I’ve been thinking often lately about the materialism which seems to pervade every aspect of our North American society, and more often, about the materialism and consumerism that has spread to the church as well. I guess this thinking began a few years ago when the people from Gospel for Asia came to my church at home, and I first came to read K.P. Yohanen’s Revolution in World Missions. He talks about many things—which I could discuss at length—but one of these was the mass consumerism of the North American Church, which he found quite appalling. His description, which is so heart breakingly accurate, has really stuck in my mind and, I think, helped me to turn in a better direction in my own walk.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that much of the time, in many of the churches I have attended, the focus seems to be wrongfully placed. There is a "need" for new technologies—like LCD projectors, expensive sound systems, big screens for videos of what’s happening during the service. A "need" for more expensive productions and programs which impress and entertain, and admittedly, bring people into the Church—but is it for the right reasons? I tend to think, at times, it isn’t. Even the best of us have, at some point, succumbed to the need for material things and the need to bring people into the "church" as a building, not necessarily as the body of believers.
I think we need to shy away from the bright and flashy showman’s gospel and get back to the grassroots movement modeled so perfectly in the New Testament. This is not to say that there is a lack of people within North American churches who truly have a heart for God and for ministry and evangelism; there are many who are passionate and sincere in their faith. I think, though, that a radical paradigm shift is necessary in order to save the soul of the Western Church.
Even in everyday life, there is a seeming urge to buy, to accumulate stuff. I don’t have a problem with Christian literature or Christian music at all. In fact I enjoy it, but it seems that many Christian bookstores sell things that are so completely unnecessary, yet still have the "Christian" tag attached to them. Trinkets and odds and ends that are directed at the Christian "mass market". What drives this need to buy and to consume? I don’t think it’s of God. I find it really disappointing, and at times, am even a bit disgusted by it all.
I don’t necessarily know what the answer to this situation is exactly, although I am inclined to say that we all need a bit of a reality check in terms of what is really important. Are PowerPoint worship presentations and fancy technology and the latest Christian-marketed material possessions enriching our faith the way we think they are? I personally don’t think so. I think that there is a need to return to simplicity. I remember when I was in Europe, I attended a few different Evangelical services. These were held in rented rooms in warehouses or other buildings, and were, compared to what I’ve been used to in Canada, very simple and scant in terms of bells and whistles, but people were still drawn in, and God was working mightily. This, in a country with a much wealthier population, a much higher standard of living than even we are used to, yet they thrived in simplicity when we long for clutter.
What I have to wonder is, if we, as a Church, trust God to work and bring people to Him, or if we feel like we have to "help" by providing all these material possessions (which in the end are meaningless, the money spent on them might be better spent on improving the community, providing food for hungry, support for ministers and overseas missionaries). In the rest of the world, which is, for the most part, too poor to spend money on all these expensive frills which we deem essential, the Church is growing—because it is trusting God to work in His way, not the way of the "world", as opposed to focusing on the material, the entertainment or “show” value of the Gospel.
I guess I just feel like many American Christians are succumbing to the material, consumer-driven ways of the society around us and are forgetting the beauty of simplicity—to use the money that we might have spent on the latest CD or DVD from a Christian artist and give it to the food bank, use it to buy supper for the person you see out on the street or as a monthly payment to sponsor a missionary.
We are richly blessed, so that we can bless others, not so we can disappear into the tempting snare of consumerism and obsession with worldly wealth and possessions.
It’s time to start giving back.