I would suggest that there is a religion greater than all others. It is one so powerfully followed that it is not only cross cultural, but includes all faiths. The prevailing religion of our world today is consumerism. And it is my contention that our current churches not only foster a Christian consumerism, but that this is actually idolatry.
One need not look too hard at the Western Christian church to find consumerism at its very heart. Beyond the incredible super market of Christian books, Christian music, Christian apparel, and Christian seminars we find an even more insidious consumerism at the heart of how we do church.
The current church is structured in such a way as to perfectly surrender to consumerism. It is a verified fact that our churches exist with five percent of the people, doing ninety percent of the work. Not only that, but if we have been able to increase that, by great teaching, and so on, we brag about having a thirty or forty percent volunteer rate. This is actually considered miraculous by most church leaders. Does this not stand directly in opposition to Pauls admonition that every joint supplies. That every one of us has a part in the body, and that for the body to operate efficiently everyone must fulfill their roles?
With the extremely high value placed on the worship "experience" we find that certain gifts are needed, and not only needed, but needed full time. We need dynamic preaching, from a charismatic leader. We need spectacular music, from talented musicians. More and more we need video, powerpoint, multimedia imagery and so on. Ofcourse this must be done excellently so that we might compete with hollywood, therefore we must have these "experts" set aside for their specific purposes. What this does is continue a cycle of clergy laity distinction. They are the experts, the called, the vocational ministers, and most of the rest of the body is then reduced to consumers. I work hard, so I can pay the "experts" to do the "ministry" for me. My job is to buy there services with my tithes, and try to get my neighbors to go to church with me, so the "experts" can save them.
This model is not by itself as evil as I may make it appear, and does have its place, however, the priority of this kind of "ministry" is what becomes the problem. It alienates people. The clergy develope their own language, and they seperate from everyone else. They say things like "God showed me" and "the Lord lead me" and the common man says, well God doesn't talk to me so I am right to give my money to this man to hear God for me. When in fact what the preacher should have said was, "after much prayer, reading of scripture, and talking with those that I trust, I came to the conclusion that God's will was..." Not that God doesn't at times talk to us, but most of the time it is through these processes.
This also results in the idea that I am not good enough to do ministry. These experts have gone to school, got degrees, and understand things better, therefore they are equipped to do ministry and I am not, so I pay them so they can do it. This makes spiritually lazy members, and robs the church of powerful gifts that these "ill equipped" saints, have been blessed with for the edification of the body.
Now the "church growth" community, has taken the lead in calling us to become even more consumeristic. They advocate such things as:
seven keys to a growing church
good follow up
great childrens ministries
culturally relevant messages
awesome worship band
seminars for community needs ie marriage help, single parenting
Now all of these things are great, and helpful, and we don't really want to scare people away with dirty restrooms, and horrible music. But what of discipleship, growing mature in your spiritual gifts, practicing hospitality, social justice, and personal responsibility.
In my view the current church structure not only is incredibly consumeristic, but has succeeded in making a generation of spiritually fat, lazy, and unsucessful saints. And has glorified the pastor teacher gift to the point of disproportionate power and glory.