Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’


A recent meeting of our missions team discussed the generally introverted nature of our church, something I’ve mentioned to our congregation before. We have some extroverts, and would like more extroverts. We want to be a faithful church. How that looks for us may not be the same as how it looks for an extroverted congregation.

One of the books I found to help me think through all of this is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Church by Adam McHugh. I will be blogging through this book. Perhaps much of this will be helpful for the slim majority of people who are introverted. Our context is a Reformed and (dare I say) evangelical church. Evangelical churches, in particular, appear to be largely extroverted in how they understand the faith and how they expect it to be lived out.

One problem is our view of Jesus. Studies indicate that most people consider Jesus to be extroverted. This is probably due to the number of large groups before whom He spoke. This is to overstate the case. We do see that Jesus would retire to quiet places to pray. He also invested Himself primarily in the Twelve and others in the group that traveled with Him (which included a number of women too). My thinking, for quite some time, was that neither introverts nor extroverts could claim Him. Jesus is the perfectly balanced person since He was a perfect man. He was equally comfortable with the masses and small groups with deep, meaningful friendships as well as alone with the Father.

McHugh notes the three evangelical anchors that contribute to the extroverted priority of evangelical churches: a personal relationship with God, priority on the Word of God as our authority, and the Great Commission. McHugh does issue a disclaimer of painting in broad strokes (which is an unavoidable element of the process). Not all evangelical churches are extroverted, or act in these ways. But many do such that many introverts feel devalued, out of place and shamed for not being extroverted. This should not be the case, but sadly it often is.

God is a relational God, revealed to us in a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal community of love. Introverts are also relational, don’t get me wrong. But it looks differently for introverts than extroverts. (One weakness at the beginning of the book is not really drilling down on what these two terms mean.)

Personal Relationship with God

In America, one of the great influences on evangelicalism is the Great Awakenings. These put a priority on public displays of this personal relationship with God. The biblical call to community is often seen through a lens in which everyone in the congregation is your friend (an impossibility). Extroverts are very comfortable with a large number of friends, and a number of activities. Introverts prefer a smaller number of closer friends, and can find the busy church very draining.

“… for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability.”

Introverts can often be shamed for not being fully invested or involved. They can be shamed for appearing (key word) to be self-involved. I remember one of my extroverted friends years ago calling the rest of our group to get out the Windex and be open with one another. Their personal relationship with God is more personal, meaning more private. They don’t necessarily share the dynamics of this (often deep) relationship with many people. They will share it, but more likely with their closest friends. Even as an introvert myself, I can forget this because my calling includes sharing some of my relationship with God publicly.

“By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed, we are motivated by depth in our relationships. … in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable.”

For instance, I am closest to those with whom I work most closely (the officers) and my community group. I need to stretch myself in doing this. Sometimes introverts can be called to stretch themselves. But extroverts can expect them to become extroverts as though that is what godliness really looks like.

Centrality of the Bible

God communicates with us through the Word. The gospel is communicated, primarily through words. Evangelicalism places a priority on words. Extroverts have more words to share than introverts. Introverts are often more thoughtful about their words. Their hesitancy can be misunderstood as an unwillingness to talk. Their reluctance to make small talk should not be confused with an unwillingness to relate.

Personal Evangelism

Evangelicalism is rightly concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. The focus on many church is not on “Word and sacrament” as the ordinary means of God’s calling sinners to Himself, but on personal evangelism. Extroverts don’t meet many strangers, but rather future friends. Introverts hear “evangelism explosion” and recoil in fear. Talking to complete strangers in of itself induces terror. Talking about their most personal relationship increases it exponentially. Our evangelism methods are “often tilted toward extroversion, and when we conflate our values with our methods we run the risk of alienating introverts.”

