Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

consume or be consumed

Written by: on March 20, 2015

Religion, as a consumable, shouldn’t come as a surprise given that we are living in a consumer driven society. Yet, I believe that people have become so acustomed to this way of life that they fail to see the dangers within the walls of the church. Miller’s book, Consuming Religion, examines the consumer driven culture of today’s model of Christianity, and theologies found in our world today. Churches experience growth as they meet the demands made by consumers, and some have been able to attract great wealth by appealing to the consumer’s emotions and needs. Just this week, a popular televangelist and church leader appealed to followers to raise $65 million to purchase a new private airplane for his ministry.[1] Alternatively, there are thousands of churches struggling to pay their pastors a meager salary. All churches must learn how to operate in a manner that enables them enough funds to run ministries. To do so, they must engage in communication and marketing in order to speak in the language of today’s culture. There is a careful balance between operating within the consumer driven culture and turning faith and religion into an object to be consumed.

Miller’s book explains the concept of commodification. The dynamics of commodification cause people to “consume” religion instead of engaging in their faith.  Religion, or Christianity, becomes something they can acquire just like any other commodity.[2]   Throughout my own life, I’ve seen many church scandals. False teaching, such as the “name it, claim it” gospel has urged people to give money, and in return they are told to expect blessings. Materialism is alive and growing within the church, and people will seek to buy their way into heaven. Many church leaders have used religion to attain personal gain. Almost every week, major scandal makes the news. Even leaders that started with good intentions have fallen into the trap of selling religion to get personal gain.

Even in church, people tend to place things at a higher level of importance than family, friends, and serving the needs within our communties. At the last church where my family ministered, many members had the mentality that nothing in the building could change. Change was very difficult for them. Everything from the old, broken organ to the painting of Jesus on the wall had become an icon.  While these items weren’t overtly worshiped, people held onto them as a necessary part of their worship experience.  They voiced their opinions with their money. They would raise funds and give money for their pet projects, yet they complained that they didn’t have the funds to support their pastors and missionaries. They spent thousands of dollars on a new oven to host their dinner events, yet said they had limited funds to feed the poor and hungry in the community. They justified their desire to have a new oven, but they didn’t weigh their choice in light of Biblical principles.

Christian leaders must understand the dynamics of commodification in order to be aware of the dangers – they must avoid the trap. Faith is not something that can or should be marketed or acquired.  We need to carefully balance marketing efforts within our work to ensure we aren’t just driving for church growth, popularity, or financial gain.  The focus must stay on Christ.  If any symbol or communication within the church takes the focus away from Christ, then it should not be used. Things like capital campaigns and or building projects can easily turn the focus from ministry to possessions.   People start believing things like “build a better building and people will come”. Many church leaders have been guilty of pressuring members to give more so that they can partner in the ministry – after all, they will be blessed, won’t they?

I also believe that many fall into the trap of consumerism because they have convinced themselves that our “free-market” society brings good. Cavanaugh, in his book Being Consumed, Economics and Christian Desire, asserts that a “free-market” society drives people toward individualism and away from considering the greater good.[3] It is evident that many Christians live their day-to-day lives without any consideration of how their consumer behavior impacts others. It is a widely recognized problem, yet many church leaders refuse to address it. After all, if they do, it may impact the money flowing into the church and their ability to achieve personal or professional goals. Cavanaugh explains that our desires are detached from things that are good and meaningful. Our appetite to consume is never satisfied, when it isn’t based on the love of God and others. I’ve heard it said, “consume, or be consumed”, but it would better be said as “consume the things of Christ, or be consumed by the world.” Consumerism has become a sin that is infecting the church. Cavanaugh offers practical advice for Christians who want to begin the journey to living more responsibly.

[1] http://www.christianpost.com/news/televangelist-creflo-dollar-needs-200000-people-to-donate-300-each-so-he-can-buy-65m-ministry-plane-135582/

[2]Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in A Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2003).

[3] William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

14 responses to “consume or be consumed”

  1. Travis Biglow says:


    It is up to us as we study to really utilize the things we are learning from these readings. I have always felt this way but now words and theory are being put to the way churches function and they greed that is in it. I dont want to seem like the church is a monster because i believe the church in Christ will be victorious because the bible lets us know this. It might be our day to revolutinize the way ministry is done from a biblical perspective. I cant even stomach the idea of trying to fit in to the norm of how churches function. I know how you feel when people dont want to change for nothing and things need to be changed. It is one of the hardest things to do in the church, that is let them know, “hey you doing that wrong today.” A lot of leaders will name you a trouble maker or that you are against them. Please!!!!! lol

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      Your observations are right on! It seems that some church leaders are doing a great job at revolutionizing the way that we do church. But, you are right on the mark when you point out that others will label you a troublemaker if you question the way they are doing things. I find it difficult to fathom why the church (in general) is so resistant to change. Organizations fail if they don’t change and grow, and those leaders that recognize this are starting to raise their voices.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    “Religion, or Christianity, becomes something they can acquire just like any other commodity”

    Dawnel, Your post made me immediately think of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered:“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:18-20)

    Today, we try to buy spiritual growth, good worship, good sermons, good image, church growth, etc. Twenty-five years ago I sat through my first church budget meeting and listened as the guy leading the meeting asked the question, “How much ministry do you want to buy?” The idea was that if we wanted to have quality ministries in the church, we had to pay for them. It is interesting to note that after all these years of equating ministry with money, the wealthiest nations experience the least amount of growth, while the Church in many poor nations continues to grow at an incredible rate.
    Could it be that God works on a different economy? Could it be that when we are in Christ, we have the resources necessary to do what he calls us to do? Could it be that not all resources are financial and consumer based?
    Just a thought.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      Great thoughts – Your question, “could it be that God works on a different economy”, made me wonder if we are so blinded by our own pride that we actually think that God ordains our American economy and consumer driven ways. I do believe that Christ supplies all of our needs, but I question the greater impact when we or others live outside of His Word in this area. Just because a church or individual experiences financial health doesn’t mean that they are receiving God’s full blessing or living a blessed life.

      We place too much emphasis on finances as being the measure of our blessings. There is danger when we go down the path of equating the accumulation of things and financial wealth on blessings.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Right on Brian! Your list of “good growth” “good sermons”, “good worship”, “good image” nails it because they have all become the goods we accentually end up pedaling eventually to get people to financially contribute so that things can stay a float. Nice thinking there!

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Dawnel…Great concise post. Much of what you wrote I resonate with and have been struggling with at my church too. We just finished a building campaign. I actually believe our leadership handled it well, kept the focus on Jesus, prayed through what our “needs” and the community “needs” are, and didn’t buy ridiculous upgrades. Still…the project cost over 1.5 million. We did’t go in debt and now that the building is finished I can see that every inch seems to be used by either our church or the community around us which we make it available. Still I struggle. That’s a lot of money. I really don’t think the buildings or possessions in and of themselves are bad but where do we draw the line? Is it possible to draw a line or is t a case by case situation? By the way…I think a $65 million jet crosses the line.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      I agree with you – buildings and things in themselves aren’t bad. However, I believe that we better make sure we are in God’s plan when we go down this path. The danger lies at the fork in the road where we must discern should we, or should we not.

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    “It is evident that many Christians live their day-to-day lives without any consideration of how their consumer behavior impacts others.” These words hit me especially as I spend some time with a friend from England this week. She doesn’t understand why Americans feel like bigger is better. Even the “mini” SUV I rented for our time in Boston is over-the-top with its size. As a result, we as Americans tend to barge into situations, financially, personally, socially, not realizing how our consumeristic behavior shuts down those around us. We’re the elephant in the room, thinking we’re tip-toeing around.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      Thank you for sharing. Your story resonates with my own journey. As I grow closer to Christ, He reveals to me within these day to day choices, how I can best serve Him. It isn’t that buying nice things or driving an SUV are bad, but we must question why we need to have these things. I don’t advocate that people should sell all of their belongings, but I do believe that we must recognize the leading of the Holy Spirit to indicate to us how we must make choices on a daily basis. Maybe some people do need to drive an SUV for a specific purpose, or maybe God wants them to avoid trading in for a new vehicle as that may be a worse option. At the end, we each must individually be accountable for our choices. God calls us to care for His creation, which includes the earth, each other, and our own bodies.

  5. Dave Young says:

    I enjoyed your post.
    So what if 200,000 people only donated $150 each instead of $300. Could he be happy with a 32,500,000 plane instead? I just had to write that because it just so absurd. I’ve been wanting to hire my volunteer youth pastor for the last three years but we simply don’t have the budget. I’d even gladly take a hit in my salary to do it, but still we don’t have it – and in texas the cost of living isn’t that much. How could anyone claim to be a part of the body of Christ, with all of it’s needs and think that such blatant luxury is acceptable.
    One could argue my ministry and his ministry aren’t comparable and they’d be correct. So take a look a Billy Graham and the Billy Graham evangelistic association. I dare say his ministry is significantly larger than Creflo Dollar’s and yet Billy from the beginning took a set salary managed by his board, his income and his benefits were never dependent upon how large his ministry had gotten. Why don’t the televangelists take a simple lesson from arguable the most popular evangelist ever.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:


      You captured my sentiments exactly. I see the same on a day-to-day basis in many churches. The system isn’t sustainable and pastors cannot continue to serve the needs of society without resources and provisions. So, I am praying about what the answer might be. For myself, I want to serve Him and I trust Him to provide. However, I sometimes struggle to gain clarity of what this looks like in the future world. It is difficult to develop a strategy without understanding what the vision or model looks like. It is clear that the model today is broken, so our challenge is to understand Christ’s vision for what the church of the future should look like.

  6. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel, you wrote: “False teaching, such as the “name it, claim it” gospel has urged people to give money, and in return they are told to expect blessings. Materialism is alive and growing within the church, and people will seek to buy their way into heaven.” When I read this, I was struck by how similar this is to one of the causes of the Reformation, the sale of indulgences… Just recast in a new, flashy way!

    The more things change, the more they stay the same!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I hadn’t even thought about indulgences. Yes, I believe you are correct – a similar action, just repurposed to speak in a more modern and acceptable way in today’s culture.

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Your post makes me think about how the basic church growth model is . . . attract to our big cool service, get them to stick around by being in a small group, get them to help out by serving, and get the to contribute by tithing. Each component becomes a commodity that we try to sell and get people to buy. In some sense, pragmatism is our enemy, because these kind of model can grow and organization and a group of people, but I fear it is more consumer and sociologically driven than God’s divine interact and movement in and among a body of people. It needs to be a both and but it seems we as the church behave as if it is an either or. Thanks for the good post.

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