Whether you realize it or not, culture is important to you. Culture. It’s one of those things we simultaneously understand and yet can’t explain. It’s the “air” we breathe and the “water” we live in. In short, it’s the context that shapes our interpretations of the world, our experiences, and our actions. We might expect something so powerful to exist on the level of the examined and the observed, but it doesn’t. Culture seeps into us like a marinade into a steak. It forms the operating system that we build everything upon.
Author Marshall McLuhan compares culture to the water fish swim in, he says, “Fish did not discover water. In fact, because they are completely immersed in it, they live unaware of its existence. Similarly, when a conduct is normalized by a dominant cultural environment, it becomes invisible.”
In America, we talk about our culture as the American Way. But what is that? Freedom? Independence? Hard Work? Did you know the American Way began as a marketing scheme? Of the many sides of American culture, one of the biggest is consumerism.
This is the first post on consumerism and disciple making. In this series, I’ll make the invisible visible, so that we can intentionally respond to the forces that are shaping our walk and those we’re discipling.
Consumerism as an American cultural value has been intentionally cultivated for nearly 100 years. Dayton, Ohio’s own Charles Kettering was an influential voice in defining and shaping its development. He clearly expessed the creed of consumerism in his 1929 article, “Keep the Customer Dissatisfied” by saying, “If everyone were satisfied, no one would buy the new thing because no one would want it.” American manufacturers and businesses do everything they can to keep people dissatisfied so that they can sell more. The implications of their strategy on the American mindset are many.
Underneath their strategy is the first tenet of consumerism which is, Satisfaction Can Be Purchased.
In a consumeristic culture, satisfaction is for sale. No matter what the problem is, it can be solved by money. Not enough time? You can pay someone to do what you don’t want to do (housekeeping, lawn care, child care, etc.). The result it more time. If you don’t know how to swim, cook, sport, fix things, then you can pay someone to do it for you or to learn it.
Don’t like where this is headed? You can resist, but it won’t be easy, some of the most creative minds are developing marketing and advertising campaigns to convince you that satisfaction is for sale. You see, if you implicitly or explicitly believe that satisfaction is for sale, then you’ve become a consumer.
What’s a consumer? A consumer is someone who has surrendered to other people or institutions the power to provide what is essential for a satisfied life.
Consumers buy into at least two lies. First, they believe that we don’t have what we need for life. God tells us that we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Second, consumers believe that a full life comes from what man can provide and not from Christ (John 10:10).
Perhaps the most dangerous result of consumerism is that it elevates money to the ultimate value in society. Money becomes the root answer to all of your problems. With more money, you can buy what you need (a product, more free time, etc.) to get the satisfaction you’re missing. Another way of saying this is, money is god. In a consumeristic culture like America, when a consumer says, “If I only had more money, time, education,” etc. they are appealing to money.
But money doesn’t bring satisfaction or happiness. A quick mission trip to any third world country shows us that. In fact, non-consumers are normally much happier than consumers.
So how does this pillar of consumerism impact the church? Disciple making? Here are two quick thoughts:
1. When church leaders believe satisfaction is for sale then they are always looking to the next program, curriculum, or study to bring their satisfaction. Normally pastors seek satisfaction in attendance, giving, and recognition. However, Jesus shows us that transformation comes through following Christ and resisting the worldly patterns of thinking.
2. Disciple makers are just as susceptible to consumeristic thinking. It shows up as a nagging insecurity to believe God will use them to impact others. That insecurity leads many to never start, others to become curriculum dependent, and still others to focus only on playing defense.
There are surely many other ways the belief that satisfaction can be purchased impacts our life with God and disciple making. How have you seen it wear on you and others?
Living in a culture of consumerism means we constantly soak in ungodly messages. Can satisfaction really be purchased? Are we really missing what we need for life? Is money the ultimate value in life? Where is God in all of this?