More notes from The Second Reformation: Reshaping the Church for the 21st Century by William Beckham.
Somewhere along the way, American Christians became consumers rather than producers. The short term perspective acknowledges that this happened sometime around the “church growth movement” of the 70s. The bigger picture sees that it really happened in the 3rd century with the conversion of Constantine. The church began to change, and we are still feeling that change today.
When Constantine removed Christianity from the “illegal religion” designation and personally began to support the church, this had several unintended results: Christianity become more aligned with political systems, professional leaders were developing the structure, spiritual power gave way to human ability, servant leadership was replaced with authoritarianism, and church structured was patterned after the government.
In short, the church became an audience. People went to a building (cathedral) on a special day (Sunday) and someone (priest/pastor) did something to them (preaching/absolution) or for them (prayer/ritual) for a price (offering). In this shift, something dreadful took place. Christianity became consumer oriented instead of production oriented.
Today, the consumers at the traditional church want to be pampered, to receive ministry, and to be entertained. 20% of the mature, producing church members (those who could be reaching out into the world and making a difference in the kingdom) are so busy maintaining the system that supports the consumer that little time or energy is left to minister in a New Testament sense. How many producers does it take to maintain the kind of program that will attract the consumers and keep them happy in the traditional church? But the church keeps chasing the consumers because our definition of success is tied to the number of warm bodies present in a two hour span on Sunday morning.
Look at what has happened to the church when Christianity became a consumer religion:
- The Lord’s Supper changed from a common meal to a ceremony
- Worship changed from participation to observation
- Witness changed from relationship to salesmanship
- Ministry changed from personal to almost exclusively social
- Leadership changed from gifted and called servants to professionals
- Growth changed from multiplication to addition
- Missions changed from being to supporting missionaries
- Discipleship changed from on the job training to classroom training
- Fellowship changed from in-depth in community living to more surface in large meetings
- Buildings changed from functional to sacred meeting places
- Gifts changed from edification to entertainment or extinction
- Child care changed from parental to church responsibility
- Bible study changed from doers of the Word to hearers of the Word
- Evangelism changed from “go tell” to “come hear”
Who is at fault for this current mess? Producing Christians? Church leaders? No. It is the system. The system produces consumer Christians instead of developing producing Christians.
More on that later.