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Christians say that our treasure lies in heaven, but do our habits truly reflect that? What happens when Christians become fed up with consuming far more than they need?



#83: Where the Gospel Meets Consumerism

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

AUDIO CLIPS: Love Thy Neighborhood… Discipleship and missions for modern times.


ANNA TRAN: Okay, Jesse, let me tell you about a woman named Margo. 


MARGO: I edit, and I’m also a ghostwriter. 

ANNA TRAN: Margo, she writes all sorts of things – books, articles. She coaches other people in writing. But let’s just take it back to 2014. Margo is married, she has two grown kids, she’s juggling family responsibilities – all of this while meeting deadlines for freelance writing assignments. So one day she’s working on a piece, and she’s interviewing a guy who calls himself a minimalist. And after the conversation, she gets so inspired that she decides to do this little experiment. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Ah, what kind of experiment? 

ANNA TRAN: Well, she decides to get rid of 1,000 items in her home. 

MARGO: And honestly, I understand – 1,000 is a very big number. 


ANNA TRAN: Tell me what you think. Do you think you could do this? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Um, I think yes. You know, we’re a family of four – self-confessed, I, I tend to own things. And so, uh, yes, I think there are definitely a thousand items in my house that I could get rid of. 

ANNA TRAN: I think if I got rid of a thousand items most of my belongings would be gone. Granted, I, it’s just me. I’m a single person. There’s no family of four here. 

JESSE EUBANKS: But you also do tend to – in general, you don’t tend to purchase as many things. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. I’m a lot more frugal and, like, conservative with my purchasing. 


ANNA TRAN: So, going back to Margo. One weekday, she sends her kids off to school and then she rolls up her sleeves.

MARGO: Pulled out bags of clothes, boxes of art supplies, opened up and pulled out all of our sporting equipment from like a trunk in the living room where we kept it. Too many bike helmets, too many skateboards, too much protective gear. 

ANNA TRAN: There was stuff everywhere. 

MARGO: And it was a big old mess, like you could not have walked safely through our home.

ANNA TRAN: And of course, there’s other stuff that she’s getting sentimental about. 

MARGO: For me, it happened like with some of the kids’ t-shirts, like for this team or that church event. 

ANNA TRAN: And she’s also wondering –

MARGO: “What will I have to re-buy? Like, will we find that we cannot live without a waffle maker?”

JESSE EUBANKS: Holy smokes, so how long did it take her to do this?

MARGO: I go hard, and I would say, yeah, within an hour or two, like, I would have pulled it all out.

JESSE EUBANKS: Man, she’s like a machine. That is actually really impressive. 

ANNA TRAN: You know, and as things are going to their final locations, she’s still wondering – “What if I’ll need this waffle iron six months from now? What if my kids missed their extra skateboard? What if I’m going to have to buy another one of these ’cause it turns out I’ll need it again?” But she gets all the way to the end, and as time passes, she’s actually shocked. And the reason she’s shocked is because –

MARGO: The thing that I found most remarkable was that no one in our home missed the things.

ANNA TRAN: You know, and this experiment wasn’t the only time Margo realized she needed to do this process again. It wasn’t a one-time fix. 

MARGO: I’m not gonna say that in the last 10 years there haven’t been these seasons where I’ve had to do, you know, round two or round three of being a better steward of some of the stuff that I’d acquired, but I will say it really did slow down what it was that we acquired.

ANNA TRAN: So it’s a great thing that Margo was able to slow down all the stuff that she and her family acquired. But consumerism isn’t just about the material possessions that we own. It’s not just asking about if our stuff does or does not spark joy. Consumerism follows us into our friendships, it follows us into our churches – and even into our relationship with God.


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: And I’m Anna Tran. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Consumerism.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: We’ll be exploring the questions – What does consumerism look like in our lives? How is consumerism affecting our faith? And how can Christians fight back against consumerism? Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


ANNA TRAN: Jesse, what do you think of this statement? “American consumption is part of our cultural identity.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: For sure. We, we are consumers big time. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. To put this into perspective, the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, they compiled this fact sheet about the U.S.’s environmental footprint. It says that the U.S. makes up 5% of the world’s population, but the U.S. also consumes 16% of the world’s energy. With electricity alone, the average person in the United States uses three and a half times more electricity than the global average. 


ANNA TRAN: And then it goes on to identify that since the 1970’s the average U.S. house size – it’s increased by 21%. The number of occupants per house decreased 14%, and the living space per person increased 41%.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so you’re talking about energy. You’re talking about housing. How are you connecting that to consumerism? 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, so all that to say, compared to the rest of the world, we have a really big appetite. And that appetite just keeps getting bigger and bigger. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, that does feel true. 

