Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fast-Food Faith

Fast-Food Faith: fills you up but lets you down.

A couple of years ago the movie Super-Size Me came out about a young man who spent a month only eating at a noted fast food restaurant. During that month he gained weight, became lethargic, and generally saw his health decline. As I came across this movie again recently it dawned on me that this is what is happening in so many of our churches. We are creating drive-thru spirituality, fast-food faith. This type of practice creates consumers, not Christian. It promotes affirmation for showing up, not blessings for sacrifice. It makes us less healthy as the body of Christ.

Drive-thru spirituality creates consumers. They expect to drive up to a window and be served, hot and fresh, the religious experience of their choosing. They want it fast, hot, and tasty. No concern is given for the value of the content or the depth of the theology. If it fills us up then that’s all that matters. The question is, what is it filling us up with? Consumer faith creates believers who think that God exists to meet their needs, to literally serve them. This is little better than ancient pagan practices that sought to control and influence the “spirits” with ritualized behaviors. If we follow a particular formula or recipe suddenly all will be well, our children will be happy, and we will become wealthy. Please pull around.

Not only does fast-food faith create consumers, it promotes affirmation for showing up. Don’t misunderstand me, showing up in worship is vital to Christian maturity, but it is only part of the plan. In addition to encountering God in worship, we must pursue a process of maturity, and practice a life of sacrifice. In our world of “more, more, more” the Church should be proclaiming, “less, less, less.” Nowhere does Jesus commend anyone for the accumulation of “stuff.” Actually, one parable remarks how building “bigger barns” is actually a practice of self-worship, turning your reliance upon self rather than upon God. Do you want fries with that?

Drive-thru spirituality actually makes us less healthy as the body of Christ. When we practice consumption without activity, lethargy takes over. It becomes easier to consumer more and more. We say things like, “I’m just not being fed,” which translates, “its not entertaining enough,” or “it challenges me more than I’m willing to admit.” Most of us actually already know far more than we are willing to practice. We know that Christ calls us to a life of sacrifice, not one of consumption. We know that we should be continually challenged by the word of God, but prefer to be comforted by it. We want our french-fried faith super-sized, please, no pickles.

So what’s the answer? Discipline. Yes, I know its no fun, but it’s the spiritual equivalent to a balanced diet and exercise. We must practice the discipline of worship, being regularly in the presence of God among the people of God yielding ourselves to the will of God. We must practice study and prayer, both corporately and personally. Spending time with God in the presence of a few trusted believers and then supporting that small group time with personal, daily encounters with the holy, molds and shapes our spirit into the image of Christ. We must practice sacrifice and service. It is not enough to learn, we have to respond to our times of worship and growth with times of sacrifice and service. Serving the poor, giving of time, talent, tithe, and witness (sounds awfully similar to our United Methodist membership commitments). These are the disciplines that make us healthy and get us out of the habit of making our spiritual lives a drive-thru disaster.

Jesus gave it all, do you really want to settle for fast food faith? I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Dr. Marty

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