A number of years ago Christie and I lived next door to a couple from a Catholic background. A year or so after we moved in they shared with us that she (the lady of the couple) had been diagnosed with a severe form of breast cancer. She had all sorts of drastic treatments but nothing worked and she eventually lost her battle at the age of 32 leaving a husband and a one-year-old son. In her last months Christie spent a lot of time with her, shared the gospel and led her to the Lord. Surrounded by God’s presence she testified to having no fear of death and that she was looking forward to going to heaven. In the weeks following her death I had the privilege of leading her husband to Christ and he is still an active member of our church.
The thing that stands out to me from this story is the way that suffering brought this couple to Jesus. They had a theology that pain and suffering is part of this life and that drawing closer to God in times like these can actually ease the pain and make some sense from the suffering. How different this is to the “consumer God” theology of many contemporary Christians. Consumer God is ever present to answer every prayer, meet every need and grant every wish. When consumer God doesn’t respond in our way, our timeframe or to our agenda we walk away. “God mustn’t love me or maybe God doesn’t exist after all.”
The same is true for consumer church. I met a guy recently who had taken his family out of their church because the facilities weren’t meeting his family’s needs. Now, I’m all for providing facilities to properly pastor and care for people and their needs, but there is a fine line between providing these services and a worldly expectation that “I deserve this and if I don’t get what I want I’ll join the church down the road where I can have my needs met.” This attitude treats Jesus’ church as a commodity rather than a family. It’s like me leaving Christie and the kids because I can get better meals with the family down the street.
Consumer Christians need a mind shift. We need a revelation that God has already done more for us than He had to by providing forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. We didn’t deserve it – that’s why it’s called grace. And He doesn’t owe us anything now – we owe Him everything. I live with the mindset that if God doesn’t ever do another thing for me then it’s fine. The fact that He does continue to bless and give is a benefit not a guarantee.
And it’s the same with church. I love leading a church that provides excellent facilities and ministries to see people grow in their faith; but I’m not interested in simply accommodating those who come to “use the house.” I’m interested in building a family of believers who love God, love each other and love making a difference in the world – and will stick it out with one another through the good times as well as the tough times because we’re family.
So if you find yourself guilty of being a consumer Christian let Paul’s words challenge you: “Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.”
Rob Buckingham is the senior minister of Bayside Church – www.baysidechurch.com.au