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I have been involved in helping to lead a Bible Study of business men for over 10 years. We meet every Friday morning at 7am in a Bank board room. Most of these men do not attend a church regularly but consider the Bible study group their church. As we study the Bible, sometimes we talk about the importance of church attendance but that is about as far as it gets. Some have been burned out by over involvement in leadership positions in the church in prior years. A few attend regularly. Others just have not found a church they want to commit to, yet others are too busy with their hobbies on weekends. Why are men struggling in America to connect to the church?
Part of the answer is found in Vincent J. Miller’s book Consuming Religion; Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture [Miller, 2009]. This is not a book about religion against consumer culture but about how consumerism affects our religious practices. The core of the problem is what he calls the commodification of culture: the idea that western civilization is out of touch with commodities as we are unaware of where they come from, who made them under what conditions. This causes an alienation effect in society from assembly line production to isolating us in single home dwellings under the vision of being independent and self-made. Our jobs cause us to be so busy and efficient; we have little time left to build meaningful relationships. Marketing is designed to make us want what we do not have and su consciously, we are never satisfied with what we do have.
There are so many things that vie for our attention: places to go, experiences to have, video games to play, movies to see. I find it humorous and sobering that people go out to have a good time together at the movies! Where has meaningful interaction gone when two people sit next to each other but are entertained by a movie without much interaction afterwards but discussing whether they liked the movie or not. It is no wonder young people have a hard time building meaningful relations in person when most of their interaction is on face book.
I believe we have been subconsciously affected by our consuming culture causing an inability to build meaningful community. Miller suggests a few tactics to expose commodification and to reverse its effects. Among his suggestions are: be aware of commodification, get in touch with where items are made and by who, take up craft making to understand the time crafts take to make, study past Christian communities to see how they lived simply, self-reflect, practice liturgy and a few other suggestions.
As Christian leaders, we need to be creative in asking deeper questions to expose the difference between Jesus’ practice and our practice. We can encourage others to get involved in Christian community and fast on recreation. One of the individuals attending my Bible study is very involved in church and manages a widow ministry. Once a month for half a Saturday, men from the church visit the female widows and they help around the house fixing things or mowing lawns [whatever is needed to be done around the house]. This practice is to be commended and goes a long way to build meaningful community. What are your ideas about how we can reinvent community in and out of the church?