Friends, I recently read a book that not only gave brilliant language to something I’ve been feeling for a long time, but also pushed me into territory I didn’t even know existed…
"Desiring the Kingdom" by James K. A. Smith.
Smith’s thesis is that human beings are not fundamentally “thinking beings”. We’re not even just “believing beings”. But at our very core, we are “Loving Beings”. We become what we love. And so schools, teachers, and churches who try to change people by giving them new information are ultimately not addressing the core issue.
We become what we love. And the only way to change a person is to redirect their LOVE toward a different source. And this only happens through certain practices.
But here is where it gets really interesting. Smith spends a whole chapter talking about how brilliantly this is already happening in our world - in the shopping mall. In “The Liturgy of the Shopping Mall”, he walks us through all the ways that the shopping mall is masterfully created to form us into certain kinds of people. The Mall doesn’t just offer us information, but through environment, senses, and vision, it helps us love and embrace certain versions of “the good life”. (One example: “If I can have those certain clothes, then I will be attractive and wanted.”)
And then he drops this bomb (especially for those of us who work at churches)…
"If the mall and its “parachurch” extensions in television and advertising offer a daily liturgy for the formation of the heart, what might be the church’s counter-measures? What if the church unwittingly adopts the same liturgical practices as the market and the mall? Will it then really be a site of counter-formation? What would the church’s practices have to look like if they’re going to form us as the kind of people who desire something entirely different—who desire the kingdom? What would be the shape of an alternative pedagogy of desire?"
This absolutely haunts me. What if our Christian worship does exactly what the world’s liturgies do: create self-oriented people committed to their own happiness and success? The only difference is that we Christians use Christian language to accomplish this.
For example, I have a pastor friend who realized one day that the consumer-oriented marketing they were doing to attract people to their church was EXACTLY CONTRARY to Jesus’ call of discipleship. If he filled the seats by marketing and meeting people’s felt needs, how could he then say “Okay, Jesus is asking you to pick up your cross, die to yourself, and follow Him.”? The medium is ultimately much louder than the message.
So what would it look like for our worship gatherings to truly be counter-cultural? Instead of just repackaging the values of the world in christian language, what kind of worship practices can form us into entirely new kinds of Kingdom people?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!