Jared Looney is involved in church planting in New York City. The work he is doing is really close to my heart. Well, actually, the people of NYC have been in my heart since I served as a chaplain at Ground Zero, following the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
When I read this article earlier today, it made me think of Revelation 5:10, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…” Indeed, God has made us a kingdom and priests to serve Him. Keep this in mind as you read Jared’s thoughts. I’d also recommend that you check out his blog, Urban Ekklesia, at: http://urbanekklesia.blogspot.com. Under the title of “Beyond Commercialism” Jared writes:
I believe we need to repent. The more I listen and the more I watch and the more I learn, the more I see it. I see it everywhere. I see it in churches that hear about or see on TV. It's in Tennessee, Texas, California, and here in New York. As much as we are working against it, I still see traces of it in our house church network in the
Bronx. It's everywhere, and I see it in me too.
What is it? Elements of our culture that oppose the Gospel. Can I confess something? I've often been conflicted about my own vocation as a "minister." Why? Because of ingrained worldviews in our culture, it is incredibly difficult–as a professional theologian–to teach others to move beyond the blinders that people wear. Because one of the greatest enemies of the Gospel in America is COMMERCIALISM. It's an enemy because it seeps into our worldview and becomes part of our religious practice.
We, Americans, expect a certain exchange of religious goods and services rather than becoming the called-out people of God on a mission with Him. Have you ever really stopped to evaulate the kinds of behaviors we can promote in our culture and compare them with the message of the cross? Unfortuantely, often the answer to this dilemna is to demand people to "Stop it!" oftentimes resulting in the formation of some new cult or legalism in order to get results we can be proud of (yet another idol!).
Perhaps right motives in the beginning, but a bad end result. Another answer is just to give in and embrace it as some sort of compromise for the sake of gathering a crowd. I cannot live with either of these choices.
Based on a worldview caught in commercialism, the religious professional provides a service, and the church member is the recipient of religious experience. Sometimes I get into conversations about "concerns" in the church (whether in the Bronx or elsewhere), and my response is generally (in one way or another): "So what are you going to do about it?" Only when people get this (if they ever do get it!), do I then become their eager partner and biggest fan.
As soon as we see ourselves (ALL of us) as priests of God, then real change is possible. When the full-time minister or theologian becomes a fellow broken vessel, an equipper, a consultant, a trainer, a visionary, a prophetic voice for the active body of Christ, rather than a dispenser of religious services, we are set free both from disillusioned expectations and from unjustified disappointment about what the professional is supposed to do for me.
I've heard people talk about the desire for "revival" in America for years, and I've read the same statements written before I was born. I believe we need to repent. Perhaps we just need to take the blinders off, and see in a fresh way the radical, counter-cultural vision of Jesus' Gospel once again. Let's pray for that. I'm praying for workers with this kind of vision.