Shopping with Jesus: Countering Consumerized Christianity
- Friday, November 25, 2005
This year I took a group of Hawaiians to Mexico for the first time. Aside from the sheer humor of watching islanders react to a very different mainland ("Hey, is that a billboard?" "That one highway goes over the other one!" "That water doesn’t connect to an ocean—it’s a lake!"), the real power of the trip came from the shift in the students’ paradigms. As the wooden frame of the tiny home snapped into place, I straddled a precarious wall with another student. He said to me, "This is the best view in the world." I looked at him quizzically, because, in fact, the dirt roads and roaming dogs weren’t much to look at. "Not because of what we’re looking at," he said. "Because of what we’re sitting on." Find the pastor in this picture.
It’s said that the best way to prevent weeds is to grow a healthy lawn. When students return from a mission trip with thoughts of changing their lifestyles, or even becoming missionaries, we’ve prevented a host of materialistic weeds by planting a lawn of compassion. Without a single lecture to my students on money, I realize we have changed the world economy.
Take that, mammon.
The materialism of American Christianity rests entirely in the fact that we’ve turned one single verse on its head. Paul surrenders himself with the words, "To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those not having the law" (1 Cor. 9:20 NIV). When in Rome, we might say.
But American Christians are largely doing this in reverse order. Paul chose to be like the Gentiles to minister to the Gentiles. We choose to minister to the suburban middle class, because we have chosen to be like them. The average American Christian seeks to go to college, secure a career, move to the suburbs, have 2.5 kids, and then declare, "Here I am, Lord! Send me!" We, the crew, have cast out the anchor and settled down before asking the captain, "To where are we sailing?" And I imagine that Jesus feels like his call to us is like a captain trying to steer an anchored ship. In the Navy, this is called mutiny.
Youth ministers have a job description that no one else in the world has: creating revolutionaries. Catch those students before they’ve cast anchor, point out the captain, teach them to listen, and watch them sail. We have the unique opportunity of stopping the natural flow of socialization before it sinks its claws into the lives of people and weighs them down with mortgages and tuitions and normalcy. We’re ordained to be there at the campfire or curbside to ask the reorienting question, "Are you planning your life the way God wants or the way everyone else wants?"
By turning shopping into a sacred event, awakening the worldviews of our students, and turning them into revolutionaries, we create a biblical counterculture to materialism. And the consequences are that we turn materialists into missionaries.
Jim Miller is the associate pastor of student ministries at First Presbyterian Church, Honolulu. He and his wife, Yolanda, have been serving in youth ministry for seven years.
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