Sunday, January 27, 2013

When Church Becomes a Personal Need-Meeting Machine

Leaf, on snow in my backyard
The primary question being asked when the early church gathered in that upper room in Acts 2 was not: "Are  your personal needs being met?" Instead, the people were praying to be met by the promised Holy Spirit.

The identity of persons in the early church was corporate and tribal, not individuated. They were also not "consumers" in the sense of living in a market-driven economy. Tribal non-shoppers, that's what the early Jesus-followers were. Thus issues of personal rights and entitlements were comparatively absent. The great hope was to be met by God, not to be serviced by him.

James van Yperen addresses this in his book Making Peace. He writes:

"All individualism leads to consumerism. When self is center, the world exists to meet one’s personal needs. “Hey, I’m entitled to this!” A culture of consumerism will always value individual needs above community life. “You’re important to me so long as you serve my needs.”" (p. 30)

When "my needs" are not being met there is conflict and competition in the church.

"When a church focuses on meeting the needs of individuals, Jesus and the Bible become a personal, need-meeting machine. The church becomes a collection of individuals who are fundamentally at competition with one another—competing to have their needs met. Here, the Gospel becomes a commodity distributed by supply and demand. Since no church can meet all the needs, ultimately one set of needs must be placed against the other." (p. 30)


"When this happens, staff and members will compete to make a case for how and why their needs are greater than others. To make more compelling cases, the church becomes divided into interest groups or coalitions formed by age and individual preference." (Ib.)

"The church becomes a shopping center where we pick and choose what is good for us. We are not a community being formed by God’s Word and Spirit. We are individuals shaping ourselves. This strips the Gospel of its power—leaving people in their selfish individualism rather than inviting them into a transforming community of faith." (31)

To address this and combat these deeply ingrained cultural tendencies, our focus should be entirely on meeting with (abiding) and being met by Christ. Then, in the upside-down-kingdom style of God, we find our deepest needs being met, needs that can never be satisfied by our solo-shopper culture.