Can Churches Sell the Sizzle Without Selling Out the Steak?

In the last few posts we’ve been discussing the impact of consumerism on the Christian church in America.  Many churches these days are trying to appeal to people by highlighting what God can do for them.  They do sermon series on things like:

  • How to have a fulfilling marriage.
  • How to raise good kids.
  • How to achieve financial stability.
  • How to have a good sex life.
  • How to overcome anxiety and find peace.

Here’s the thing that has me conflicted…

On the one hand these are all good, God-honoring things.  God cared enough about these things to talk about them extensively in the Bible.  God loves us and wants to give us these blessings.

On the other hand, God wants us to love him for who he is and not just for what he gives us.  He does not want us to think of him as an all-powerful fairy godmother available to grant our wishes for comfort and fulfillment.

Is it possible to tell people what God can do for them without making it all about them?

I honestly don’t know.

I believe every blessing God bestows upon us is a gift we’ve been given for a reason.  God doesn’t give two people a fulfilling marriage just for its own sake but rather so those 2 people can work together to accomplish things for God that they couldn’t accomplish on their own.  God doesn’t provide for us financially just so we can blow it on entertainment or hoard it to eliminate risk but rather so we can express love to others through giving.

The problem is that it’s so easy to focus on the how of God’s blessings instead of the why.

There have been a lot of sermons preached with titles like “5 steps to overcome anxiety” or “7 steps to financial freedom” that perpetuation the myth of God as fairy godmother.  And even when the pastor “gets it right” and focuses his message on the why, many of the people listening just ignore that and just focus on what they want – tips on how to get what they want.

I do think there’s an alternative, though.

What if instead of trying to sell people on what God can do for them, we showed people who God is?

We all know about the human desires for comfort, security, pleasure, and so forth.  But God has created each of us with several soul needs as well – a need for a relationship with Him, a need to be in authentic community with other people, and a need to live for something bigger than ourselves.

What if we invited people to our churches by appealing to their deep, soul desires?

  • Come to our church, let us introduce you to the amazing, loving God you’ve been longing for.
  • Come to our church, we will love you no matter how screwed up your life is.
  • Come to our church, let us show you how to live a meaningful life by introducing others to God, combating poverty, overcoming discrimination, being a friend to the lonely, righting wrongs, and helping those in need.

What do you think?

That’s where I’m going to end this series of posts on consumerism and the American Christian church.  Some churches try to bring people in by appealing to their selfish desires, others expect people to “come and die” for a God they don’t even know, but maybe there’s a third way.  Maybe it’s as simple as telling people who God is instead of what he can do for them, loving people no matter how screwed up they are and how inconvenient it is for us, and offering them the opportunity to live a meaningful life in service of God and others.  Though, I suppose that’s a lot easier said than done.

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