It Was The Prime Of Our Discontent

amazon-prime-day-1Unless you live in North Korea, you probably knew that Amazon, (the giant on-line retailer) celebrated their 20th anniversary by throwing themselves a party with, what they proclaimed would be “more deals than Black Friday”. Apparently, this was such a big deal that WalMart (the giant, giant retailer) wanted to celebrate Amazon’s birthday by also offering discounts!

One of the most notable things that has made this a cultural moment rather than just another sale was the immediate blowback against the products Amazon chose to discount. And yet, the site’s sales soared. So, we all complained about what was being discounted and yet still ended up buying more! I do wish I had known about the “Beard Growther” on Prime Day, but I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t see a single thing I needed.

Of course, “Prime Day” was first and foremost a way for the company to push Prime memberships and only secondarily a real sale. And yet, the loudest thing about Prime Day were the complaints.

I wonder what this says of us as a culture? A business has no obligation to discount its merchandise. Especially when sales remain strong. So, when a company does decide to discount merchandise, there is always a financial reason. They need to move certain merchandise, clear certain inventory, etc. When Amazon discounts merchandise, it does so for itself, not the consumer. Amazon said it would have more deals than Black Friday. Apparently, they did, because their sales topped Black Friday. And our response is to complain that they didn’t have what I wanted at a cheaper price.

What Prime Day forces us to consider is that we are selfish creatures who feel entitled to more. Amazon may have gotten people’s hopes up with the hype, but that’s good business, not false advertising. We, who were owed nothing, complain that we didn’t get what we wanted. We truly are the culture who, hours after getting up from a meal with family celebrating all we are thankful for, will trample one another at WalMart to get more cheap crap.

Content hearts don’t complain.

We who love and follow Jesus must be keenly aware (2 Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:1-4) that we are marinating in a cultural stew of consumerism that places self at the center of the universe. How else could someone like Joel Osteen pass off as a Christian? The man literally teaches that we should have our “Best Life Now,” which Jesus says is actually a sign of judgment rather than favor. But I digress.

Why is contentment so difficult?

I would wager that most of the people who read my posts (if there are any?) live pretty comfortable lives. You may live in a smaller house than someone else. You may drive an older car than someone you know. You may not eat out at restaurants as often as that friend of yours or have the new appliances like your neighbor. But we are among the wealthiest population the world has ever known. Most of us may not have private jets or yachts, so we tell ourselves we aren’t rich, but that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Try telling a subsistence farmer with no electricity that you’re not rich.

Consumerism idolizes the self.

Contentment is so difficult because everywhere we turn, we are told that we deserve more, we deserve better, cheaper, faster! One of advertising’s key functions is to create discontent in self-image so that the product in question can fill that void. And, even we Christians who owe everything to grace (Ephesians 2) believe these lies from time to time. We believe that life (or Amazon) somehow us us special treatment. Could be because we let people like Joel Osteen tell us: ““God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life” (page 35, Your Best Life Now). Osteen has allowed consumerism to color his view of our relationship with God. We know we are loved because of more stuff. We feel secure because we have a firm grip on our stuff and we feel better about ourselves when we get more stuff and since it’s all about me, I will complain that Amazon didn’t discount the right items. The items I wanted.

But what if we already have all of the love, acceptance we could ever hope for and that our identity is not found in what we do or what we own. What if, in Jesus, because of Who He is and what He has done, we don’t need stuff to find identity? What do I have to complain about? Because of the Spirit’s work uniting Believers to Jesus (Romans 6), the Father says that I am His beloved child in whom He is well pleased (Matthew 3:13-17)! Because of Jesus’ continued work of interceding for His people (Romans 8:34), we can know that our seat (our “position” // our “identity”) is in the heavenly places with Jesus and because of Jesus, it is secure (Ephesians 2:6), in spite of us!

What a great opportunity Prime Day turned out to be to examine our hearts. Do you feel entitled to anything? What? Why? What do we really deserve and for what should we be thankful? How might thankfulness change the way we live?

Why Do We Make It So Difficult (01)? Why Many Good Men Are Discouraged From Ministry

abandoned-church-1382330-mThe decision to resign from ministry has not been an easy or quick one. It has led me down more than several rabbit-holes in my thinking. I have written about some of those things so far: I have thought a lot about “the” call to ministry as well as my own call to vocational ministry and I plan to write about more soon.

