Thursday, August 14, 2008

What about consumption?

At some point in the years after WWII our economies changed. The western world evolved into consumer economies. You are a consumer. I am a consumer. We have even designed our systems to measure your level of consumption. In fact from the point of view of a nation's economy, the more you consume the more useful you are, even if you acquire massive debt in the process. The only point where this becomes problematic is when you can't pay and default on your debts, because someone has to pay. Someone ALWAYS has to pay.

I'm not sure I'm happy with being defined as a consumer. I'm not sure I want to be measured by the strength of my appetites, be it for food, books, music, entertainment, travel or whatever. That doesn't seem to fit within my biblical calling to be a steward, to be a follower, to be a worshipper or virtual any description of a Christian that I can think of.

There are plenty of problems that come from being consumers, not least the challenge of personal debt and the increased pressure it places on the environment. Because we consume, we rarely keep, we're always looking for a replacement, we need MORE.

But we're never satisfied by the new TV, the car we drive, the phone we carry, the clothes we wear. In fact you're not supposed to be. If your dream was actually attainable then you'd stop consuming and that would be a problem. No, they want you coming back again and again and again for what is new.

But this mindset is a bit viral, it spreads beyond the wallet to relationships, family, character, work, society and so on. It undermines our satisfaction with ourselves, our lives, our partners and virtually everything. It's not that we can't be happy, but that we can't be content. You do a word study to find the one the Bible encourages us to be.

There are problems with a consumer mindset for the church, because we measure church by how much it satisfies us, rather than how satisfied God is with us or even how satisfied in God we are. We start to measure churches in unbiblical ways - comfort of chairs, quality of sound, entertaining preaches, quality children's programmes and quality coffee. I wonder how the church of Jerusalem or Antioch or Ephesus measured up under those criteria?

Instead, Jesus calls me to define myself by my service to God and to others and not my service to myself. To consider others first, to seek first not my own appetities and desires but the kingdom of God. It's pretty rare that I go shopping with the kingdom of God on my list. Jesus challenges me to find my satisfaction elsewhere, we don't live on bread alone right?

For more read a great article by my friend Mark Powley here at Breathe


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great, thought provoking post post. Especially the point on 'consumer minded church'.
It's amazing how pervasive societies views can become and I can find myself swayed without even realising it.

Anonymous said...

I have found this quote particularly helpful/challenging at the moment:

It is not because food, clothes, wealth, and property are inherently evil that Christians today must lower their standard of living. It is because others are starving

Ronald Sider

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