God’s holy love being lived out in our lives. The best way forward for the church in a consumeristic culture is to be counter-cultural, letting the gospel be the life-giving, world-changing, hope-inducing good news it is.

Rather than playing the role of consumer, we are called to consecrate ourselves to the God who consumes us for His purposes. Another way of describing being filled with the Spirit is being consumed by the Spirit. When lives are surrendered entirely into the hands of a Holy God, our identity is no longer determined by what we have, what we desire, or by the size of our barns. Instead, our identity is re-rooted in our vocation as God’s image-bearers in this world. Our lives take the shape of the self-emptying Jesus rather than the self-gratifying consumer.

May the love of the Father have us, the wisdom of the Son enlighten us, and the fire of the Spirit inflame us that we might be consumed by God now and evermore. Amen.

Rev. Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.