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A Hidden Barrier to Mission and Discipleship

By Todd EngstromTodd

 

 

What is consumerism?

 

Consumers, simply speaking, are people who purchase goods and services to meet a perceived need. In the most basic of forms, consumption is necessary to human existence. Each and every one of us is a consumer of something. But what happens when consumption goes from necessity to pleasure, from provision to identity?


Consumerism.


Our American economic ingenuity produced an unfortunate result: We now define ourselves by what we buy. What formerly met a basic need has become an identity, the lens through which we see the world. We, the people, exist to form a more perfect, tailor-made life. Food becomes a means of comfort. Clothing becomes a status symbol. Shelter becomes a palace of entertainment.


Yet we're still miserable.


The church is no safe haven. Consumerism is most often on display in those environments we attempt to create for "community." The sales pitch often goes like this: "Come join a group - we have one for YOU! Are you an empty nester? Check! Newly married? Check! A right-handed, blond-haired Francophile? Check! Check! Check!"


I wonder if this is what Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, had in mind when he penned Ephesians 2:


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV


In the death and resurrection of Christ, enemies become brothers. The power of the gospel and the Word of God are sufficient to unite bitter, millennia-old enemies. We have a new identity "in Christ Jesus," which bonds us together more deeply than our relationship to our earthly family. Yet, for us, we get angry when someone brings generic brand tortilla chips to our community gathering.


I wonder if that kind of "community" is what the Lord revealed to John:


After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 
Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

The gospel will create a redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Swedes, Iraqis, Chinese, Nigerians, Afghanis and many more will surround the throne. Yet, for us, we're uncomfortable when someone new shows up at the door.

Shouldn't our communities, at bare minimum, reflect some different kinds of people?

Not to oversimplify, but the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. Step one is realizing we have a problem: a desire to satiate our appetite for selfish benefit. We must fight that desire and beg God to help us seek the welfare of others. What if we ditch expecting to have "our needs met" in community and embrace an expectation of blessing our brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have a hunch that we'd look a lot more like this:


What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 
1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV


And this:


And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 ESV

As a new kind of people, defined by God's Word and empowered by His Spirit to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, we are no longer consumers. Our Word-centered, gospel-centered community is built on sacrificially meeting the needs of others - love one another, honor one another, bear one another's burdens, teach and admonish one another.


A biblical community consumes the Word of God and contributes that precious Word to the lives of one another.

What if we aimed for contribution, not consumption?

 


This post was written for the Creature of the Word Church Campaign. To join or learn more about the campaign, visit Creatureoftheword.com the Creature of the Word Facebook page.

 

 

 

About the Author 

 

Todd is Executive Pastor of campuses and communities at The Austin Stone Community Church and Director of church planting for The Austin Stone Institute. He is a speaker, writer and consultant for the Verge Network. Todd and his amazing wife (Olivia) have three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline).

 

 

A Word From James

 

As I write my response to Todd's invitation from a hotel in Beijing, two things hit me. First, ouch! He is right on target with me/us. Second, Todd is addressing a global tendency not an American temptation. The church in China, or anywhere, is just as prone to this barrier to mission and discipleship. In the glow of Christ's empty tomb, may we keep the priorities of Jesus as we live and serve and consume.  Is there some way FollowOne can help you, your children and your church use the blessings of God to serve lost and hurting people in the love of Jesus?

 

 

 

 

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