Thursday, November 16, 2006

consumerism or discipleship?

I am just about to head out the door to engage with a group of local ministers around consumerism, discipleship and church. I am taking my Fair Trade T-shirt, my copy of Tom Beaudoin’s consumingfaith.jpg Consuming faith and a range of breakfast cereals. If the discussion goes anywhere I might blog my notes.

Update: OK, it certainly seemed to generate lots of discussion. So here are the 5 questions I asked;

1. Aren’t we all consumers?
2. Do we need fair trade church?
3. What do we do with church hopers?
4. Are we selling Christianity Lite or Discipleship Extreme?
5. Do seekers respond to Extreme discipleship?

1. Aren’t we all consumers?
Often consumerism becomes a dirty word in Christian circles. But let’s be honest, we all consume. You consumed petrol to get here. I’m glad each of you consumed clothes to wear. So let’s not talk about consumers as “them.” They are “us.”

The words of communion; Take, eat, this is my body, are an invitation to consume. (Plug, plug, Consuming faith by Tom Beaudoin.) Which leads to the question; if we all consume, how do we consume Christianly? Hence my second question;

2. Do we need fair trade church?
So in order to do market research for my presentation I went to the Fair Trade shop and brought this T-shirt. Any guesses? $50. And then their credit card machine broke down. So I was late back to my car and the Parking Warden was ticketing my car! Fair trade costs! They are an ethical way to consume.

We could be Luddite and pretend we don’t buy or sell. We could continue as we are, all consuming. Or, does Fair Trade invite us to think about consuming ethically? Could we be Fair Trade churches in our practices of worship, evangelism, spiritual formation?

3. What do we do with church hopers?
A story. I had been at Opawa about 6 months. A woman, Christian all her life, popped into our evening service with her teenage daughter. What do you offer for youth? What do you offer for intermediates? What do you offer for children?

If we did not have a programme, she was off to the church down the road.

At the same time, Opawa had a Boys Brigade reaching 15 community kids. Real coal-face mission. Run by a number of gifted leaders. Now, if I was to close down the Brigades and move the leaders into church programmes, then church hopers might stay and my church attendance would grow. What is more important? Church attendance or mission?

4. Are we selling Christianity Lite or Discipleship Extreme?
This comes out of Postcard 5 of my out of bounds church? book This shifts from consumers having choice, to us as producers having choice. Take a look at breakfast cereals.

I place some chocolate puffs breakfast cereal in the middle of the group, along with some rolled oats. Consumers have a choice over breakfast cereals. Equally, producers have a choice about what they offer. What are we as church leaders offering?

5. Do seekers respond to Extreme discipleship?
This was my final story. I mentioned my Sunday sermon about money. And how hard it is to preach that sermon when you know there are visitors in the congregation, people you have no relationship with, people who come for the first time and think you preach about money all the time.

And so saying hi to a visitor on Sunday after the sermon. Not much church background. Yet so eager to know more about fair trade. Asking for resources. So much so that we are supplying resources in our church newsletter in response this week. So, perhaps there is a hunger in our culture, among visitors, for churches to actually preach extreme discipleship?

Posted by steve at 12:11 PM


  1. I’m just off to Trade Aid to pick up my boots:-)
    Consuming Faith is on my Christmas Wish List.
    But noone would be interested in my breakfast cereal…….
    grind 3T grains (millet, buckwheat, oat groats, dinkel, whatever) and soak in water and a squeeze of lemon juice overnight.
    In the morning add a grated apple, another piece of fruit chopped up, 1t ground linseed, 1t seeds or nuts, chopped if desired, and 1T cream or coconut milk or homemade yoghurt.
    No boxes to recycle or plastic to go in to landfill!

    Comment by Rachael — November 16, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  2. thanks Rachael. good call.

    it was an energetic discussion, so i have decided to add my speaking notes to this entry.

    Comment by steve — November 16, 2006 @ 5:32 pm

  3. I was serious about the boots! I saw them on Monday and had to wait all week for them to be brought across town – no instant gratification!!!
    Just slow-cook porridge.

    Offer extreme discipleship. Never mind what people *want* – Jesus asks for nothing less!

    Comment by Rachael — November 16, 2006 @ 8:45 pm

  4. Thanks Steve. Great questions. In terms of “church”, presumably a “free-trade church” is about how we as members of that church choose to embrace free-trade as a spiritual practice – hence I imagine your reference to Beaudoin’s book?

    I wonder what a “free-trade” Sunday gathering might look like?

    Would you still use Pete Ward’s book as a way of resourcing this kind of conversation?

    Comment by Paul Fromont — November 17, 2006 @ 10:32 am

  5. stimulating questions steve. does the inherited invitation to consuming in the word communion (take, eat, this is my body) talk about a particular kind of “consuming” that transcends individualistic notions of consuming? communion and companion (Etymology: Middle English compainoun, from Old French compagnon, from Late Latin companion-, companio, from Latin com- + panis bread, food) are so close in relationship. from taking bread for myself to sharing bread with others. finding the Other in others and others in the Other

    Comment by jannie — November 18, 2006 @ 2:51 am

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