Surely introverts can be stretched and move out of their comfort zone. But the constant drumbeat can often discourage them as if they don’t measure up. How they do evangelism will look differently. For them it will not be with strangers, but with those they have let in. It may tilt more toward inviting people to church to hear the preaching of the gospel, or to sharing appropriate sermons (one benefit of technology), or a book on the particular struggle of a friend. Their efforts at spreading the good news should be applauded too. They may be likely to adorn that gospel with love, as it ought to be. One of our members recently told me that our smaller church tangibly loved her through crises in a way she never experienced before in other churches. Such love is the gospel in action, as faith expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:6).

Contemporary evangelical culture focuses on the immediate and the relevant. We see the rise of megachurches in which people worship nearly anonymously. These churches do have lots of programs to keep people busy. I’m not sure which came first, the consumerist congregant or the consumerist congregation.

“At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity.”

There is a move to create “comfortable” environments with coffee houses, a lack of mystery and a removal of the sacred. The pace is fast, and the service is a production. There is little space for reflection that introverts prefer. The pastor is often an big personality who can draw big crowds, show up at all kinds of social events and shake hands.

“Human limitations often lead pastors forming congregations in their own image, presenting a picture of Jesus and of discipleship that matches their own patterns. It is not surprising that extroverted pastors are prone to encourage extroversion in their churches.”

I was called by a church that was generally introverted. My thoughts on ministry appealed to them. The simple church model resonated with me. But not because I wanted them all at home reading theology. I wanted people to have space to serve their communities through parachurch ministries, build relationships and share the gospel. I probably need to make that explicit more often, particularly with visitors and extroverts considering membership. I don’t expect our church to meet all of the members relational needs. I want them to serve one another. I also want those with extra energy for people to serve the community in various ways.

“They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear in their offices than mingle.”

That’s me. I don’t hide, but I’m wiped out. I like studying, and am told I deliver deep, meaningful sermons. I’m sure some would disagree. But I am more reflective, not dumping my sermon & text because of a current event that “must be addressed”. I may reference it, but want to let the Word address those things in the ordinary course of ministry.

The introverted church gets a bad rap. McHugh provides a few quotes to make his point. The introverted church is confused with the isolated church, the disobedient church. This is because some confuse methods with values.

“In their minds, the ‘introverted’ version of the church lacks missional identity; it is self-preoccupied and exclusive, worried about polishing the walls that separate it from the world, rather than seeking to tear down the walls that distance people from the love of God. God the ‘extrovert’ has his eye on all the world, and therefore the mark of his true people must obviously be extroversion.”

This view devalues the faith of the introverted. It devalues the practice of the introverted.

“If we are broadly defining the extroverted church as “outwardly oriented’, then a wholly extroverted church is liable to lose its center, lapsing into spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation. Just as a church that is turned in on itself is stunted, a community that is thoroughly turned outward could lose its internal cohesion and disintegrate.”

The Church, and particularly congregations, need both introverted and extroverted people. A church should grow in depth as well as numbers. This will require thoughtful people and out-going people valuing one another for the common goal: maturity in Christ. That maturity should not be defined as either introverted or extroverted. But in the Body of Christ both are needed so the church grows up into Christ.

“I believe that the truly healthy church is a combination of introverted and extroverted qualities that fluidly move together. Only in that partnership can we capture both the depth and the breadth of God’s mission.”

A church can be busy. But it should also accommodate those with a slower, thoughtful pace of life too. Often these are its teachers. Not exclusively, obviously. But a deep, meaningful community requires deep and thoughtful people (this often takes time alone) as well as those who build community through friendship and service. We shouldn’t expect extroverts to become introverts, not introverts to become extroverts in order to really love God. We each love God, according to His Word, in a way that fits how the creative Creator has made us. God loves introverts. God loves extroverts. God uses both!

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


A web site I visit had mention of the new book by John MacArthur, Slave, based on his sermon series on the topic.  Grace To You has a free offer, if you join their mailing list.  Here is the trailer.

It always concerns me when someone thinks there is a ‘hidden’ word or some sort of conspiracy.  I’m not sure why it took him so long to realize ‘doulos’ means ‘slave’ not servant.  I agree that we need to reckon with this since it is Scripture.  Paul, at times, called himself a slave, to emphasize the reality that he had no rights.  Iain Duguid in his book on Abraham, calls a covenant a relationship marked by submission in which one party surrenders their rights.  That would be us, not God.

