Consumerism is a cancer in the American church (see Dever and Dunlop’s book). It shows itself in an incessant hunger for better programs, better preachers, and better places of worship. It is marked by a never-ending search for the “right church.” It results either in Christians never committing themselves to a healthy local church or in Christians hastily leaving a healthy church in search of greener pastures where they ‘may be fed’ and or find what they really need.
This cancer is wide-spread and destructive. It is destructive for individuals: if consumerism is embraced, no church will be good enough for very long—there will always be something new to leave for; it also means a person will not stay long enough in a local church to be known and know others—a place where real spiritual growth often takes place. It is also destructive for local churches: if we give into consumerism, we end up shifting our focus from the gospel to always trying to attract more people through secondary means.
But there is a cure for consumerism: the ordinary means of grace. The ordinary means of grace are the ways that God ordinarily strengthens and grows Christians in their faith. They are appointed by God for God’s people to experience His grace and help as they follow Christ. While there is a debate on how many there are, a good example of them is found in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here we see four practices to which Christians in the Early Church were devoted: the apostles’ teaching (God’s Word); fellowship; breaking of bread (Lord’s Supper); prayer. These are the ordinary means of grace. (As others have remarked, they are not “ordinary” in the sense of being boring, but ordinary in the sense that this is how God typically works to bring His grace to His people).
Christians will be regularly strengthened and fed as they utilize the ordinary means of grace. Reading the Word of God and hearing it preached will strengthen and grow us as Christians. Experiencing genuine fellowship with other Christians will strengthen and grow us as Christians. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper (and baptism) will regularly strengthen and grow us as Christians. Praying alone and with others with strengthen and build us up as Christians. These are ways we might be fed, grow spiritually, be encouraged, and be equipped to carry out the good works God has for us (Eph 2:10). We don’t need the greener pastures of a better church or ministry, if we are in a healthy—one that is biblical and committed to the gospel—then we have what need to be fed and grow in maturity through the ordinary means of grace.
Rightly understanding and utilizing the ordinary means of grace will keep us from the cancer of consumerism. It will help us not to be hasty in leaving a healthy church because we feel like we’re not “being fed.” It will turn us from the folly of discontentment and the allure of a ‘better’ church by inviting us to experience God’s grace through His appointed means in a local healthy church. It will lead us and our congregations into greater levels of maturity and godliness for the glory of God.