Suburban Oppressian

From Consumerism to Stewardship
From Materialism to Simplicity
From Individualism to Relatedness

These are the issues that one of my friends from Fuller Seminary addresses from a youth ministry perspective, in an article for Fuller's Theology News and Notes.

You can read the article in it's entirety here. Below are some excerpts:

In suburban America the powers of consumerism, materialism, and individualism have become so all-pervasive that we scarcely recognize them any more. When combined, these forces have resulted in enormous pressure on teenagers to strive for success in all that they do in order to achieve the “American Dream.” But any force which compels us to pursue a dream which isn’t God’s is an oppressive one.

In 2003, teenagers in the United States spent $112.5 billion. There were roughly 20.5 million teenagers in the U.S. in 2003; therefore, on average, teens were spending more than $100 per week, primarily on clothes.1

Whereas the American dream necessitates that teenagers derive an identity from what they consume, God’s dream is that they learn to be stewards of all they have—indeed, of all of creation.

During one of the years that I served as a youth pastor in an affluent suburban megachurch, we held a New Year’s Eve all-nighter. One of the intended draws of the evening was the contest prize of a donated car. You can imagine my surprise when the newly minted 16-year-old who won asked, “Do I have to take the car?” as he was sure that his parents intended to buy him something newer and nicer. It was an incentive we were not to repeat.

Jesus lived unencumbered by worldly possessions, yet he was able both to give freely and to receive joyfully. Because so many evangelical suburban churches proclaim a gospel which emphasizes going to heaven when you die (as opposed to seeking to give people a taste of heaven on earth such as we are taught by Jesus to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer), the painful grip of materialism on all our people, especially our teenagers, goes largely ignored.

Finally, as leaders, if we are not modeling a life of freedom from the oppressive forces of consumerism, materialism, and individualism, any and all other efforts are rendered meaningless. Jesus’ message had credibility because he preached it with his life. More than attractive and entertaining ministries and programs, the great need of students in suburban America is to be invited into the lives of men and women who are practicing the way of Jesus.


JR Rozko said...

Thanks for the props Dave.

Mx5 said...

Definitely an interesting article. The most haunting part of it for me was the quote from Chap Hunt's book where he equates our parental busyness for our kids' opportunities in their various forms as parental abandonment. He's right.

Parents (my generation) seem to be driven by consumerism, materialism and individualism in this country, whether they're in the suburbs or not. What's with that?

Definitely food for thought and prayer.

While I suspect I wouldn't agree with the author's views on community or why Jesus' message had credibility, I am very excited to see someone who actually cares for suburban youth, rather than just spiritually shooting at them and their parents. Kudos for providing practical application for those who minister to the teens.