As I finish typing this post, some of the finest young men I know are lining up for a cross country track meet. They have put in hours of practice, arranged their schedule to perform the best they can, and they are ready. Hearing their mile times, encouraged me to start running again to get in better shape. While I fully intend to cheer them on at their races, I cannot get in better shape by being a consumer of running, I have to actually participate. I have to put on good shoes and get out there, and go running. Likewise, in our faith, while it may be easier to sit in the stands and watch Christianity play out around us, the real joy and real calling is not to consume, but to participate.
The western church is facing a crossroads, attempting to discern its identity amidst a changing cultural milieu. With a growing number of people questioning faith, beliefs and the very nature of truth, people are seeking to ensure that the Gospel is appealing and attractive and the Gospel can be watered down to “not offend” or make people uncomfortable and leave. The tension is growing whether the church will entertain the people into membership or whether the church will empower and equip the people to go out and serve. As those who seek to be disciples, or followers, of Christ, we are called to be participants in our faith, not merely consumers.
The allure of “consumeristic faith” is strong simply because it feeds our own personal ego. It promotes a belief system where we are the subject of our faith. We believe that the church must provide for all of our needs. It must be the exclusive means of feeding us that requires no preparation on our part. The music should meet my personal preference and as I praise God, I must feel Him for it to be a legitimate worship session. Feelings serve as the litmus test for the legitimacy of our faith expression as everything is turned inward.
Yet, it also has a subtlety to it that permeates through every part. We may go on a missions trip, but we do so hoping to “get something out of it” rather than seeking to advance the kingdom of heaven. We worship God in hopes of hearing from Him, instead of simply praising Him for who He is. Even when we should be serving, our faith is morphed to still be self-serving. A consumeristic faith is one that seeks only what the church and what God can do for them as we sit about passively, never truly engaging in the life that God designed for us. Jesus never stood for this type of faith. In fact, his modeling and instruction showed us the opposite.
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
– Matthew 20:26-28
Having a consumeristic faith was never the ideal expression of our faith. Consumeristic faith may feed our narcissistic flesh, but it is this same flesh that is paving a gentle, comforting path to our destruction. As God calls us to put to death our fleshly desire (Romans 8:13) we come alive to the Spirit of God in us that serves. Our faith cannot be relegated to having a “spiritual” (read as emotional) encounter on a Sunday morning but is designed to be expressed through every avenue of our life.
We have the distinguished honor and privilege of moving beyond the pews and into the world. As we are touched by the hand of God, that same hand works through us in the lives of others. When we encounter unbelievers, we do not have to take them to church so pastor can bring them to Jesus. Instead, we can simply tell them about Jesus. The Spirit inside of us works through us, through our testimony, to show them a real expression of Jesus Christ in a real community. We can come together as a church to study the Word, grow together, equip and empower one another, but then we all go out and radically impact our surrounding culture.
“In a very real and sobering way, we must actually become the gospel to the people around us—an expression of the real Jesus through the quality of our lives.” – Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 114
We do not have the burden to live a participatory faith, we have the honor of playing on the team that already declared victory. Through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, victory is assured. Our faith is meant to be lived out and our culture is meant to be engaged. Our clarion call is clear; “Jesus saves.” Armed with this good news and empowered by the Spirit, we can get in the game. Victory is assured. Our God has won. Our invitation is to participate.