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We Didn’t Love Consumers

December 9, 2013 — 3 Comments

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Recently I had the honor of speaking at the Verge conference in Chicago and I though I would share it as a series on the blog here.  Over the last 7 years, we have been in the process of transitioning to missional communities, and we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way.

The title of this blog series is “3 Ways to Kill a Missional Culture” (click the link for an eBook format), and it will cover the three largest mistakes we made in transitioning.

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We Didn’t Love Consumers

So to this point, we’d committed two cardinal sins – we assumed the gospel, we cast vision without practices.

But what about the final group of people we had…that 30% who stuck their heads in the sand when we cast vision for missional communities?

We learned our third lesson – we didn’t love consumers.

To be honest, it’s discouraging when people don’t want to be obedient to Jesus.  I think I spent a lot of time agonizing over that 30% – what do we do with them, how do we convince them, should we kill those kinds of groups?  You can only hear a request for another bible study or another “fellowship group” so many times before you want to jump off a bridge.

So we didn’t cater to those consumers.  As I think most of us know, catering to every person’s desires will kill a missional culture.  But here is what we didn’t realize: unreasonable expectations of people steeped in consumerism will kill a missional culture as well.

Ephesians is such a helpful book because Paul is centered on the gospel at the beginning, gets quite practical through the middle, then circles back around at the end to something very important. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul says this:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Our enemy isn’t flesh and blood. It is the powers and principalities of Satan.  The enemy has entrapped our church and our culture with the insidious evil of consumerism.  We have bought the lie that we are what we can get.

But I made a mistake – I thought my enemy was consumers, not consumerism.  I started to fight consumers, who are people created in the image of God, rather than the evil of consumerism.

A Failed Training

Here’s a quick story about how we failed in this area.

Early on in the transition, we also wanted to create a sort of Navy SEALS program to find some high capacity MC leaders. So we decided to recruit for a class that was going to be super hardcore.  This was going to be the place of setting a high bar for discipleship, and we were going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the people who signed up.  We had about 50 people join us in this experiment.

The first week, we stood up and gave some guidelines.  After casting vision for the class, teaching the Bible for a while, and letting the students process, we gave them their homework – you need to share the gospel with 3 people this week.

But here was the catch – don’t come back to the class if you don’t.  Hardcore, right?

We waited and wondered that week at how many would show. Half? A quarter?

Unfortunately only 3 people came back the following week. It was a good ol’ fashioned Scottish revival.  This new training program started with a bang, but ended with a fizzle.

To be candid about our heart, we self-righteously thought those people who quit were pretty much losers.  They couldn’t hack the missional life.  They couldn’t even share the gospel three times in a week.

To our shame, we didn’t love the individuals. We just wanted what they could produce.

As leaders, we tried to force people to ”come and die”, and when they couldn’t live up to the expectations, we wrote them off and moved on.  Can I be honest with you?  We hurt a lot of people that way.  Some of those people were amazing, and now they’re doing great things in the kingdom.

In our attempts to avoid catering to consumerism, we forgot to love consumers.

Consumers vs. Consumerism

Consumerism gave me a name for the enemy, but it was a gateway to self-righteously judging that 30% of people.

God is kind however to remind me of the speck in my own eye.

How can I stand in judgment and frustration over these people when in so many ways I am enslaved to the same sinful patterns?  Sure, I’ve had some victory as it pertains to church, but if I’m honest, it’s a daily battle against the powers and principalities of consumerism and I still fail.

The doctrine of consumerism is everywhere, the system of consumerism infects all our institutions, and is so ingrained in our patterns of thinking we can hardly see it.  The reality of our culture is that everyone is a consumer.  I know I am.  I’ll bet you are.

Whether we want to or not, we swim in an ocean of consumption, and can’t help but drown in it.

I think we do a great disservice to the church and to our Savior when we throw “consumers” under the bus.  These are people whom God created in His image, who have rebelled against Him, and yet share our confession of the salvation and Lordship of Christ.  Yes, we have the responsibility to challenge and confront their sin, but we cannot stand in self-righteous judgment!

