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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Consumer Church

Written by: on February 21, 2019

 

As a pastor and marketer, I find Vincent Miller’s, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, fascinating on many levels. From the marketing perspective, it challenges the ethics of said industry when it comes to the commodification of religious symbols. Daryl McKee in the journal of marketing writes,

“He (Miller) goes on to argue that this “practice of advertising,” with its emphasis on materiality and possession, contributes to social insecurity. Furthermore, by co-opting cultural symbols (e.g., the cross of Christianity, the yin -yang symbol of Taoism), commercial use diminishes the depth of meaning these forms have in their original context”.[1]

In a world consumed by the spirit of capitalism with a profit as the end goal[2], those who market and consume the religious need to understand the history without eroding meaning in the commercial aspect.

From the pastoral/Christian leader perspective coming to grips with the customer culture and its influence is vital to freeing people from a false sense of fulfillment that can only be found in Christ. Phyllis Zagano in reviewing Miller’s work brings this to light in writing,

This fourth chapter… presents the horrifying clear concept that the object of consumer desire is the sheer joy of desiring. Miller writes, “Consumer desire is similar in form to traditional religious desires. It resembles more profound longings for transcendence, justice, and self-transformation enough to be able to absorb the concepts, values, and practices of religious traditions into its own forms without apparent conflict” (144)[3], simply put the line between secular and scared has all but washed away. In much of what we call church we have replaced the one to be desired with desire itself. Miller himself notes, “far from being immune to the dynamics of commodification, religion is as susceptible to abstraction and reification as other aspects of culture.”[4]

How does this relate to relational leadership and engaging the next generation with Spirit-led leadership? In his book, Meet Gen Z, James Emery White talks about the impact of secularization. He states, “Secularization is the process by which something becomes secular. It is the cultural current making things secular”[5] he continues and says,  “famed sociologist Peter Berger defined secularization as the process by which “sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”, this simply means that the church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order, and Christianity is losing its place as the dominant worldview.”[6] Both Miller and White have recognized that the relational aspect of symbols to the institution when removed lose their meaning and impact. One route that the next generation is taking is to embrace the call to reach culture rather than critique it.

Take for example the fashion icon Jerry Lorenzo and his Fear of God company.[7] Jerry grew up in a Christian household and graduate from a Christian school. With no formal training in the fashion industry, he was merely trying to fill a void and states, “West had a tremendous impact on Fear of God. “The best thing Kanye did for me was make ‘Jesus Walks,’” Lorenzo adds. “Fear of God wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a ‘Jesus Walks. I was working at Diesel in Chicago at the time, and hearing this dude rap about Jesus, the way that he did, his delivery… ‘Jesus Walks’ changed my life.”[8] Now, if one were to listen to the song, Jesus Walks, it would not fit into the category of a worship song towards Jesus, but this “commodification” spoke to Jerry who also believes he is also influencing people in a like manner. The space in this blog does not afford the time to develop a theology of scared vs. secular, but I do think as leaders going forward, we need to preach more theological in order to reattach the symbols back to the institution. Can God use anything he wants to invite people to a relationship with him, yes, look no further than Paul at Mars Hill, put that unknown God sculptor was anchored in a theology of God not a commodification of God.

 

 

 


[1] McKee, Daryl. Journal of Marketing 69, no. 4 (2005): 264-65. http://www.jstor.org.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/stable/30166569. Emphasis added.

[2] Weber, Max. Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus. Florence: Routledge, 2001. Accessed February 13, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central. 108-125.

[3] Zagano, Phyllis. 2005. “Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture.” Spiritus 5, no. 1: 119-122, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/217411359?accountid=11085. 121.

[4] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum International, 2003), 105.

[5]  White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (p. 28). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Ibid.

[7] www.fearofgod.com

[8] Sanchez, Karizza. “God’s Plan: How Jerry Lorenzo Went From Sports to Nightlife to Fashion’s Cult Favorite.” Complex. Last modified June 1, 2018. https://www.complex.com/style/2017/03/how-jerry-lorenzo-of-fear-of-god-became-fashions-cult-favorite.

 

About the Author

Mario Hood

Most importantly, I am married to the love of my life, Misty Hood, and I'm kept on my toes all day every day, by my son Dalen and daughter Cola Hood. I also serve as the Next Generation Pastor at Church On The Living Edge in Orlando, Florida, under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Dr. Mark Chironna as well as being a Youth and Family Life coach.

11 responses to “Consumer Church”

  1. Hey Mario. I appreciate your post. There was a time when the line between secular and sacred was hardly discernible. I can think of a time as late as the early 20th century when 96% of Americans attended church every Sunday; when a good credit rating was based on church membership and work being a calling.

    God definitely uses culture to expand his kingdom; there is no other way, unless he intervenes. And sometimes he does that. But overwhelmingly it is the case that God, for reasons known only to him, engenders our participation in ushering in his kingdom. The good news always is transmitted through culture and we must be, as leaders, attuned to the process, guided by the Holy Spirit.

    • Mario Hood says:

      Yes. I think in the culture we live in today, standing up for what you believe in is celebrated and therefore people such as Jerry and others can to a degree celebrate their faith, even if they are commoditizing it. I think bringing back a deep Ecclesiology of the church is needed to anchor them and those in the future so that it doesn’t become a faith Jesus will have to cleanse again.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Mario, thanks for the reference to Gen Z. While I believe we will have to meet each generation where they are, I do think there is a danger to commodifying our religion. As you said, we need to teach more theologically re-attaching the religious symbols back to the institutions. I think we as leaders have to make sure we are doing that and not getting caught up in only the popular methods and procedures. How do you think we are best able to do this with such a consumer-oriented culture?

    • Mario Hood says:

      I think we have to invite people into a conversation about these things. As I am studying Millennials and Gen Z they both have a mission and other focused view of life and therefore are more conscious of how things affect others. We as leaders have to stop assuming they should know and start asking them if they know.

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I appreciate your perspective as a pastor and marketer. I’m curious if you have suggestions for how we can reconnect symbols with their meaning? I’m curious if we can do this in the church and outside of the church?

    • Mario Hood says:

      I think at least in my tribe we have to get back to preaching more theological messages not just self-help ones or inspirational ones. Remembering doesn’t have to be going back to the past but knowing the past gives us power for the future.

  4. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Mario, in your work with Gen Z, do you find they are less likely or more likely to embrace the connection between spiritual symbols and practice? I understand the connection might not be there initially, but I wonder if their blurred line between secular and sacred might offer an opportunity to restore deeper meaning.

    • Mario Hood says:

      The research so far says that they are open to learning it. Gen Z desires the transcendent (not necessarily Christian views) but that does provide us with the opportunity to ground them into the faith by said symbols and practice.

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thank you Mario for referencing Kanye in a blog post. While “Jesus Walks” is a good one, “Through the Wire” is still one of my favorites, and of course the entire “Graduation” album is a must. Speaking of “Graduation” I wonder if the spirit behind “Can’t tell me nothing” is the dominant culture . . . and Kanye is speaking to and against that dominant culture in “Everything I am?” Maybe??

    Thank you for bringing Generation Z into the fold. I was talking to recent seminarians . . . . and the church that they will minister to is much different than the church I was ordained into. I am grateful for your work and research!

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