I started a book last night called The Jesus Wayby Eugene Peterson. He has come up with what he calls "spiritual theology" and he wrote in his introductory chapter what I have been struggling with lately:
"It didn't take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grow up on, the language we understand. We are the world's champion consumers, so why shouldn't we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?"
What do you think about his idea of consumer churches and is there any way to avoid it with our consumer-American lenses on?
Today Sarah and I ate lunch with our good friend Geoff Price, and his friends from Uganda Godfrey and Joy. Geoff is involved in helping starting an orphanage in Uganda along with Godfrey and Joy. Godfrey and Joy are pastors, and they help run an organization for pastors and churches in Uganda called Arise Africa. Godfrey's heart is in the church. He overseas about 200 churches. What he does is either start churches or go to churches that are struggling and train leaders from within the church to do the work. His biggest concern is helping churches to help meet needs. I asked him what are the basic needs and problems that African churches deal with. He says it is mostly clothing people, feeding people, and mentoring young ministers so that they can take the leadership of the church. Godfrey and Joy's joy were contagious, as they explained how they live out the Gospel in Uganda. This has been a war-torn country, and yet the church has survived and even thrived in the midst of poverty, war, and a lack of theological education among its ministers. Godfrey even invited me to come and speak with the pastors to help them with their theological training. What I always leave impressed and blessed on my life anytime I talk with an African Christian is their reliance upon prayer. They have to rely on God to meet their needs. Godfrey and Joy have 8 children, and they could not pay for school this past year. So that had each one of their kids pray for the money for school, and to be grateful even if God did not provide, and God ended up meeting way beyond their need. Listening for God's voice and prayer are woven in the fabric of African Christians. I need them, and their example. Godfrey and I talked about how he listens for God's voice in every decision he makes, and the joy he sees in God's provision. Certainly the African Church are not without their problems, but we need them as examples of prayer and God's provision.
Sarah and I bought a table a few weeks ago. We love it. It is a "grown-up" table as Sarah calls it. The dark wood goes nicely in our three bedroom house in Mertens, which we are incredibly grateful for. We had a table before. It was a Wal-Mart special that I bought when I moved to Waco. It worked, but it was small. The table we have now is big and has a leaf in it. We can comfortably sit eight people at the "grown-up" table. We bought it for ministry purposes. After all we are now at our first pastorate and we know that we will be entertaining people. We needed a nice table to entertain our guests and church members. The question that I am constantly asking myself is am I too American for the Gospel? I've got nice stuff like our table. I like my stuff. I like our table, and we even used ministry as a justification for buying the table from Patriot furnature (they really do have the lowest prices in Texas!). In my trip to Africa, nobody had a table like mine. Yet over there I learned more about being a Christ follower than I ever have here. I can't wait to go back so that I can learn more. I need those Christ followers, so that I can learn to live out a more authentic following of the Jesus way here in Mertens. I don't know where tables fit in to Christ following, or if that is my American expression of faith. In the mean time, my friend Julie has an excellant post on victimization.
As Sarah and I have tried to get settled in Mertens, blogging has been put on the back burner. I do have a topic that I am still thinking through and will be thinking through out loud in the next couple of weeks: am I too American to fully accept the Gospel, or to follow the way of the Gospel? It is a discussion that I've thought about through Greg Boyd'sMyth of a Christian Nation and a class discussion about a week ago. In the mean time check out two posts that have been meaningful to me lately by Dr. Stroope and my good friend Jeff.