I think our tone in teaching subtly started to attack people, and it actually hurt the bride of Christ. The unintended consequence of our critique was that people felt belittled, judged and ultimately unworthy of the gospel to our shame.

You can kill missional culture by catering to consumerism, but we must fight to love consumers by the power of the Spirit.

Don’t cater to consumerism, but love consumers.  They need the gospel as much as anyone.

Two Ways to Fight

So here’s two ways we learned to fight:

  • Pray for consumers
  • Confront consumerism with ministry systems that expect change

Prayer will give you an affection for your people and help you not treat them like objects.

Also, I would exhort you to build ministry in your church that challenges consumerism.  Your systems must challenge the predominant actions where they aren’t consistent with the gospel.  For us, when we think about discipleship, that means meeting people where they are, and taking them where Jesus wants them to go.  So we have articulated our discipleship process this way:

We are taking consumers and helping them become missionaries.

Almost everything we do attempts to love people where they are, but gently and firmly challenge them to take a next step of obedience.  We don’t lower the bar of discipleship, but we have realistic expectations now of how people change in a consumer culture.

Responses

The most freeing truth for me, as a leader in consumer culture, is that Jesus died for consumers so I don’t have to.  When you’re leading consumers, remember the truth of the gospel:

Jesus died for consumers so we can be patient with them, but Jesus also rose in victory over consumerism so we can be free from it.

What mistakes have you made with respect to loving people and consumerism? 

From Kevin DeYoung’s post On Mission, Changing the World, and Not Being Able to Do It All:

Maybe it’s because I’m Type A or left brained or a beaver or an ESTJ or a good pastor or a people-pleasing sinner, but I often feel like I could, perhaps should, be doing more. I could do more evangelism. I could pray more. I could invite people over for dinner more. Because of this tendency I actually prefer the “do not” commands of Scripture. “Do not commit adultery”–that’s tough if you take the whole lust thing into account. Obeying this command requires prayer, accountability, repentance, and grace. But it doesn’t require me to start a non-profit or spend another evening away from my family. I just (just!) need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, die to myself and live to Christ.

Not committing adultery is, of course, easier said than done, but the command doesn’t overwhelm me. Changing the world, doing something about the global AIDS crisis, tackling homelessness–those things overwhelm me. What can I do? Where do I start? How will I find the time? I have four small kids, a full-time job, I give much more than 10% away to Christian causes, I try to share Jesus with my neighbors, I pray with my kids before bed, I’m trying to be a better husband. So is it possible, just possible, that God is not asking me to do anything about sex trafficking right now?

Before you think I’m a total nut-job and scream “physician heal thyself”, let me hasten to add: I do understand the gospel. I know that all this talk of what I should be doing or could be doing is not healthy. I know that. And I’m really doing fine. I’m not on the verge of burnout or breakdown or anything like that. Most days I don’t feel guilty about all the stuff I’m not doing. But that’s only because I’ve learned to ignore a lot of things well-meaning Christians say or write. I’m only 32 and already I’m worn out by urgent calls to transform the culture or rid the world of hunger or usher in an age or world peace. I’m not a cynic, at least I hope not. I just realize there is only so much I can do. I also realize that right now that my main work is to lead my family, shepherd my church, and preach faithful sermons. If I do these things, by God’s grace, and grow in one more degree of glory this week (again, by God’s grace), should I still feel guilty for all that I’m not doing in the world?

This deeply ministered to me today…please read the whole article, especially you who are prone to taking the weight of the world on your shoulders!

I wanted to take a quick timeout and say thanks for reading this blog!

I’d encourage you, if you haven’t already, to subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email.

If you have no idea what an RSS feed is, you can find more here.  If you’re looking for a good feed reader, I recommend Google Reader.

We will now return to your regularly scheduled program…

mobile blogging

December 10, 2008 — Leave a comment

i just found wordpress mobile…blogging from my phone should be fun.

This blog is to put on (digital) paper some of the things that rattle around in my mind.  OTown does a great job of keeping people up to date on the happenings of our family here, so I’m going to focus this blog on thoughts about my ministry.