We also need to remember that in Philippians Jesus became a slave, obedient unto death to deliver us from slavery to sin (see, you are a slave to something as Bob Dylan sorta sang).

But it obviously is not the only identity we have (as MacArthur mentions in the trailer).  We don’t stop being ‘slaves’ though we are ‘sons’, as the trailer seems to imply.  We are both (like we are both righteous and sinners at the same time, just not in the same sense).

Richard Pratt used to tell us you need to go the the biblical medicine cabinet and choose the right medicine for the personal problems people have.  This requires discernment.  Is it a justification issue?  Don’t talk about sanctification issues, or they will end up legalists.  Sanctification issue?  Don’t address it as a justification issue or they will become antinomians.  Paul does this in the Scriputres.  If people are acting entitled (for instance making too much of their Roman citizenship, or suffering from an over-realized eschatology) he takes out the ‘slave’ pill so they know this is part of their identity.  If they are wrestling with a sense of worthlessness and abandonment, he breaks out the ‘son’ pill so they know and experience the freedom and acceptance of God’s adopted children.

I fear that a popular book like this tends to polarize things.  This should transform some people’s experience because they have a strong sense of entitlement.  They don’t grasp that whole obedience thing.  They think Christianity sets them free from all obligation to pursue all their desires.  This is a huge problem here in the land of the televangelists and consumerism.  But many of the people who would be drawn to a book by MacArthur would have the opposite problem.  I suspect they would need to know of God’s love and acceptance because they are prone to a legalistic spirit.

All this to say, know to whom you recommend this book.  It could be a helpful medicine to their sin-sick soul.  Or it could be deadly, because it is the wrong biblical medicine

Read Full Post »


The Reformed heritage has a long history of a 2nd service.  In the Westminster Directory of Public Worship it uses the term “meetings”, implying both a morning and evening service (sometimes practiced as the afternoon service).  This is the topic for the last chapter of Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark.

My Ace Button

He begins with a good illustration of a family owned restaurant that must compete with the chain.  Will they continue to focus on quality and service, or will they focus on price and efficiency?  I saw this played out while working in an Ace Hardware store.  We competed against the newer, big box stores that moved into the area.  Ace focused on customer service.  This, not price, was going to be our advantage.  It would not take you 5 minutes to find a living, breathing person wearing the right colored shirt to help you.

As a smaller church, we have to focus on something different than the larger churches around us do.  We can’t have a zillion programs.  We have limited human and financial resources.  We have different “selling” points.  We offer community- knowing and being known.  We offer an opportunity to see the gospel go down deep, in part, through interaction with others.

Back to the 2nd service.  In the Dutch Reformed churches, it was usually a time to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism, or Scriptures using the Catechism as a guide.  They wanted people to get a balanced diet of exposition and systematic theology.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


No, this is not my autobiography about my leaving the Roman Catholic Church.  This is a highly recommended book by David Wells.  The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern is his latest in a series that includes No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland and Above All Earthly Pow’rs.  It came recommended by a pastor friend (who promised to buy the book from me if I didn’t like it).

I read the first 2 books years ago while in seminary, and just after graduating.  This book is a summary of all 3 that extends beyond them to take into account all that his happened since he began writing these books well over a decade ago.

Time Magazine said “A stinging indictment of evangelicalism’s theological corruption.”  Ironically Christianity Today (which takes some abuse in this book) said, “Can serve as a catalyst for evangelical self-examination.”

I must admit, that though I often agreed with him early on I was often thinking “yeah, so what else is new?”  I found much of it merely critical (hold onto that thought).  At times I found it confusing, but I think he cleared up my confusion.  It was in the early stages of the book that I found myself wondering “is there an appropriate cultural engagement?”  I actually wrote on the bottom of a page “Is there a difference (in his mind) between giving in to consumerism and legitimate adjustments to culture?”  I think he tried to spell that out in the latter chapters of the book.

