I find myself often reflecting on the life of our Western Churches and around our home it isn’t uncommon to hear conversations about theology, church life and culture. One of my favorite documentaries about Christian life includes footage of Chinese believers worshiping. It looked nothing like the churches I have called home. The film was a few decades old, silent and showed a multitude of Chinese believers packed into a dark space and moving in worship. So many faces looked like the Spirit was aflame in their hearts. There weren’t bands, buildings or childcare. They were simply and wholly present. When I contrast this image from what I have experienced in the churches I have attended, it’s very different. The churches and by association, culture I grew up in was one of Christian fiction, movies, music, and more. My whole life was framed as Christian by all the things around me. I have realized that in the West we are very much products of the world we live in and that my faith tradition has been wholly embraced (dare I say stolen?) by a system designed to sell me anything.
I think many of us have forgotten what it means to be a church in community because (some of) our Western and American churches have become products of a consumer driven world, selling a consumer based faith. All of this strips the beauty of the early church – people together, living, breathing, and sharing. Sharing life and sharing the Gospel into the wide world. Instead we find ourselves saying, “I just didn’t get anything from the worship.” or “I wish they had more events.” We have been conditioned to believe that church only exists to serve us. There isn’t anything wrong about loving and caring for ourselves – we surely should, but when sermons, worship, and faith-based “extra-curricular” become about only the self or catering to our Christian bubble lifestyle, we miss the whole point of what it means to be Christ-Like.
There is an abundance of Christian lifestyle products to tell us that incorporating these things into our lives will draw us close to God. If we can just “feel” more spiritual and “act” more spiritual we will “be” more spiritual. To what end does making ourselves “feel” or “be” more spiritual invite God to be a part of the spiritual life, if a check list of things is doing the job for us? No one has to curate their life to be loved by God. This is not to say that we cannot pursue a life of spiritual discipline, but rather that our spiritual disciplines are informed by God and not a consumer based world. As my husband likes to say it “…spiritual disciplines exist not only so that we can be transformed, but so that we can be transformers.”
Church, which is home to radical love, often becomes just another place to socialize, make ourselves feel good, and carefully curate a snapshot of our lives and worth. We have done this, naively, I think, in the hopes of becoming more relevant and attractive to a world that has also been conditioned to consume.
Many of us thought that if churches could just be more appealing we wouldn’t decline and we’d be able to compete with all the other things that claim someone’s attention. Perhaps some of us thought it was our best bet in a consumer focused world. We traded the Gospel for a Theology of Christian Lifestyle.
I believe people are hungry for the authentic, and the authentic isn’t found in a perfectly purchased world; it’s found in the vulnerable upside down world of God’s Kingdom. If we are to be as counter-culture as we say we are we have to be willing to live outside a consumer based faith. Instead we can celebrate the richness and fullness of a spiritual life that has been given and not bought.