I have seen a lot written about consumerism in the church, but it always seems to focus on the sheep. Churches feel increasingly pressured to vie for the loyalty of attenders by means of tailored worship experiences, styles of preaching, and so on. Meanwhile, as churches give the best fare they can generate, the majority of church attenders remain just that, attenders, and apparently increasingly fickle attenders at that.
So we can read about the dangers of consumerism, and the problems of consumerism, and the prevalence of consumerism in the contemporary church scene.
I don’t doubt that there is a lot of that in the air. Traditional loyalties to denominations and local churches seem to be generally decreasing.
Actually, the response to consumerism in the pew is a complex subject. Church leaders and preachers do well to think through how to make sure visitors will stumble over nothing but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is so sad when people are put off Christianity by traditions, amateur presentation, awkward church experiences, unfriendly congregations, etc. Furthermore, as shepherds we also have to think through how to stir consumers into participation in the life of the local church (i.e. moaning about consumer-attenders doesn’t change anything).
And this raises the point of this post. Alongside all the talk about consumerist sheep that is floating around the church scene, what about consumerist shepherding? Is that also a problem? I suspect it is, since churches and their leaders tend to reflect the culture around more than we like to admit.
What is a consumer-shepherd? The other day I enjoyed a very stimulating session at a local gathering of church leaders. The speaker had us look at John 10 and think about the heart of the preacher in light of what is said about the ultimate Shepherd who is Christ.
This thought struck me in discussion with a friend: perhaps we aren’t alert to the danger in our own flesh of consumer shepherding. In respect to the Good Shepherd, there are certain key features: the sheep know His voice, they follow Him, and He is not like the hired hand who doesn’t own and doesn’t really care. As His under-shepherds, who represent Him, so the same should be true of us.
I wonder if there is a problem here. If our role as shepherds of a flock has shifted to the role of leading an enterprise, then our view of “difficult sheep” may well have shifted too. Instead of drawing close to them so they know our voice in the spiritual sherpherding matters of life, they will be kept out of the loop as we pour energies into high capacity future leaders. As a result they will not follow our lead with any sense of connection. And we will start to act like hired managers who care not for sheep, but for progress of the enterprise.
When I worked for a few years in Real Estate, we were taught to take charge of our client relationships, and, where necessary, to fire clients. That is, if someone drains too much energy from your other buyers and sellers, then don’t feel beholden to them. Fire them. Let them go.
The church is not a business enterprise. When we start to think too much along the lines of, “I am leading an organisation, I am the CEO” then we tend to feel tempted to fire the slow, unproductive and difficult sheep. But when we get our gaze off the five-year plan and back onto the Chief Shepherd, then we can regain the shepherding heart of the Good Shepherd. Thankfully He works patiently with slow learners like us.
We are called to shepherd souls under the ultimate soul-shepherd, Christ Himself. Let’s be sure that consumerism isn’t driving our values so that we selectively shepherd those that will help our goals for the organisation. Let us look to Him and seek to shepherd all those that have been put in our local flock at this time. If they hear your voice (public and private), and know you take some ownership of their spiritual health, and care, then they might follow you toward spiritual vitality and health.