Christian Consumerism, COVID-19, and Discipleship

Christian content is more widely available now than it was before the COVID-19 virus infiltrated our world. I rejoice that so many are hearing the Gospel for the first time through social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and others. In this post, we will consider the problem of passively consuming Christian content and doing nothing with one’s faith, otherwise known as Christian consumerism. The post will conclude with an encouragement for readers to consider what it means to be the church or to live on mission.

Consumerism has been defined as “The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.” Therefore, Christian consumerism as used here will refer to the preoccupation of believers acquiring Christian content, such as podcasts, sermons, and even Christian books. It is expected that the follower of Jesus will want to get his hands on as many tools to grow as a disciple as possible. It is a wonderful thing to listen to sermons, podcasts and read enriching books. Even so, I fear that in these days of digital-only church we church leaders might be fueling Christian consumerism.

I want to be clear about what I am saying and what I am not. I have uploaded my sermons for the congregation I serve each week during the stay at home regulation. I wanted the congregation to encounter the Lord through the preached word. I think we should use whatever means at our disposal to get the Gospel to people. One of the benefits of the online church is that many who may never enter our church buildings are hearing the Gospel for the first time. My prayer is that those who do hear the Gospel for the first time will respond in repentance and faith. I think Christians should use whatever medium possible to communicate the Gospel.

As a Christian minister, I have concerns about the long-term consumption of Christian content without active engagement. My concern centers around the mission of the church. The mission of a truly Christian church is to make disciples, regardless of the language used in a congregation’s mission statement. Jesus gave the church her marching orders in the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-20) Leaders are being forced to consider what it means to make disciples when no one can gather publicly. Leaders are forced to evaluate every ministry commitment of the local church. Maybe some new ministries will arise out of this pandemic crisis.

The problem with Christian consumerism is that it fosters passiveness and laziness. Pastors often hear “Great job preacher” at the end of their messages yet communities remain largely unchanged. Our communities remain unchanged for at least two reasons: 1. Individuals have not been transformed by the Gospel (We do not expect those outside of Christ to live like Christians.), and 2. The American church has failed to reproduce itself ineffective disciple-making ministries. Let’s consider the second statement.

Disciples of Jesus organically reproduce themselves in other disciples. Payne and Marshall make a poignant observation in The Trellis and The Vine. “Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus.” [1]  In the Old Testament times, the home was the primary discipleship center. Deuteronomy 6:4-6 articulates the role of parents in raising their children in the ways of the Lord. By New Testament times it was common for Jewish men to sit under a rabbi as a disciple or apprentice and learn. The basic definition of a disciple is a learner. A Christian disciple is a follower of Jesus who seeks to think and live in the way of his master. The idea of multiplication is not a new concept. One of the clearest examples of reproducible discipleship is noticed in the relationship of Paul and Timothy.

That discipleship relationship is depicted in 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (NASB)

Paul recognized that Biblical discipleship is discipleship that multiplies or reproduces. Living things reproduce on both a biological and a spiritual level. Dead organisms (and churches) do not reproduce. They sail into the sunset.

Most of my readers probably agree that the American church, if it does not change course, is on the path to death. There was a generation of people that attended church because that was expected by parents and grandparents. Most of that generation are nearing the final chapters of their lives. Some also previously attended church because they did not have anything else to do. Those days are behind us. We can either lament living in a post-Christian culture or we can engage the culture with the Gospel. Here’s my point: Church attendance alone is not obedience to the Great Commission. We can still actively live out our mission and intentionally make disciples, even during these strange times we live. Although our small groups or d-groups cannot meet in person, they can meet online through online services like Google Meet or Hangouts, Facebook Video Messenger, Zoom, or Skype.

During this time of social isolation, consider the way you consume Christian content. Keep watching the sermons. Keep listening to worship music. Find creative ways to reproduce your faith in the life of another. When you can return to church, ask your pastor about ways to get involved. Jesus is actively seeking disciples who make disciples. Don’t allow American Christian consumerism to kill your faith.

The church is the living body of Christ. Never forget that Jesus’ mission continues through the church. The church is the visible community of the redeemed. My favorite pastor in history, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, expressed described the church in this way, “Since Pentecost Jesus Christ lives here on earth in the form of his body, the church community.” [2] Redeemed people reproduce their lives and faith in others. Don’t merely consume Christian content. Apply Christian teaching to your life. Invite radical transformation from the Holy Spirit.

To my readers, I am conducting a personal research project on the nature, existence, function, and purpose of the church. Look for more on that in a later post. This COVID-19 pandemic has me thinking about what kinds of things need to stay the same and what needs to change in the local church. 

[1] Collin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything, (Matthias Media: Youngstown, OH, 2009), 14.

 [2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN, 2015), 196.

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