Dr. John Johnson is a relatively nice guy, pastor of a large church and occasional seminary professor. He enjoys conversations on “culture” at least that is what I assume after sitting in his class on Christianity and Culture. He said the word a lot but I don’t think I every heard a meaningful definition when it came to what exactly Christians should create. I was the snarky one in the front row always talking about biblical living. I got an A-, and I am still bitter.
Bitterness aside, Johnson has been stirred by the change of heart of another mega church pastor expressed in his dissertation. The Doctoral work is essentially on consumerism in the church today. Johnson quotes a meaningful paragraph from the dissertation:
“Consumers find freedom in devices that deliver what they value, becoming dependent upon those devices and embracing a “device paradigm” that shapes their view of life. Over time, consumers lose all sense of the value of process. They think technologically, expecting their needs to be addressed through devices, even when those needs cannot be commoditized. I contend that American evangelicals have learned to think of spiritual maturity and community as commodities. They expect their churches to provide the devices necessary for enjoying those commodities with minimal engagement in the processes that create and cultivate them. Churches grow if their programs and services seem to deliver what is expected, yet neither maturity nor community is a commodity. Neither can be enjoyed without full participation in process. The result is ironic: churches that are most effective in delivering a product are least effective in making disciples.”
Johnson then goes on to unpack what he sees as a need for realignment around different priorities. His whole post on the Transformed blog is a must read for pastors of large churches. The following are some of his thoughts I found most poignant (which are most of the post). Most of Johnson’s thoughts center around the difference between device thinking and grace thinking in the church.
“Device thinking focuses on efficiency (best means to achieve an end), calculability (bigger is always better), predictability (making people feel comfortable and safe), and control (institutionalizing and packaging). This is what a technological society values. It is also what pastors can come to value, especially as the church grows into a large corporation.”
“In contrast, grace thinking is much more interested in participation (how can we get maximum personal engagement with what matters?) and contingency (creating space for the inefficient, the immeasurable, the unexpected, and the uncontrolled).”
“Just as our consumerism culture has reduced, fragmented things into mere commodities to consume, assisted by machine and technology, so the church has tended to fragment, reduce, mechanize the things that are focal, transcendent, things that provide a center of orientation. It looks something like this–worship is reduced to excellence on stage, with passive observers expecting something more next week; fellowship gets reduced to giving units; obedience gets reduced to legalism; sacrament gets reduced to an efficient prefilled communion cup with wafer; and the Bible gets reduced to a sermon extracted from its metanarrative–e.g. “7 tips to Marital Happiness”).”
The post suggests what needs to happen in churches for there to be change. It starts with repentance, and involves new metrics for measure what we do and creating space for diversion and true discipleship.
Challenging words. Read the whole post here.