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

New Wineskins for Consumer Culture

Written by: on February 24, 2019

“Miller analyzes how consumer culture commodifies everything, including religious practice, making it impossible to confront it head-on. His discussions on learning the origins of where a consumer product comes from and on embedding religious practices into the traditions from which they are taken are particularly helpful. Miller succeeds in moving the discussion of consumer culture to a new and hopefully more productive level of engagement.”[1] Miller strives to address, at the metanarrative level, how consumerism is a cultural substructure (rather than a cultural conflict versus Christianity) that seeks to absorb all cultural content “to be commodified, distributed, and consumed.”[2]

I appreciated his unique perspective on presenting consumer culture as “a set of habits of interpretation and use” that renders the content of beliefs and values (including Christianity) less important.[3] That is, rather than Christianity combating consumerism directly as a satanic opponent, perhaps we would be more effective to understand the consumer culture infrastructure. Armed with this new enhanced understanding, we could become more strategic in developing an effective culturally relevant Christian response to contemporary faith and practice. Miller argues .that the Church should engage consumer culture on the level of practices and structures rather than meaning and beliefs.[4] As a practical theologian focused on leadership development within the local church, I view this as focusing on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy to engage contemporary consumer culture.

While probably not discerning all the nuances of Miller’s Roman Catholic faith, I found myself most interested in his section on countering commodification with sacramentality. He views sacramentality or sacramental imagination as a resource to counter consumer culture. It counters consumer culture by challenging the abstractions of commodification. That is, it hallows physical things and endows them with importance (the very opposite of mere symbology).[5] It may be surprising that this is of interest to this Vineyard pastor. While the Vineyard movement focuses on major doctrinal belief and values (what we would call “the main and the plain”), it gives broad latitude in practices within local Vineyard churches. While older Vineyard adherents (yes, dating back to the 1980s) want to return to simple Vineyard songs (light rock songs sung directly to God) and extended times of worship and Holy Spirit prayer ministry; younger adherents are looking for more liturgy and the greater significance of physical objects used in worship.

This developing desire to consider, encourage and express greater sacramental imagination is expressed in several growing trends within the Vineyard movement. Spiritual practices and spiritual direction are encouraged for all pastors and made available within pastoral sabbath retreats, pastoral well-being initiatives, as well as available at all regional and national leader conferences.  One of the desired outcomes of my research is to see coaching as recognized and highly valued in Vineyard culture (we would call it Vineyard DNA) as spiritual direction.

More liturgical (at least within the Vineyard context) expressions within local Vineyard worship can be seen in greater use of candles, displayed crosses, responsive readings, readings of written liturgical prayers, seasonal daily devotional guides, and worship dance presentations.  Even water baptism and eucharist expressions are becoming somewhat more liturgical within a movement that officially views these expressions of faith as (only) ordinances. Within our local Vineyard church, since our former long-time senior pastor (some thirty years) came from a Roman Catholic heritage, we have observed both Lent and Advent. For years, we have provided swatches of burlap to attendees (we practice an open communion) at our Ash Wednesday service. With a new lead pastor who is desiring to reach a younger demographic, we will be providing ashes for the first time to those who would like to receive them. Perhaps stated another way, we are striving to implement new wineskins to receive the new wine of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the consumer culture of our community.

[1] Calvin Theological Journal, April 2006. Accessed 02/24/2019. https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/consuming-religion-9780826417497/

[2] Miller, Vincent, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2003) 179.

[3] Miller, Consuming Religion, 1.

[4] Miller, Consuming Religion, 180.

[5] Miller, Consuming Religion, 189.

About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

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