ANNA TRAN: So, just to bring some clarity, the official definition of consumerism is “the belief that it is good for a society or an individual person to buy and use large quantities of goods and services.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Interesting, that it’s “good for society.” It’s almost like a moral statement. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, it’s like necessary and so we must do it. 

JESSE EUBANKS: I’ve also heard it said that, uh, like a simple portable way of saying consumerism is like, “I see, I want, I take.” Whenever we see something, our instinct is instantaneous that “I want to take that for myself, I want to consume it, I want to enjoy it,” and that the assumption is that I should be able to. But I do think that we need to take a second and look at what Scripture says about these types of attitudes.

Let’s take a look at Matthew 6. So, in Matthew 6, Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Mount, and at one point he starts talking about where we store our treasures. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, I remember this. Verse 21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is teaching about how fleeting it is to invest in worldly possessions in light of eternal heavenly realities.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yes. And then what he does is he actually starts to move into this space where he starts talking about the heart and about attitudes because he goes on in verse 24 to say, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” And interestingly, the word “money” can also be translated to “possessions.” So Jesus was actually warning people that trying to chase God and trying to chase possessions at the same time is an impossible thing. The reality is that you are chasing after one or you are chasing after the other.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so we hear this from Jesus, but a lot of times when we look at how we live, we see treasures not only in our homes, but in separate storage units, multiple bank accounts. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, but the thing is this – chasing possessions, it is just so normal in our society. 

JOSHUA BECKER: You make more money, and you spend more money. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So this is Joshua Becker.

JOSHUA BECKER: I am married to my lovely wife Kim, and we have two kids, 21 and 16. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, but Joshua’s story actually does not start where his kids are older like they are now. It actually starts way back when they were small. So when his kids were little, Joshua was a pastor. Uh, he described his family as lower middle class. And when his small family was first sort of coming into the world, they lived in a small apartment. But, naturally, like a lot of us do, as his family grew, they eventually decided they needed to do what made sense.

JOSHUA BECKER: With each subsequent move, we upgraded the size of our home and then upgraded the number of things inside the home. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And so they did what a lot of us do. You know, they went from a small apartment to a house with three bedrooms and then later –

JOSHUA BECKER: Moved to Vermont, and that was a four bedroom, three bathroom.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so it is now May 2008. Joshua and his family are in Vermont. And on this one particular Saturday morning, it had really been a long winter and he and his wife decided to do some early spring cleaning.

JOSHUA BECKER: I woke up, I offered to clean out the garage. You know, when you live in winter, it just gets dirty and muddy over the winter. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So just imagine like your typical garage scenario. You know, you’ve got yard supplies and kids’ toys and leftover wood and stuff for your car, and it’s all just sort of shoved into this garage. And so Joshua is out there and he is totally ready to tackle this and he’s got this plan. 

JOSHUA BECKER: “Let’s pull everything out of the garage, we’ll hose it all down, and then we’ll return everything in a nice, organized fashion.”

JESSE EUBANKS: At the time, one of his kids was five years old, and so his five-year-old son is like, “I wanna help.”

JOSHUA BECKER: Which for some reason I thought he would enjoy doing. He lasted about 30 seconds until he sees his toys and he’s in the backyard. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So, Joshua continues to hose everything down, he’s cleaning everything. An hour goes by. Then a second hour goes by. Then three hours into it –

JOSHUA BECKER: I’m still working on the same garage.

JESSE EUBANKS: Joshua’s son is in the backyard begging him to come play with him. 

JOSHUA BECKER: But I just keep pushing him off – “One more minute, one more minute, like, let me, let me finish this project here.”

JESSE EUBANKS: And while all this is going on, next door, Joshua’s neighbor is doing her own yard work. 

JOSHUA BECKER: And at one point we walked past each other on the boundary line there, and she says to me, “The joys of home ownership, huh, Joshua?” And I responded by saying, “Well, you know what they say – the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: And then in response to that, his neighbor says something that really ends up striking him.

JOSHUA BECKER: She says, “You know, that’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.” And I stood speechless for a moment as if this was the first time in the world somebody had told me that I didn’t have to try to own everything. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So his neighbor – you know, she makes this statement, she just continues about her business, but Joshua’s just standing there in the driveway considering what she just said.

JOSHUA BECKER: I looked at the pile of dirty, dusty things in my driveway, and out of the corner of my eye I saw my five-year-old son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And Joshua suddenly realized –

JOSHUA BECKER: Not only were all the things I owned not making me happy. All the things I owned were actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness in life.

