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Pastoral Reflections: Member, Consumer, Disciple

I have been reflecting lately on the changing descriptions being used to describe our relationship to the Church.  For many years, we referred to those within the church as ‘members’ implying that as a member there was certain built in understandings of what we were to expect.  Similar to joining other organizations we were expected to pay our dues (offering in the church), attend meetings or events (worship), volunteer for events, and the like.  As a member of the church, we would commit ourselves to be involved at some level with our time and resources and in return we could expect a place to worship, be prayed for, to have ourselves and family members trained in the faith, have the Pastor visit us when needed, celebrate life milestones like a birth (baptism), wedding and death (funeral service).  In return we would publically associate with this particular church and continue our association indefinitely.  This is how I would define the relationship, you may have a somewhat different take.

I now think there is a trend to not see ourselves as a member of a certain church, but rather as a consumer of whatever setting meets our needs or desires.  This plays to the overall character of our culture today which operates in this fashion.  We have more choices today than ever before.  We have more stores, malls, and yes, the internet where we search for the right choice that fits our immediate need and value. Today we also have many more options of different types of churches and styles.  It also seems we tend to look for what meets our needs in the moment, what excites us today.  This trend leads to more mobility of folks in where they attend depending on how their needs in life change and finding the faith community that speaks to us now.  I am not trying to critique this trend or any others; but only offer reflections on what I hear and observe as people state that their needs are not being met at a certain place.  The emphasis here is on what I receive and how it meets my expectations or need at this time which has led to the term being used across faith communities of ‘consumer Christianity’.

This leads me to what I believe the church needs at this time is to see ourselves as ‘disciples’ rather than as members or consumers.  As disciples we follow, we dedicate ourselves to someone or something beyond ourselves, we make a commitment to a community of believers accepting that the journey will not always be pleasant or easy, but trusting in the goodness of the community and in the one we follow.  For us as Christians we state we are disciples of Jesus so why not describe ourselves as disciples within the church as the church is Jesus’ body now on earth.  As disciples we would see that we need to listen before speaking, be bold in our faith, and care for each other in a deep and abiding way while following where the Spirit of God leads us.  This relationship is deeper and in ways more challenging than the other two I have mentioned, but it is also the relationship that will deepen our faith in Jesus and affection for each other and all others as we see in them the presence of Christ.

I will be asking the Church Council to join me in a reading of the book, From Members to Disciples, this fall.  I will also be offering an opportunity for you to join us with a group that will meet to discuss the book for six weeks.  I hope you will join me in this exploration.  Please understand I am not judging or criticizing anyone with these reflections.  I am only hoping to offer an opportunity for reflection and discussion.  Please feel free to speak with me to share your insights.

With God’s Blessing,
Pastor Stan