The difference between being the church, and merely going to one

nc_ld_johnnyrashid_cred_rgbThis might be a “duh” notion to some of you, but capitalism dominates the way we interact with one another. Many things seem to be boiled down to a consumer choice. Exhibit A is Tinder, OK Cupid, and Match.com (all owned by the Match Group). Not only is dating a big business now, people can choose who to consume on a menu of options. We are all sales people, it seems; as anxious as Willy Loman himself. Selling ourselves as products. The same is true of television. The commercial focus of TV is not new. But before we used to be subject to the channels we had and their schedules (we bought TV Guide to know what was one, when). Now, we can DVR shows we want, or simply get instant access “On Demand,” or using Netflix. That kind of change is noteworthy.

When it comes to dating and TV, maybe increasing consumer choices is OK. How does someone even meet anyone anymore (by the way, I met my wife in Circle of Hope, just saying)? Moreover, how can you organize your life around The Walking Dead’s schedule (especially when the Eagles also play on Sunday night—this Sunday and after the bye).

But when it comes to face-to-face relationships and how we participate in the church, I think capitalism undermines what we are doing.

For many Christians around the country, “church” is simply an event we go to if we budget the time for it. We go to it if our friends our going, we go to it to meet our friends (or spouses, see above). The church we go to may be the one with the highest entertainment value or the one we with whom we don’t have conflict. With that mentality, any “pressure” to encourages people to regularly attend for example, is no better than an advertisement. When we start asking for offering, it just feels even worse. Evangelicals have been doing this kind of thing for a long time, and televangelists and megachurches haven’t helped matters much.

The idea that Circle of Hope is something beyond a consumer choice is a tough sell for many people. But let me give you a different idea.

I don’t want you to merely come to our church, I want you to be a part of the Body. Paul says we are part of the body whether we want to be or not. The pastors were mentioning that very thing on their videocast this week. We are developing a movement for people who need hope, we are encountering anguish and despair as they navigate the consumeristic culture, where they may very well think they are on sale. (What is a resume besides an advertisement?)

Likewise, when I talk about giving to the common fund, it’s not about soliciting donations to make money or even just keep the lights on or something. It does serve a functional purpose, but changing how we relate to our money is important, and I think sharing in common does that. In the U.S., we are basically taught to organize our whole lives around our money and jobs, when we share we release money’s hold on us. We say, “Sharing our resources brings freedom and unleashes power.”

I think this general idea has been incorporated into capitalism. People donate to causes, for example the Lupus Loop that’s happening Sunday (we’re all going! Maybe you should too!), all the time. Often times those organizations are doing great things and giving makes us feel good. When we share our money with the organizations we choose, it is another form of shopping and capitalism. The system has a disturbing way of absorbing its criticism and selling it back to us. This is no different.

At the Imaginarium on Monday we were discussing our cell system and the state of the common fund. We are still radically committed to our agreements, cells are multiplying, and we are raising (slightly) more money than we were last year. Circle of Hope has radically expanded over the last twenty years of its existence, and we are subverting the ways things are done in the world and offering a radical alternative. We are turning the consumer culture on its head.

Next time you think your attendance of a meeting or a cell or your contribution to the common fund is just another consumer choice, try to think again. Try to change your mentality. Your participation in the church is a fundamental paradigm shift that I think we all need. It isn’t just another consumer choice. It is an entrance into the Body of Christ, through which the whole world can change. For us, it is literally a circle of hope.

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