Rachel Young has a thoughtful article at the The Presbyterian Outlook's Outpost blog titled, Consumers, missionaries, or worshipers? She writes:
... We use the language of buying and selling, of efficiency, of getting the best product for the best price, even as we think about our relationships, our work, our leisure, our church. We are consumers.
I don't have space in this post to offer evidence for these big claims. Check out Hugh Halter and Matt Smay's book And: The Gathered and Scattered Church for
an evaluation of how this metaphor seeps into churches. The consumer
metaphor invites us to seek church experiences that fit our interests
and time. We go to church to get our spiritual needs met. If I were to
modify the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter
Catechism (see below for the actual answer), the consumer might say, "Man's chief end is to connect with God by listening to a great message and hearing great music." ...
So maybe, as some suggest, a better metaphor is missionary. She writes:
... So, we might modify the Westminster Shorter Catechism to say, "Man's chief end is to partner with God to redeem and restore our hurting world."
The missionary metaphor compels me. But, what I find lacking in both of these metaphors is the primacy of worship. Is the gathering of a church only functional? To give people a feel good experience or to shape them as missionaries? Or, are the people of God called first to worship God and then be sent? The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism actually reads, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
I hear her concerns and I know they are widely shared. I hear similar concerns expressed across the church. But I think pitting these various metahpors against each other, or prioritizing one over the other, IS the problem. I commented in response:
I like how Stan Ott talks about church as three-dimensional: doxological, koinonial, and missional. Or more simply: worship, community, and mission. The three are inseparable. I think classifying desire for a meaningful worship experience as consumerist is overly harsh. It is pursuit of that experience above all else that is destructive. I would also say that pursuit of worship as prior, or over and above the other two, is problematic.
Genuine worship draws us into community and inspires us to mission. Genuine community is worshipful and it is in community that we discern and do mission. Mission is a worshipful response to God and deepens us in community as we do it together. All three aspects must be held together.
There is an ongoing debate in the church about a (false) dichotomy of community (and personal nourishment) versus mission. I sense some want to lift "worship" up as the "third way" out of this conflict. Instead, I suggest that the answer is to boldly embrace all three.