Consumers or Christians…

Posted by on Sep 7, 2018 in Blog | 6 comments

It has become common to talk about consumer Christianity. You see it everywhere.

The new family at the church makes it clear that they want to test things out first – after all it may or may not be a good fit for the family, and there are lots of needs to take into account. Is the youth group friendly enough, the children’s ministry sufficiently accomodating, the preaching inspiring enough, and the music to everyone’s taste? If each box gets a bold tick, they might attend… well, attend on those weekends they are not away at their holiday cottage.

New churches trying to decide if they will join a particular denomination or movement of churches often don’t focus on the denominations distinctives but on the value proposition offered by the group’s headquarters. Christian schools trying to decide if they will join an association of Christian schools are usually as anxious to find out what’s in it for them if they sign up, and if they will get a good return on the fees they are required to pay.

I’ve been principal of a theological college for 15 years, and a change I have noticed is that students now often unashamedly ask you to delineate in what ways you are better than what they describe as your opposition. One prospective student sat in my office and told me that he had interviews set up with four theological colleges, and after they were completed, he would make his decision. He added that I needed to give him my best pitch, as mine was not the only voice he would hear. I appreciated his honesty, though rated him poorly when it came to tact.

It’s guess it’s natural enough. Bombarded as we are by an endless stream of competitive advertising, we are sensitised to the differing value of products. Some offer good value for money, others are a waste of time. Who wants to buy a dud, and given that for most people time and money are in short supply, we are anxious lest we waste either.

Up to a point this line of thinking is fair enough, and I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that we should lack discernment when we decide which church to attend, charity to donate to, college to enrol at or whatever. I am wary of churches or Christian institutions who refuse to challenge second class standards and trade on the Christian goodwill of those who support them, without asking if they are being good stewards of the ministry God has entrusted to them. Ministry matters far too much to turn a blind eye to shoddy work and indifferent performance.

There is however a serious problem if we passively accept consumer Christianity as a new normal. While there are many good reasons to become a follower of Jesus, let’s not forget that Jesus advised it included carrying a cross, that those who wanted to be first would be last, that those who sought to find their lives would lose them, and that it is only if we first seek the Kingdom of God that we can be assured that our other needs will be looked after.

Actually, for those who follow Jesus the question is never, “what’s in it for me?” Rather we need to ask the more penetrating question, “will this path see me being of the greatest use to God’s work in the world?” While personal preferences have a place in this, they don’t belong as the opening gambit, and might fit relatively far down the list. It could be that the struggle experienced by the local church youth group is not the reason I should abandon that church, but the very reason I should sign up to it. The deficits we so quickly note in the organisations we evaluate might have our name written alongside them. We might be called to help solve the problem we have detected – or at least be a part of the solution.

Many years ago St Francis penned his wonderful prayer, “Instrument of your peace.” It contains the haunting reminder that it is in giving that we receive and in dying, that we are born to life everlasting. It was a prayer I heard often during my youth, and it was set to a variety of tunes. I don’t mind if the tune is changed, but I do hope it finds its way into our singing and prayer life again. What might it mean for the witness of the church in the world if each Christ follower starting each day with the plea, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

As always, nice chatting…


  1. “I don’t mind if the tune changes.”

    You’re a good egg, Brian Harris.

    • I also don’t mind if it doesn’t change.

      • Me either. I like the old stuff. 🙂

  2. Brian, I love reading your blogs, you have the mind of Christ and put it down just right! Thank you. Looking forward to your Sunday message at Lakelands. Cheers, Shelly.

    • Thanks Shelly. I’m looking forward to being at Lakelands.

  3. I had to google it. Thanks, I can appreciate the authors words.
    In regards to a church other than fundamental and doctrinal aspects of church, it can be discovered quickly. But you are correct, church was not meant to be ‘what i can get’, but what can i give in support to my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Sadly yes some flow in and out without making roots, so maybe that also is the church’s responsibility.
    Galatians 6:2 bearing one anothers burdens, and
    Galatians 6:9,10 do not grow weary of doing good… especially to those who are in the household of faith.
    Thankyou Brian for your words. I stumbled across your warm recognisable face.

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