Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 12, 2012

The Impact of Consumerism On Spiritual Growth

In preparation for my bible study tomorrow I came across this powerful quote by Eugene Peterson:

“This is a culture of built-in obsolescence. Nothing is designed to last. We are conditioned to respond to the latest as the best: a new car, the latest fashion in clothes, the breakthrough model of computer, the newly published best-selling novel, the just discovered miracle diet. We have no sooner bought or tried one thing than we are off to the next. Quickly bored, we are easily diverted from whatever we have just purchased or the book that we have not quite finished or the church we joined two months ago. . . When this novelty mentality seeps into the church, we start looking for the latest in God, the latest in worship, the latest in teaching, the best preacher in town. Church shopping is epidemic in America. When religion as novelty spreads, maturity thins out.”

It is the last part of this quote that makes me nervous. When consumerism seeps into our spirituality we struggle to mature. The reason for this is that consumerism teaches us to give up and move on to the next fad when we get bored or the going gets tough. However, in the New Testament, we discover that spiritual maturity is a long term process.

Peterson’s comments are based on his reflection on Ephesians 6, where Paul urges us to stand firm in the midst of the schemes of evil by putting on the armor of God. Standing firm implies endurance and commitment. It suggests to us that the spiritual life is not going to be easy – there will be times when we will have to go to battle. However, if we are conditioned by consumerism we will struggle to endure this process.

A current fad going on right now is the Kony 2012 campaign. A human rights group, Invisible Children, has put out a powerful documentary about Joseph Kony – the Ugandan war criminal who has enlisted a child army. The documentary has great intentions. It has created awareness about the problems of Joseph Kony and has called people to petition for his arrest in 2012.

However, I listened to an interesting interview from a human rights worker who is on the ground in Uganda. She reminded listeners that transformation in Uganda is going to require patience and endurance. For one thing, Kony’s arrest may not be imminent. His whereabouts are unknown and he has surrounded himself by a army of children, which means that arresting him is very difficult. Furthermore, transformation in Uganda is going to require much more then just arresting Kony. Her concern is that the awareness raised by this documentary will not be fruitful in the long run. She suspects that people will fall off the bandwagon when quick results do not happen. Raising awareness has been important, but change is going to be long and hard. It will require more then buying a bracelet and signing a petition. Uganda will need the worlds help long after the Kony 2012 fad has passed.

This situation illustrates the problem with fads – they do not prepare us to stand firm when things get tough. We can easily get hyped about a new church program or a good cause. The challenge, however, is learning to stand firm in our commitment when results don’t happen right away.

So how do we encourage commitment to the long road of spiritual growth in a consumerist culture? This is something I struggle with as a pastor. I often feel like a salesmen who is promoting something that few people really want to commit too. At the same time there is an expectation to get lots of people on board. In order to get more people to buy in there is always the temptation to pick up the latest fad or try and make things easier.

To some degree I think we do need to make the spiritual life accessible to those who are seeking God. Yet, we also need to create a culture where people are challenged to grow and mature. This will not always be an easy sell. Even Jesus had a tough time getting people on board. In John 6 he has a “great crowd” of followers at the beginning of the chapter and only 6 at the end of the chapter, because people thought his teachings were too challenging. Jesus would probably not be invited to many church growth seminars!

If you are finding the spiritual life to be challenging and difficult, I encourage you to stand firm! We are not promised instant results and quick fixes. However, in the long run Jesus promises that his way leads us to life a fullness. Here’s to standing firm for the long haul my friends!

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Responses

  1. Hey Pastor!!! Great article! My middle name should be perseverance. I come from a long line of descendents that lived through difficult times and did not give up – starting with my great, great (11 greats) grandfather that was traveling on the Mayflower in 1620 to the new world and fell overboard about half way across the ocean. He managed to grab some ropes that were trailing over the side and “hung on”. The sailors pulled grandpa back on board and he lived to his mid seventies in Plymouth, Mass. His name is John Howland – you can google it to get the full story. He also was a devout christian and stood firm in his beliefs in many situations regarding the new colony and how it would be goverened, establishing rules and standards for policies, attendance at worship services, etc, during those first years in Plymouth.

    Grandpa John has been one of my role models for perseverence and staying committed.

    Louella

    • Thanks Louella. I think it is important for us to hold up good examples and role models. These types of influences are few and far between these days. Part of the problem with the consumerist culture is that it seems to be the norm. This has a cumulative effect. It is easy for us to get caught up in the wave of these cultural trends. That makes good role models (often from different eras!) all the more important.


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