My ministry context revolves around those who, by and large, have sold out to the quest for the “American Dream.” Consumerism and materialism are matters of course, so embedded within the culture they are barely noticed by those who have lived here for any length of time.Material poverty is relatively low (and well-hidden) yet poverty of time is high. Schedules are packed with work and “play,” both of which attempt to further or reflect the “dream.” As a result, financial margin is low. Many households are living on the brink personal financial collapse. This has a profound impact on the churches in the area. Some have followed the lead of their parishioners and are over-mortgaged and under-funded. They take the position of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams: “If you build it, [they] will come.” And build they do. Massive church complexes rise alongside massive houses, both oddly to scale with one another. Luxury cars stream from driveway to sacred parking lot, where they sit empty for an hour before heading to the real cathedrals of this area: the shopping malls. With the economic downturn in 2007 and 2008, many churches saw their aspirations evaporate as quickly as the retirements of their congregants. Tithes and offerings nosedived, leaving churches holding the bag on large mortgages, laden with paid staff, and funding too many programs. Just like the companies whose leadership strategies they’d co-opted, churches laid off people and shuttering programs, yearning for the economy to bounce back. In all of this, a key opportunity was (and continues to be) missed. Christian leaders have the opportunity to call out the American Dream as antithetical to the Kingdom of God. Yet too many of these leaders are, like the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19, recognizing what such a position would require them to sacrifice and walking away sad. The church ought to take this opportunity to repent of her indulgently capitalistic ways and proclaim that God alone can restore shalom. Shalom (wholeness or well-being) has never been in our hands. Since the fall of man, we’ve been longing for shalom to be restored, yet we remain blinded to our inability to restore it for ourselves. We often mistake material wealth and prosperity for wholeness. Therefore, in times of pleny it is too easy to be lulled into a false sense of shalom of our own making. Instead of pursuing programs, we ought to pursue people. Instead of yearning for profits, we ought to revisit the Prophets. We have lost our first love. Christ said to seek first his kingdom, and the rest would come. We’ve spent too much time seeking after the rest (and seeking after “rest”) and let the kingdom languish on the side. I fear, however, that many churches in my context are circling the drain. Having bought into the notion that people are only capable of perceiving the world through sales relationships, they try to gain customers instead of make disciples. Borrowing practices and principles from Madison Avenue, they push Brand Jesus as the religion that will flesh out their creaturely comforts. This is not sustainable. A time is coming when eyes and ears will be opened. A generation is rising up that will resonate with what Jeremiah wrote:
“‘from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.'” (6:13-15) Fortunately, Christ has taken that punishment and more. He offers the only way to shalom. Instead of trying to be fitter, happier, and more productive, we need to lean into the shalom of Christ. We need to lean into love.
Written by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood, and Phil Selway
From the album “OK Computer” available on Capitol Records