“Major issues arise when we allow the values of consumerism to infect our pursuit of mission.”
I remember a few years ago when the first supermarket opened in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Lucky Supermarket was big, bold and brightly lit. The aisles were filled with all kinds of wonderful Western products. Wide-eyed Cambodian families would wander up and down the aisles pushing an empty cart, in complete amazement at a hundred different types of deodorant.
Who knew we needed to wear deodorant?
Welcome to the modern world, people! Where your primary identity is to be a “consumer” of products and services. We live to consume. We work in order to have enough money to consume. What we cannot consume right now, we store—in storage units.
We are consumers.
This is the Lucky Supermarket and Walmart age, where we have become accustomed to being able to pick and choose from a wide range of options—that we didn’t even know we needed. Convenience and price are the twin pillars of this system.
Even our faith has become infected with this virus of consumerism.
Looking for a church to join? Go ahead and drive past a dozen options to the one with the best lights, preaching and music. Don’t like it anymore? Bothered by annoying people in the church? Just switch churches. Can’t be bothered with the hassle of it all? Live stream a message. Ultimate convenience and low cost. Coming soon to a screen near you: Netflix Church.
Even the way we do cross-cultural mission has become infected with the virus of consumerism. And like the Walmart products we prefer, lower cost is better. And convenience is paramount.
Cross-cultural mission no longer involves arduous months on board a ship, like the one my grandparents took to India. Now we can come and go within a week, and squeeze in a couple of days of shopping and sunbathing, thanks to cheap flight deals from Air Asia.
So, what’s the big deal? Why not embrace the low-cost convenience of modern cross-cultural missions? After all, three hours eating pretzels on a plane is infinitely preferable to three months on a boat, right?
But seriously, major issues arise when we allow the values of consumerism to infect our pursuit of mission.
Simply put, convenience and “bang for your buck” are NOT kingdom values. They are economic values. They are the priorities of the empire. And they relentlessly undermine what God wants to do in the world.
So, in case you’re wondering, here are three signs you, your church or your mission might be infected with the virus of Christian consumerism.
Sign No. 1: You prefer short-term to long-term.
How can we fulfill our calling to mission and not miss out on a happy life and career at home, as well? How can we have our mission cake and eat it, too?
Easy! Short-term “mission” trips. In 2016, we can take our pick from the mission brochure of destinations and opportunities. And to make it all very convenient, mission organizations have even taken to advertising on our favorite Christian websites.
Let’s be honest: The majority of churches no longer send long-term missionaries at all. None. At. All.
Instead, they send a revolving door of short-term mission trippers. Excitement remains high. And the church gets a buzz of new energy. Everyone wins (except the poor recipients), but no one pays much of a cost.
But what happens when all we engage in is short-term mission? I’ve addressed this issue in more depth here, but a couple of quick points:
Relationships remain shallow because the heart language of the people is never learnt. We cannot connect deeply. There is little sense of mutuality or true vulnerability. So, our relationships are never truly transformational.
Because we never suffer with the people, we inadvertently model a low-cost, “hit-and-run” way of engaging in mission, which spreads into other parts of the world—just like our Lucky Supermarket chains.
Finally, and perhaps most sadly, we are never truly transformed into the full-time missionaries God made every single one of us to be, because we have reduced mission to a two-week summer trip, another box to tick in our pursuit of “life-changing experiences.”
The antidote to this short-term-itis, is to recognize that the place of short term engagement is in the context of a life-long vocation to bring Good news to the poor. Short term trips are not primarily for doing mission, they are for gaining vision, glimpsing God’s heart for the poor, awakening our souls and learning more.
Which brings me to the next symptom …