As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “ministry” and the way we (I speak as a native North American raised in the “American/Evangelical Church” because that is my context) practice church.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of guys who have been discouraged from “the ministry” for all the wrong reasons. They meet the characteristics laid out in Titus and 1 Timothy 3, including the key “ability to teach”. They genuinely care for people, they invest in others, they know the Bible, can explain and apply it well. They have healthy relationships , good finances, blah, blah, blah. You get the picture, these are good, qualified guys. But then, why, you ask, do they feel discouraged from the ministry?! Good question. I’m glad you asked. They simply don’t fit the mold, especially if we’re considering church planting in addition to eldering.

The American Church has created a fairly peculiar model for doing church. Not only is it peculiar, I wonder how much it has directly led to many otherwise qualified men from serving.

From what I can tell, the New Testament model of “church planting” seems to have primarily been something like this: God’s people lived as a blessing to those around them. As they were faithful in the task of “making, maturing and multiplying disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20) in a particular geographical area, the need for structure arose. The “practical” ministries of the local church were handled by the deacons and the public vision/instruction/shepherding/equipping was handled by the elders.

It seems to me that the American model puts the cart before the horse when we think of pastoring and church planting. We plant churches by beginning with the structure and then recruiting people to it. When we think of church planters, we tend to think of very entrepreneurial people because, in the American context, “planting a church” also means starting a legally recognized business. You have to incorporate, navigate tax codes, you have to present a clear vision to people of what will make your church different, and in most cases, you have to raise money. Lots and lots of money. And all the while, you need to motivate others to join in the creating of this new institution.

Of course this mindset marinates ministry beyond church planting. The model pastors are often those with a very particular skill set; someone who can excite a crowd and get stuff done (using a “tri=perspectival” model, we’re talking Kingly Prophet). There’s troops to rally and new series to build excitement for and vision to cast. And there’s pre-natal classes and nursery ministry and toddler ministry and kids programs and pre-teens programs and Jr. High ministry and High School ministry and college ministry and young adults/and/ormarrieds ministry and new parents ministry and mid-life crisis ministry and retiree ministry and “golden years” ministry. Not to mention Teen Bible Study, Men’s Bible Study, Women’s Bible Study. Men’s Breakfast and Women’s Tea. The Father/Daughter dance and Father/Son fishing trip. And youth camp. And family camp. And VBS. And backyard bible clubs. And budget meetings. And committee meetings. And children’s worker’s meetings. And youth worker’s meetings. And deacon’s meetings. And elders meetings.

American pastors/church planters are expected to be inspiring public speakers, effective strategists, and motivational managers. In other words, the American model of church planting and ministry is geared towards certain personality/leadership styles more than others. And otherwise qualified men who might not be a good office manager or a strong fundraiser or even the most charismatic public speaker are discouraged because they see the guys who have those traits as somehow more spiritual. When spirituality often is not the issue.

Our current model of church almost necessitates that we consider certain extra-biblical characteristics as much as we consider the biblical ones. We highlight the church planters who can initially recruit the most people or raise the most money. While God seems to delight in using those the world would least expect, American Evangelicalism seems to delight in pretty predictable leaders. Until the American church lets go of our fixation with performance and our correlation between pastors and executives, we will continue to teach many qualified men that there is more to “successful ministry” than the Bible tells us. Until we honor those who can make, mature and multiply disciples more than we value those who draw a crowd, we will continue to see many qualified men left to believe they don’t measure up.

As long as we view Sunday worship as a performance, we will idealize performing pastors. As long as we view the local church as a business, we will value those men searching for “CEO Leadership Lessons From Jesus”. As long as we allow church to be an institution, we will value pastors who could just as easily manage a business. While some of these traits may not be inherently bad, I’m pretty sure that we often find ourselves holding pastors up to standards the Bible doesn’t. And I’m pretty sure a lot of qualified men have been discouraged from ministry for the wrong reasons.

Aside from another wholesale reformation of the American Church, or perhaps the increased persecution of the American church, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of answers on the table. While Scripture certainly permits pastors to make a living from the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14, etc.), it seems to me that once we develop an institutional budget, we have also changed the role of the pastor. Perhaps it’s time to break free of the way we’ve always done it? Perhaps it’s time we unleashed the Gospel from the shackles of institutionalism. Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon.