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

Faith as More than a Commodity

Written by: on April 3, 2023

I saw a meme last week that said, “Don’t work God into your schedule. Work your schedule around God.” That’s a good introductory thought for a review of Vincent Miller’s book, Consuming Religion. This book examines two forces that are at work in the world: religion and consumerism and how they interact with each other.

Miller takes the reader on a journey, showing how culture has been commodified through capitalism and then specifically, what the commodification of religion looks like in this world. He then offers thoughts on how grassroot efforts to overcome the commodification of religion could bring a necessary reformation of religious practice.

What is consumerism?

Miller defines “consumer culture as a situation in which elements of a culture are readily commodified.”[1] He goes on to explain that rather than a set of values or inherent selfishness in people, the consumer culture is more about a structure in which cultural commodities becomes things in and of themselves (like physical products), so they are divorced from the original tradition, beliefs and practices from which they originated.  The marketing and advertising systems then feed on an individual’s desire for such objects and strive to tie acquisition to identity.

Religious commodification

The result of consumerism impacting the religious sphere is “superficial religious practices and beliefs that function as products and not as parts of traditions. Consumers of religion are in danger of being cut off completely from deeper meaning and larger tradition.”[2]  Miller argues that a potential solution to this problem is to focus on the agency that capitalism opens to the masses and instead of producing a product of religion, encourage grassroot efforts of people returning to traditions and forming their lives around transformation in Christ.

Implications in Church Leadership
In reading Miller, I must admit that I had several moments of internal resistance. Much of my job as the Creative Director at Messiah is focused on making worship and discipleship relevant in the modern world. As such, we intentionally remind ourselves that many traditions in the church are man-made and therefore we do not worship the traditions, we worship Christ. For example, several years ago, we stopped having an advent wreath near the altar during advent. This upset many people because it was “something that had always been done.”  Those who were offended by its removal focused more on the wreath than on celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In light of my initial resistance to Miller’s emphasis of tradition, I appreciated his summary of the three lessons he proposes for theology in light of the consumer culture in which we live because it reminded me that he’s not saying all tradition is necessary, rather “theology must attend to the structures and practices that connect belief to daily life, attend to the lived, everyday theology of believing communities, and adopt the task of helping communities preserve and sustain their traditions in the face of the erosion of globalizing capitalism.”[3]

My takeaway from this book is to have a greater awareness in how I communicate about church events, worship and discipleship practices to make the communication centered on Jesus, not on culture and continue to emphasize ways for individuals to focus on their internal faith formation rather than simply attend Christian events and take pride in calling themselves a Christian. In other words, a good question to ask might be: If everything that was externally Christian was taken away from your life (a church building, Bible study groups, worship music, etc, could you still be confident in your relationship with Jesus?

[1] Miller, Vincent J. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. 1st ed. 33 1/3. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012, 72

[2] Wilder, Courtney. “Vincent J Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture.” The Journal of Religion 85, no. 4 (October 2005): 681–82. https://doi.org/10.1086/499463.

[3] Miller, Consuming Religion, 226.

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

6 responses to “Faith as More than a Commodity”

  1. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Great summary of Miller’s work and how it impacts the work you do at Messiah. I’m curious how and the other church leaders, navigate which traditions can be reimagined? I have tradition-minded church and denomination. Many of the traditions are just local ones and in some cases, I can trace back to the pastor who started them. Of course, I’m settling on that traditions bring comfort (fast-thinking) rather than causing people to deeper reflection, unless that is my intention. But, I still unintentionally change something that meant something to someone else. How do you navigate those in a creative space?

    • Chad – It’s a delicate balance, for sure, and every congregation has a different threshold for change. Messiah was founded 35 years ago with the direction to “be different.” So from the beginning, our church had permission to change and experiment, which has been a blessing for an Enneagram 7 like myself! Our worship planning team freuqently asks ourselves the question, “what are we willing to try for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus.” And so far, the answer has always been “anything short of sinning or compromising the Gospel.” I know that’s unique for a church and it HAS caused people to find another church when their preferences for worship were not fullfilled. I think a key question to ask yourself could be, “is the positive impact of the this change worth the potential negative response?” Discussing that with your leaders gives you perspective and a common response if you decide to move forward with the change.

  2. Caleb Lu says:

    Laura, I appreciate the question you end your post with. I think a lot of churches and church leaders had to ask this question when the covid pandemic took a lot of our traditions away from us. While people connect with Jesus in different ways, it’s probably a good question to ask every once a while and reflect on. I’m curious how you might have navigated that time and what kind of message you tried to convey or might try to convey now?

    I do find the idea of traditions really helpful. All through the Old Testament it seems like God is establishing traditions and monuments for the people to remember what God did and who God is.

  3. Caleb – I totally agree that traditions are great reminders of God’s promises and faithfulness. The problem comes when people make those traditions into idols, which we tend to do as human beings.

    Covid was a difficult time for all churches, for sure. We had to learn how to offer online worship in less than a week, but now we have people from all over the country participating in weekly worship. During that time, we consistently communicated that the four walls of our church building are not actually “the church.” The people are. I think that brought a measure of comfort and still does to this day.

  4. Laura, I love your reflection on how you could communicate more effectively and holistically. It is so true that it starts with how we are leaders communicate the values we hold as a community. Thank you for sharing!

  5. mm Shonell Dillon says:

    Having christian be show externally would be great, I think we can do this by exercising what God says in his word. We would like more like a world full of love.

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