We are drowning in a culture of consumerism. What can Brown do for you is the motto for everything. If you don't get good service, complain and it will be fixed otherwise you go somewhere else. As the customer, I am always right. I deserve to be helped. What's in it for me?
I really don't believe people (me included) are trying to be selfish. In fact, if you were to try and point out to someone their self-centered nature they could probably give you a list of all the things they have done for others lately. (the fact that we keep those lists at the front of our minds probably says something about our attitude toward being servants) But we are surrounded by messages that tell us we deserve more; we deserve better. Car commercials show us the luxury car that will meet all of our comfort needs while raising our standing in society. Investment firms remind us of how much they can make our money grow so that we can afford the bigger and better. We build houses where everyone has their own room with their own space and their own entertainment so that we can get what we want when we want with no sacrifice or compromise. It is all about us and most of the time we don't even realize we are thinking it.
This leads to a dilemma for the church and for pastors of churches. Denominational leaders, church boards, congregational lay leader, as well as pastors themselves are driven by numbers. How many people are we getting into the building? How many people are being converted? Or would the better phrase be, "How many people are buying Jesus?" We don't talk to each other about it in these terms but we are really marketing and selling the Savior of the world. The One who created all that we see is now being sold like a product. The worst part...I don't think we realize we are doing it.
I have heard sermons lately, from people who I know love God and have a heart for seeing people know Jesus, presenting the gospel in a way that puts the emphasis on the benefits to us. This used to show itself in convincing people that heaven is great and hell is bad so you should get to know Jesus who can give you heaven and keep you out of hell. It seems to have transformed into a multi-step program about how Jesus can make our lives better.
- If we are faithful, God will bless us. This approach rarely defines blessing in a very helpful way and it usually leaves open serious pain and questions when bad things happen to "good" people.
- Do the "right" things and God will make you prosperous. But what about dedicated Jesus followers in third world countries who have nothing?
- Follow Jesus and things will work out for you in the end. Our implication of "end" is generally not an eschatological one. It is usually pointed toward the end of this particular difficult circumstance in which I find myself.
I'm not just talking about "hard-core name-it-and-claim-it" preaching. We are hearing this in evangelical churches whose intentions are not bad. They may just be a little misdirected. We are selling people a Jesus who solves their problems and makes their lives more comfortable. I hope we aren't misrepresenting the message of our crucified LORD.
So here is the question. How do we redirect the tide? How do we begin to help each other see the blinders society has placed on us? In our cities there are churches on every street corner and if we begin to challenge the powers (dare I say idols?) of comfort, pleasure, and self-satisfaction people are going to begin to go to those other churches. How do we move people to a new way of thinking without moving them to another church that isn't challenging the comfort of our day?
God, give us undivided hearts directed toward you. Help us to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Your mission for saving the world. Forgive us for our self-centered attitudes and grant us the grace to walk humbly, justly, and with the mercy You have shown to us.