Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Church (part 3) – Consumer or Contributor

Therefore, my dear friends as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
(Philippians 2:12-14

Is your church Consumer or Contributor?

Let me dig into exactly what I mean.

Consumer Church:
In a Consumer church, members attend to be ‘entertained’ or to consume what is provided by the church leaders. Often very few are people giving spiritual guidance or input, members rely on being ‘spoon-fed’ as opposed to taking part in self-directed bible study and sharing with other members. It is difficult to find people within the church to volunteer to take part in activities, provide manpower for things or run things, either regularly run projects or special-interest one-off events.

This model highlights the danger of bringing every-day ‘consumerism’ into the church setting.  

My point, when looking at a consumerist model of church is that we should be encouraging interaction and partnering in our spiritual journeys, encouraging people to feed for themselves, not just turn up as a number and be spoon-fed.

Contributor Church:
In a contributory church, the spiritual direction and ‘feeding’ is seen as a corporate responsibility, most members spend time reading and studying so they can share with other members and many more people are involved in providing the spiritual content and guidance.
Church members encourage and are encouraged to take active roles in their own spiritual journey, individually and corporately as a whole ‘body’.

There is, as Dave Churchill pointed out to me in an email, definitely a time to consume God, to consume His word, to be filled by feeding on Him, a time to sit back and receive directly from God, something which I think is really important in our spiritual journeys especially when the temptation is to constantly be doing, working, getting involved ‘for God’.

I sometimes feel that we as a community can forget what it means to receive freely from God, to receive his spirit poured into our life and circumstance. We all too often get caught up in contributing we fail to recognise that we need to consume, on some level, feed on God, who fuels us to respond through contribution to others.
(David Churchill)

I think even in feeding on & consuming God, there is an active element – searching out that food, reaching out to God, because nobody else can do it for us.  Definitely we need to feed on and be fuelled by God but not in a passive, “I just turn up at church, do nothing and home some spiritualness rubs off on me from what goes on and the people I see.”

A sister at our church once said that she thought when she moved to Manchester and married her husband, that everything would be ok because she had married a spiritual guy and had moved to Old Trafford where lots of other spiritual people were.  In not too long a time, she realised she had been coasting and not working at all at her own spirituality or trying to feed herself and that she had been mistaken in thinking that she didn’t need to, as she felt like she had gone backwards in her relationship with God.

There are different stages, and for some people, just taking the step of choosing to attend church or spend some time with a mentor or some other spiritual person / people is really important, and that is the first stage in being active in your own spiritual journey.

There needs to be a balance in being a conduit for God to feed others and being fed ourselves, by God through others and more directly, if we get that out of balance, then we’ll miss some valuable parts of both.

We can easily get mixed up between being fully reliant on God and being reliant on other people to present God to us.

Do we actually love God, do we actually love the bible or are we just switched on to it by the way it is presented to us by other inspirational people, be that from within or outside our community.  And when we aren’t getting it via someone else unwrapping it for us, are we left cold and leave it on the shelf?

Generally, churches in our community are pretty good at being ‘contributor’ based as opposed to being ‘consumer’ based, the absence of a paid ministry or paid leadership drives the whole congregation to become more active in collectively working out spiritual direction, dealing with spiritual dilemmas and learning and journeying together towards deeper relationship with God.

I would argue that a contributory church is a more biblical model for church. The passage I put to begin this post: Philippians 2:12–13 consistently uses the plural. Paul addresses “dear friends” or “beloved”, (plural). He entreats them that as “you [plural] have always obeyed” in the past, so now “you [plural] work out your [reflexive plural] salvation.” Paul reminds them that God is the one working “in/among you [plural].”

“There is the strong indication that the exhortation is not to individual but to corporate action, to cooperative effort in the common life together as community.”
(Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140)

Unfortunately my observation of a number of local churches and indeed in conversations with very active members of those local churches, they are not so good at being ‘contributor’ churches, people tend to go to ‘consume’ and don’t get involved as much in the corporate, shared spiritual direction. Again I imagine a lot of this is due to the structure of a paid ministry and leadership which can foster a ‘they will do it for us, Isn’t that what they are paid for?’ attitude from the congregation.

This difference comes to a fore with one example: visiting / caring for the elderly and ill. A church with a paid ministry will be mostly reliant on the ministers caring for these pastoral issues. The structure at our church however, necessitates the action of members volunteering to take an active role in these pastoral matters.

To close out, I think it is worth revisiting the Phillippians verses: Hawthorne and Martin show that Philippians 2:13 should be translated as “among you” (corporately) rather than “within you” (individually).

“there is ‘among them,’ rather than ‘within them,’ an energizing force that is no less than God himself. (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140)

To engage together, communally in being active in our contribution to the church is a more robust biblical model of being part of the body of Christ. Sitting non-engaged, hoping something will perfuse somehow and build your relationship with God is not something that I see in the bible. Just like you ‘use it or loose it’ in your own body, if you stop being active in your relationship with God, you start to slide away from him.

Therefore, my dear friends… …continue to {collectively} work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works among you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
(Philippians 2:12-14

2 responses to “Church (part 3) – Consumer or Contributor

  1. tobit 15/03/2011 at 20:40

    there is a lot in there Alex
    one link I just found is really interesting is this: http://www.graceground.com/new-york/swim-upstream/missional-or-traditional/ I have just run through the answers for where I am on my journey and it is a useful exercise.

    i have huge issues with the idea of a consumer approach to church… On sunday just gone we had a great teaching on Luke 10 in the context of our upcoming Edge Sunday (http://www.enc.uk.net/Groups/24753/Exeter_Network_Church/whats_happening/Edge_Sunday/Edge_Sunday.aspx) I will try to type my notes up, but for the time being, one point that made me smile was a comment about this bit of verse 4 “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals”. The comment was “it is not meant to be a big production” it is about being out there, being available and being present so people might experience a little of God’s love.

    there you go, loving your thoughts in this blog series, so wanted to offer a few ill-formed thoughts!

    • Alex Green 15/03/2011 at 22:01

      Thanks Tobit. I completely resonate with that concept – “not meant to be a big production”.

      I went to a Tony Campolo talk at a local Lighthouse church in Salford Quays, he was talking on behalf of Compassion UK (who we sponsor a couple of kids through). All well and good, he was inspirational as usual and very compelling.
      However, I was struck by the rest of the evening, and the general setup – it was all stage lights and dry ice and fancy gobos / Elation Design movable heads, I wondered at the paradox / irony of all this expensive showy stuff against the message of trying to give more to children in poverty.

      I have a lot more to explore in the series, I have just updated the first ‘Prologue’ post to show the breakdown of what I am planning, I think I’ll probably explore the missional side too in the ‘Exclusive or Embracing’ post.

      Keep your thoughts coming, they definitely aren’t ill-formed and I’d say they were pretty well informed!

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