April 20, 2007
Dancing with Consumerism
Shane Hipps on moving toward, against, and away from the culture.
Url: You moved from a career in advertising to pastor a Mennonite church. Is that reflective of a generation that's reacting against consumerism? Do you see a trend of younger people preferring smaller, less market driven, ministries?
Hipps: We are a consumer culture. I am a consumer. I understand that it's insidious and dangerous, but I am still a consumer. That's just how we're shaped. That's the cultural currency. And so mega-churches will thrive. They will always thrive. The emerging church used to say mega-churches are going away. They're not going away. They're predicated on the metaphor of consumerism. And as long as consumerism is the dominant mode of our culture mega-churches will always thrive. Some are saying that this next generation hates that. They don't. They love it.
So if the younger generation is not reacting against consumer church, what are they reacting to?
I make a distinction between three different kinds of consumerism. One is mainstream consumerism; the dominant hegemony that happens in our culture. Mainstream consumerism is mega. Walmart exemplifies this kind of consumerism, as does the mega-church. Boomer consumerism is mainstream consumerism.
Then you have counter consumerism, which is savviness. They are aware that Walmart and [Microsoft] Windows are trying to dominate, and they resist just like they resist mega-churches. But the odd thing is they're no less consumers. They're just counter consumers. A counter consumer buys Apple. It is absolutely consumer driven. They are consuming an identity that says we're different; an alternative from the rest of you.
It's youth rebellion. A reaction against what you're parents like.
Yep. Instead of Starbucks you'll go to the independent coffee shops. But it's still coffee shops and it's still consuming to form an identity. The emerging church is largely counter consumer. It's really edgy, hip and trendy. But it's no less consumeristic.
The third type is anti-consumerism. That is what I would call my context. Mennonites resist both the hip Apples and the hegemonic Windows. They would rather not have a computer. They'd rather make their own clothes, sow their own quilts, build their own homes. They're very, very, very careful not to consume. That's anti-consumer.
What is the impact of being anti-consumer?
They are irrelevant. And, frankly, I'm not convinced it's the greatest thing. If the dominant cultural currency is consumerism and consumerism is insidious, how do you engage it? That is an important question, and simply withdrawing isn't the best answer.
So what is the answer?
The way that I think about engaging it is?well, let's look at how Jesus interacted with his culture. Jesus used three primary movements in every context. The first movement is towards. So he was incarnational. He entered. People like to use the word relevant for this. But Jesus also moved against the culture, he was resistant. He overturned tables in the temple and said "You brood of vipers." So he was both relevant and resistant. And third, Jesus withdrew to quiet places. He was also distant, he moved away. So you have three rhythmic movements of toward, against, and away - relevance, resistance, and distance. And none of those can be static. They always have to be happening.
Shane Hipps serves as the Lead Pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the author of The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, The Gospel, And Church (Zondervan, 2006).