Disciples or Consumers?

(Bloggers Note: Today, I’m honored to publish a guest post from a high school friend and her husband who pastor Mountainview Community Church in Durango, Colorado. Barry and Ellen Mooney share a love for the Gospel and do great work in its behalf. Ellen and I frequently enjoy Facebook debates over the political topics of the day. :))

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There is a dangerous trend taking root in U.S. churches.  On the surface it appears to innocently communicate the gospel in terms of, “What is the Good News to different people groups?  In reality, it often reduces followers of Jesus to consumers of religious products.  It relies on demographic studies to identify “new markets.”

Success is directly tied to the number of people it moves.  It sometimes claims to be missional while, in fact, it evaluates worldly success.

When Jesus Christ left this earth, He left His followers with one task – to make disciples.

Are we making disciples, as Jesus commanded, or have we, in an effort to reach a new generation or frankly, put people in the pews, created a class of Christian consumers?

Are you a Christian Consumer?

“The consumer gospel combines the appeal for forgiveness with the abdication of any obligation of discipleship.”  – Bill Hull, author of Christlike: The Pursuit of Uncomplicated Obedience

Hull goes on to write, “It emphasizes the confession of sins for salvation. Everything else is off the table – following Christ, a lifelong commitment to discipleship – they are all optional. The idea that the Christian life is one of being a “living sacrifice” is secondary to salvation. This gospel rushes naturally into the waiting arms of self-interest.

Impatience is the most accepted sin in Western culture. We are an impetuous people. This impatience not only is accepted in the church, but is considered a positive quality among church leaders. According to the consumer gospel, everything must be faster and bigger. Impatience is presented as a sign of holy dissatisfaction, which drives the leaders to take church to the next level. Every year must bring net growth with new and exciting programs to keep consumer Christians with short attention spans interested.

The problem with impatience is that it short-circuits the forming of Christ in persons. The consumer mentality does not foster a life of submission and humility. It is a world where activity, including church, orbits around the individual. The mania for success trains people to think in terms of programs and gives them a short-term view of personal development. They begin to think, if I can get a handle on this character flaw of uncontrolled anger in the next two months, then it will be taken care of. If it doesn’t work, then I need to find a better teacher, church, curriculum, husband, wife, and workplace.  In other words, Change my circumstances, change me.

These churches promise members, “If you use our products, you will be happy, healthy, and powerful.” The Christian message is the anti-thesis of that, but I am afraid it has largely succumbed to the enchanting message of the consumer gospel.”

As a couple, we have worked for churches, ministries and have planted churches since 1999.  We have both worked for mega-churches (one was healthy and one was not) and the Lord used the horrible experience of seeing Christian consumerism first hand, to make us beg the Lord for the simplicity of making disciples His way.  For some reason, the Lord chose to turn us away from pride, and instead celebrate humility.

It saddens us when we hear pastors ask other pastors, “How many did you win to the Lord last week? Or “Tell us about your church growth?”  Pastors often accept this message because it appeals to the flesh – the desire for self-righteousness.  We love things we can control.  We love things we can point to as evidence of our efforts.

Somewhere in all of this, the real message of the gospel gets lost.  Self-interest drives church programs.  Leaders become pragmatic and end up pushing programs that will bring large numbers.

As a couple, we’ve witnessed firsthand how families, who’ve swallowed Christian consumerism, get upset when their child does not have the requested children’s program to go to while mom and dad “spend quality time” away from the church.  If their children do not get an award for memorizing a Bible verse, sparks fly.  If mom or dad does not have the adult program they want, they begin shopping for a new church.  What they do not understand, is that Mountainview chooses not to cater to selfishness.  Instead, discipleship is key.  It may cost us some people, but God brings who He wants.  We’re not willing to sell Jesus and His message for money or to pacify selfishness.

Choosing Discipleship over Consumerism

Luke 6:40(ESV)
   A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Churches must realize that discipleship is not optional.  It is essential.  Any method that does not produce Christ-like disciples, but simply draws crowds is inconsistent with the task that Jesus gave us.  Success is not to be measured in groups of people who consume religious products, but in growing, consistent,  Christ-like behavior.

Barry Mooney is the Lead Pastor at Mountainview Community Church in Durango, Colorado.  Feel free to check out Mountainview’s Facebook  page.

Ellen Mooney – She and Barry enjoy walks in the mountains and loving on their two children, Meg and Patrick.  Ellen is a freelance writer & editor and has written feature articles for EFCA Today magazine.

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11 thoughts on “Disciples or Consumers?

    • I agree that consumerism has a stronger grip on many in the church than does Jesus. What do you think a pastor should look for when evaluating whether or not people are becoming disciples? i.e. what is the growth that you’re looking for?

      • I (and certainly I am no expert) I would say individual spiritual growth. Are the people still struggling with the same issues over and over or are they moving on and working toward a closer relationship with God?
        Also, are they discipling others and reaching out or still self focused? Thanks for your interest!

      • The real growth happens inside someone’s heart and reflects in their actions. I don’t think that is the pastor’s responsibility to evaluate. That’s Christ’s job.

      • Aimee, I think you said 2 things – heart change leads to a change in action, and a pastor’s job isn’t to evaluate.

        Firstly, all pastors are evaluating their congregations – for better or for worse – because it’s their job. How can a pastor preach or counsel if they do not evaluate the spiritual needs.

        Second, a pastor needs to ask the right questions (make the right evaluations). The wrong questions are disastrous, and the right questions are life-giving.

        My question is, what are the right, life-giving questions that a pastor should ask so that people are moving from being consumers to being disciples? (Especially since we can’t see heart change.)

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