Who Comes to Worship: Consumers or Community?

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

The title says it all.

How do we approach worship and help others do so in ways that help everyone get to functioning together as community rather than as a group of consumers primarily out to get what "feeds them?"

Three broad thoughts...

  1. We acknowledge and name consumerist impulses for what they are-- pretty natural and highly supported responses in US culture-- and for what they can be-- selfish, sinful, and ultimately a form of possession masquerading as liberty. This means consumerism goes explicitly into confessions of sin and prayers for deliverance. It also means we proclaim forgiveness and claim deliverance from this bondage in acts of pardon.
  2. We rehearse words and ritual and encourage ongoing practices that acknowledge that by one Spirit we have been baptized into the one body of Christ. Therefore, let us pursue the things that make for peace and build up the commonlife.The commonlife was very practical, hands on stuff in early Christianity and remains so in many ways and places today. This is face to face community. This is loving the person who sits next to you and behind you, not just when they do that, but wherever your paths cross. It means also taking steps to discover where your paths might cross, and maybe even taking additional steps to help those paths cross-- either with you or with others where those paths may already cross.
  3. Christian community is always being sent, and regathering to check in, report, praise God and pray to God for what they've seen, be re-membered (or perhaps "membered" for the first time) at the font, reconnect deeply with Christ and one another around the Lord's Table, and be sent again. Worship and other gatherings thus fundamentally rehearse mission. As C.S. Lewis noted, and has been oft repeated, all relationships are about something. Ultimately, Christian relationships are about being caught up in the divine Love of our Triune God, and sent forth by and with and in that Love to witness to that Love in the world, wherever we are. They are about joining God's mission already in progress.

Consumers go home or out to dinner afterward. They rarely get sent-- that's not what they signed up for.

Where have you seen examples of persons moving from consumers to community? What congregational practices have you seen that seem to help this?