Dancing with Consumerism
Shane Hipps on moving toward, against, and away from the culture.

Url: You moved from a career in advertising to pastor a Mennonite church. Is that reflective of a generation that's reacting against consumerism? Do you see a trend of younger people preferring smaller, less market driven, ministries?

Hipps: We are a consumer culture. I am a consumer. I understand that it's insidious and dangerous, but I am still a consumer. That's just how we're shaped. That's the cultural currency. And so mega-churches will thrive. They will always thrive. The emerging church used to say mega-churches are going away. They're not going away. They're predicated on the metaphor of consumerism. And as long as consumerism is the dominant mode of our culture mega-churches will always thrive. Some are saying that this next generation hates that. They don't. They love it.

So if the younger generation is not reacting against consumer church, what are they reacting to?

I make a distinction between three different kinds of consumerism. One is mainstream consumerism; the dominant hegemony that happens in our culture. Mainstream consumerism is mega. Walmart exemplifies this kind of consumerism, as does the mega-church. Boomer consumerism is mainstream consumerism.

Then you have counter consumerism, which is savviness. They are aware that Walmart and [Microsoft] Windows are trying to dominate, and they resist just like they resist mega-churches. But the odd thing is they're no less consumers. They're just counter consumers. A counter consumer buys Apple. It is absolutely consumer driven. They are consuming an identity that says we're different; an alternative from the rest of you.

It's youth rebellion. A reaction against what you're parents like.

Yep. Instead of Starbucks you'll go to the independent coffee shops. But it's still coffee shops and it's still consuming to form an identity. The emerging church is largely counter consumer. It's really edgy, hip and trendy. But it's no less consumeristic.

The third type is anti-consumerism. That is what I would call my context. Mennonites resist both the hip Apples and the hegemonic Windows. They would rather not have a computer. They'd rather make their own clothes, sow their own quilts, build their own homes. They're very, very, very careful not to consume. That's anti-consumer.

What is the impact of being anti-consumer?

They are irrelevant. And, frankly, I'm not convinced it's the greatest thing. If the dominant cultural currency is consumerism and consumerism is insidious, how do you engage it? That is an important question, and simply withdrawing isn't the best answer.

April 20, 2007

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

PaulD

April 24, 2007  12:01pm

God knows we are consumers...God created us to be consumers. We always need more of His wisdom, his love. "Come to me all who are thirsty.." "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." We are created with the desire to "consume" more of Him! Evil can be defined as Godly desires pursued in ways God did not intend. Living water can be served in many different ways, and a church is godly as long as they seek to love their neighbor by their presentation of Jesus. Do I enjoy what I consider cheap, gimmicky sermon series like those titled "Grace's Anatomy", no! But some people are reached by it. Other churches are intensely theological, to a fault, but still love. None of us are perfect...more we should seek to present Jesus as Good, Gracious God and Savior; we should preach the gospel so that some may be saved. When will we stop being so reactionary against cultural trends? We need to stop seeing ourselves as culturally relevant or counter-cultural and begin developing Godly cultures within our churches. This may at times, in places, and to certain people look either like cultural synchronism or counter-cultural. Let us move TO something rather than merely avoiding what we consider wrong.

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brad

April 23, 2007  1:33pm

A very honest article. We're consumers, we are. We may be different consumers, but we're consumers none the less. The PC / Mac commercials make this point. One consumer may be trendy another one nerdy. One consumer may be more valued than another, but at the end of the day consumerism and materialism have been imprinted on our identity as Americans. Maybe even as Christians. I don't think that the mega church is going away, because it connects with this consumer identity. Consumer identity is a reality even though it's not Biblical. But there's a small group who will choose real spiritual community over spiritual consumption. That's the difficult choice that I am trying make. It's definitely counter culture, but not counter Christian.

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Kris Couchey

April 21, 2007  3:03pm

It's not about consumerism. It's about churches having no spirtual food to offer. The void has to be filled with consumerism, church entertainment, programs, and leadership that is void of spiritual discernment. Young people are looking for God, they leave the church because He is not in these gimmicks and trends and leadership structures. http://my.opera.com/Boanerges/blog/

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richard

April 21, 2007  4:58am

Working for a large business for nearly 28 years, I have found a stricking similarity between it and the denominational church. As with a swimmer, my company has freestyled until it got tired, then it did the backstoke until it got tired, then the breaststroke, then the butterfly back to freestyle. As soon as it started to sink due to external pressures... the stroke changed to see what happened. Do we, as individuals, who collectively experience salvation truly become saints when encopassed within 4 walls on a certain day?. Is the Life of God fragmented into days, weeks or seconds?. Salvation is the unfolding in His finished work. If the widow gives all she has or the rich man all He has... is it not the same heart? We live in exciting times, and Jesus still knows the thoughts of men. Let us rejoice in His ongoing work, for consumerism and every other ism has the role of bringing every knee and every tounge to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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