Jessica rarely misses a church service. With Bible in hand, she smiles at the greeters and enters the foyer excitedly, saying hello to a few familiar faces as she makes her way toward the sanctuary doors. She sees that her favorite pew is unoccupied and puts her bulletin in the seat next to her, reserving it for her husband. As usual, Mark barely made it past the front entrance before stopping to chat with friends and staff members – and if history is any guide, he’ll miss at least the first worship song. Even if he doesn’t join her until the pastor is well into his sermon, she’ll take copious notes and offer to catch Mark up on whatever he missed.
Jessica has a servant’s heart, faithfully volunteering nearly every month in some capacity at the church. She’s been a greeter, served in the children’s ministry and helped with holiday outreach events. Jessica doesn’t want the pressure of leading so when she and Mark host a Small Group, he facilitates. She participates in occasional Bible studies and retreats offered by the church but is hesitant to open up about deeply personal matters in a group setting.
Jessica is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. She rarely says an unkind word about anyone and would give the shirt off her back to someone in need. Her smile is contagious. She wouldn’t dream of hurting a flea. People love her. It would be hard to imagine someone having any reason to say something bad about Jessica. A faithful churchgoer and sweet disposition, she is a model “Christian”, giving no ammunition to non-believers to accuse Christ-followers of hypocrisy or intolerance. Mark is far more likely to ruffle feathers. He’s evangelistic and invasive, asking hard questions and sharing his faith with those who want nothing to do with “religion”. He stirs the pot within the church too, challenging leadership and members to teach and live out the Great Commission. No doubt, Jessica is the fan favorite – both inside and outside the congregation.
What bothers Jessica though are the constant worries and fears that run through her head. Safety and security are her driving forces, influencing most of her decisions and actions. She desperately wants to be free of those shackles and more willing to take risks for Christ. Deep down Jessica knows she hasn’t reached the point of complete surrender to the Lord’s will for her life. Her willingness to follow Jesus is restricted to what’s in her comfort zone. The church affords her the flexibility and freedom to attend, volunteer and engage as she pleases. Push her beyond her comfortable confines and she’ll politely decline. Challenge her to stretch or sacrifice more than she’d like and she may find another place to worship.
Obedience is also a struggle. It’s only on her terms. Jessica knows biblical parenting involves some form of discipline but fears her children won’t love her if she enforces consequences for their bad behavior. She questions and blames teachers, coaches and her husband when they accuse her kids of doing something wrong. They know mom will protect and defend them, so they choose lying and disobedience when debating whether to tell the truth and follow orders. Jessica wants the American dream so she resents Mark for taking a lower-paying job to get involved in local charity work and spend more time with his children. She won’t participate in what he’s doing for the Lord because she doesn’t want to encourage him in the path he chose. What she really wanted when she married Mark was a nice “Christian” husband, not a sold-out Christ-follower. She has too much to lose now, so she dips a toe in the waters of faith but would never walk away from it all if the Lord asked. Her priority is how she’s regarded by others and puts seeking their love ahead of seeking God’s Kingdom. There are countless other examples reflecting a core inconsistency – Jessica fully believes but only partially obeys.
Despite all her church attendance and activities, Jessica is not growing in her faith. She’s experienced no transformation in her life and little intimacy in her walk with God. She’s a church “consumer” because all of her involvement in “church as we know it” never led her to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is the definition and purpose of church. Her fears keep her from risking her public perception or confessing her shortcomings for the sake of advancing the Gospel. Jessica never died to self, so self-interest blocks her from becoming all that God wants for her.
Mark feels largely responsible for her lack of spiritual growth but believes he’s exhausted his options. He’s tried to disciple Jessica and model faithfulness, selflessness and obedience but to little avail. He finds it a challenge and maybe not his place to tell a wife how to live or what to do, even if the instructions are scriptural. He needs the support of women who can mentor Jessica and knows she’s more likely to find a woman to step into that role at church than at work or in their social circles. Jesus established His church largely to facilitate formation of discipling relationships.
Yet the staff and members of their church consider Jessica to be a model citizen. By their standard, Jessica checks all of the boxes. She’s friendly, helpful, generous and certainly saved. Little do they know (nor do they attempt to find out), she is struggling in her relationship with God and in all facets of her life because her priorities are not in biblical order. They would be shocked to discover that someone so enthusiastic to worship and serve on Sunday mornings could be so disobedient and disconnected from the Lord the rest of the week.
But how would they know? Jessica is far too private to disclose that she has not surrendered to Jesus and died to self, even to the women she’s closest with at church. Leadership would have to change its measuring stick to drill down beyond conversion numbers and participation rates – tracking actual progress down the path to becoming a disciple. However, that presents a Catch-22 for the pastors and staff. Jessica is the last person they want to run out of town by setting up discipling relationships that would make her feel pressure to divulge dark secrets about her personal life, yet it’s the church’s God-given responsibility to make disciples (who make more disciples).
What’s the solution? As we discussed in Ulterior Motives in the Fight against Church Consumerism, church leaders must realize that the root cause of consumerism is a love problem, not a doing problem. More “church chores” and engagement may make congregants love the church more but not necessarily fall more in love with Jesus. Therefore, it should provide intensive, personalized discipleship opportunities and remove any impediments (“church hoops” like attendance, covenants and membership) to accessing them. Also, like we covered in The Unconventional Church Shopper, pastors and staff should not encourage consumerism by advertising attractive marketing slogans and catering to self-interested demand for production value and programs. Getting under the surface and rooting out consumer behavior requires issuing (and monitoring compliance with) the biblical challenge to die to self and be crucified with Christ.
It’s Your Turn
How many Jessica’s are in your church? How would you know?