He argues, rightly I think, that Evangelicalism is in dire straits today.  The reason for this is the abandonment of theology.  First there was an abadonment of theology at the hand of the marketers who thought the way to save the church was to get rid of its “churchiness”.  Part of what they often did was dumb-down theology.  The Reveal Study revealed that Willow Creek and other church growth churches were not actually producing disciples who could sustain and extend the kingdom.  Truth also suffered at the hands of consumerism.  It was turned into a product to be consumed, rather than a life-transforming truth to be believed.

“No one should take issue with a church for being sensitive to outsiders.  On the contrary, this is simply about being considerate.  Every church should put itself in the shoes of an outsider who visits for the first time, who knows nothing about Christian faith, and who is introduced to it in this first visit.”

I served my 9 years of ministry in a community beset with consumerism.  It was a plagued churches.  People were not concerned with the truthfulness and application of truth.  They were focused on consuming- did they have the music I like, the programs I need?  It made ministry very difficult.  We tried to be “seeker sensitive”, particularly after I watched visitors unable to keep up as we shifted between the hymnal, chorus book and Order of Worship in a losing attempt to keep up.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


A friend of mine just started a new position with a church.  The Sr. Pastor wanted him to read Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson.  So, I lent him my copy.  He just gave it back, and I decided to re-read it.  It has been nearly a decade since I read this book.  I’ve enjoyed his books on ministry in the past.  It will be interesting to see what 9 years in the trenches will do to shape my view of them now.

Today I read the introduction during a slow spot in the ER.  Though written over 20 years ago, his words of warning still ring true.

Peterson believes that most pastors have left their post, “whoring after other gods.”  He relates meetings with other pastors when they discuss, not the difficulties of staying close to God and helping others until Christ is formed in them, but numbers and programs. 

“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.  They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns- how to keep customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the good so that the customers will lay out more money.”

 We have fallen prey to the mindset of consumerism and marketing.  He then quotes Martin Thornton:

“A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun, but what most communities need is a couple of saints.  The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

That really is the joy of ministry, discovering those who long to be godly and serve others.  And then to invest in them and see them grow (with ups and downs).  For me it wasn’t so exciting to kick off a new program.  But to see someone “get it” or make some great strides in growth really stoked me.

“The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches.  There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world.  The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.  In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community.  The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.  It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”

Yeah, I can see that all around me.  People expect the glitz and sparkle.  But the reality, helping people listen to God … not so much in demand these days.   Most pastors are doing what they need to do to remain gainfully employed.  Richard Pratt used to remind us often, “If you earn your living from your faith, you’ll lose either your living or your faith.”  If you keep your faith, and live it out, not many churches will really be interested in you.  But if you stop living by biblical convictions, you may have a tough time finding a church willing to listen.  Some might say this is what I tell myself so I’ll sleep at night.  But I heard plenty of stories from other guys- many a church wants a CEO or entrepenour, not a pastor.

“The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration.  The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction.”

Peterson’s point in the introduction is that these angles can be faked.  “We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor.”  We can fool people that we are the real deal, at least for awhile.  Peterson’s book is about developing an attentiveness to God so you can help others be attentive to Him through prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction (individual and corporate).  He’s trying to move pastors back into a spiritual reality we never should have left.

Read Full Post »


consider….

Read Full Post »


Sounds like the forces of agnosticism and atheism are growing here in America (and elsewhere) to make Christmas a non-Christian event.

What would happen if you took the Christ out of Christmas?  You’d have Mas, which in Spanish means “more”, which is exactly what Roberto Duran didn’t want when he uttered “no mas”.

This would be exactly what Christmas has become- an exercise in consumption and greed.  Mas would just be about keeping the economy going by increasing spending, giving gifts to our kids, loved ones and friends.  Drop the tree, if you want, and sing songs about Santa or the holidays, and you’ve pretty much got the idea.  Mas is about more, more, more.  The inoffensive excuse to spend money.  Who could argue with that?

[okay, aside from the obvious- Jesus and those who love Him, which means they are turning their backs on greed among other things.]

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »