There has been a lot of consumerist Christian discussion in the blog world these past few weeks. (Interesting as Black Friday approaches for our cousins to the south.) Grace’s post is particularly worth reading (including the comments).
Dave Fitch’s post discussed the REVEAL reality of consumer culture in the North American church last week and got some push back both offline and online. Fitch points to this in the Hybels video that accompanies the book,
In the words of Bill Hybels (in the video), we need to provide coaching, “customized personal spiritual growth plans.” As “you go to a health club and you get a personal trainer to figure out how to care for your health we need to provide coaches for personal spiritual growth.” Here the language might have changed, but the strategy remains the same. We’ve seen the problem, let’s provide a program to meet the individual (customized) need. Here the Christian life is seen as a personal individualist pursuit for some goods that are frankly seen as self-beneficial. Spiritual growth has now become a goal in itself.
If Willow creek follows this course, I predict it will be spending more money on why the mature Christians are leaving their church in another ten years. Because Christian growth has everything to do with community. It cannot be achieved independently of the spiritual disciplines within community including, confession, truth speaking in love, worship, working our one’s salvation in fear and trembling and above all prayer. None of these practices can be personalized. [emphasis and paragraph break added]
North American Christianity is hardly about community. At it’s most perverse its about me living my “Best Life Now.” Whether the focus is my health, wealth & prosperity or my personal salvation, the NAChurch markets its goods and services to me, the almighty individual.
This was brought home to me on Sunday (attending the same church two weekends in a row) when we sang Above All with this chorus;
Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
That’s right friends and neighbors! When Jesus died on the cross He was thinking about me above all! Me! Me! Me! Not us. Not the Kingdom – but me! What complete and utter nonsense. How can you build community in a culture that is focused on the individual? Well. Maybe there’s a conference or seminar you can go to, to find out.
Here’s what you get if you sign up for Willow Creek’s one-day seminar, REVEAL on the Road available for $79 for WCA members and $119 for non-members. Operators are standing by.
Led by Greg Hawkins, Executive Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, this information-packed gathering will help your church:
– Discover four descriptions that characterize individuals on the spiritual growth journey.
– Learn more about what people are looking for and what helps them in their spiritual growth through insights about church activity and spiritual practices.
– Explore best practices from some of the churches surveyed.
– Process with tools provided to include REVEAL learnings in your church’s strategic planning process.
Perhaps WC could have called it the “We Screwed Up Royally When We Sold You All That Other Consumeristic Church Growth Crap and We Want to Apologize Tour“. And then offered to pay back all the money people had spent on previous WC conferences and seminars. Instead you get to find four descriptions that characterize individuals whilst learning what people are looking for, exploring best practices and processing with tools. (I’m hoping for another DeWalt Reciprocating Saw if I go. You can never have too many power tools.)
Let me quote Fitch again in his reaction to Willows desire to market more effective individualistic spiritual growth,
…this kind of spiritual formation occurs only in and through participation in Mission, the journeying together as a people infiltrating and witnessing to the life and ministry of Christ incarnationally in the world. “Personal spiritual growth plans” sounds way too individualized to avoid becoming another form of self-indulgence. True spiritual growth takes on the suffering and hurting and lostness of the world in the ministry of salvation. One cannot undergo such a journey if its goal is personal spiritual growth versus the Mission of God.
Eph 4 is a lesson on spiritual growth. It happens within the formation of the Body of Christ. Here the organic “Body” of Christ works for the edification of our spiritual growth “until we all grow to the full stature of Christ”(Eph 4:13 read the whole chapter). Spiritual growth cannot happen as a “self feeder,” it is the outworking of the Body of Christ as we participate in His Mission. The solution proposed here is disastrous for not only the spiritual growth of Willow creekers but for the furtherance of the Mission of Christ.
Friends, it’s not about me. And. It’s not about you. No matter what Christian bumper sticker theology you may have bought into. It is about us picking up our crosses and following Jesus into the world He’s called us to serve. And how do you market that?
UPDATE: Or, if you want to read what I see as a polar opposite take on what I’m saying here – read this. And let me quote:
Volunteers are volunteering because they get something in return. It may sound selfish, but it’s just the way we’re wired. Whether it be satisfaction, a free meal, kudos, recognition, promotion or just plain smiles, the concept of reciprocity is alive and well. Don’t forget this because when you know what the volunteer is looking for, you can better help them to obtain it. [emphasis added]
Since. After all. It’s all about me. I’d best stop here before I use a word that will get me in a lot of trouble with Imbi.