JESSE EUBANKS: So Joshua drops everything he’s doing, he immediately goes inside to find his wife. 

JOSHUA BECKER: She was, I don’t know, cleaning her third bathroom of the day with my two-year-old daughter hanging on her. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And he tells his wife, like, “You will not believe what our neighbor just told me.” And of course, like, his wife is probably thinking it’s some huge, dramatic thing. And he says, “She just told me we don’t have to own all this stuff.”

JOSHUA BECKER: She was like, “You know what? That sounds pretty good right about now.”

JESSE EUBANKS: So, over the next few days, Joshua starts getting online, he’s doing a bunch of research about minimalism, trying to understand it, and eventually he even decides, you know, “I’m gonna start a blog.” He needed a place to sort of process the things that he was learning and to be able to start categorizing them and sharing those thoughts, and he begins to realize, you know, this is really going to be a long process. 

JOSHUA BECKER: If it took us 20 years to collect all this stuff, we probably weren’t going to get rid of it all in one weekend.

JESSE EUBANKS: So they come up with this plan, and it’s pretty simple. They’re gonna go through their house, room by room, and they’re gonna start identifying all the items that they don’t need. So, example, when they were in the kitchen –

JOSHUA BECKER: And we opened up the utensil drawer, and there were like seven spatulas in there – different sizes and old ones that we stopped using and new ones that we had gotten for Christmas. I’m like, “I don’t think I’ve ever used more than two spatulas at a time.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: At first he thought, “Hey, you know, we could just sell all this extra stuff and it’d be good for us.” 

JOSHUA BECKER: We tried a garage sale and made enough money to buy pizza that night. Like it was a total waste of time trying to sell everything. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And so he realizes, you know, “That is also not what we want to do with our time is just try to get rid of this stuff and make more money.” So he actually decides, “I’m gonna give this stuff away to local charities.” He gives stuff to pregnancy centers. He gives stuff to refugee resettlement programs. And while he’s doing all of this, he can’t stop asking himself, “Where did this come from? Like, what is the source of this problem?”

JOSHUA BECKER: “Why in the world was I buying so many things that I didn’t need? Why do I have closets full of stuff? Why was I living paycheck to paycheck for so many years?”

JESSE EUBANKS: And he’s looking around, and he just thinks to himself –

JOSHUA BECKER: We need toys to play with our kids, but we don’t need an entire room full of toys. We need Tupperware, but we don’t need cabinets full of Tupperware. We need decorations in our home, but we don’t need decorations just because they were on clearance at Michael’s and they match the couch.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, this makes me think of marketing and sales. The point of advertising is to try to convince you that you need something that you don’t have. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean, the reality is this – is, like, marketing at its heart, its goal is make you discontent and then sell you a solution. And so if we think about this idea that, like, marketing is all about, like, “Make us discontent, and here’s the solution,” really in a lot of ways, when Joshua heard this remark from his neighbor, what he really heard in the heart of it all was, “You know, there’s a way to be content in life.”

JOSHUA BECKER: “Where has this been my entire life? How come no one has told me about minimalism before?” 

JESSE EUBANKS: And he’s seeing it, like, revolutionary. It’s like, “Is this the first time that this idea has ever been introduced to planet earth?” And as he’s thinking, he’s like, “Hold on a second.”

JOSHUA BECKER: I stopped myself mid-sentence because it occurred to me that this isn’t a new idea. Like, Jesus was saying the exact same thing 2,000 years ago.

JESSE EUBANKS: Joshua said that when he read about Jesus’s teaching on possessions or money –

JOSHUA BECKER: For some reason it seemed like, “Okay, Jesus wants me to live a really sacrificial, boring, crummy life today, but I’ll have all these rewards in heaven.”

JESSE EUBANKS: But all those individual purchases that Joshua and his wife had made – you know, “This is gonna make me content. This is gonna make me content” – he actually began to realize the more that he gave things away and the less things he owned, he found that it was actually giving him what he really wanted, which was more time – 

JOSHUA BECKER: Less stress and more freedom and less distraction and more gratitude and more generosity and contentment and less comparison for other people.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so a couple of years go by. Joshua and his family actually move to Arizona. He is now a pastor at a different church. But his passion for minimalism – it does not go away. You know, he actually continues to write a ton on his blog about all the things that he’s learning and experiencing and how minimalism is benefiting his life so much. And so there’s this one time that he wrote this blog titled “When You’re a Minimalist But Your Partner Isn’t.” 

JOSHUA BECKER: It got more comments than anything else and more nice likes. And I’m like, “Okay, I think I’m at a point where I can stop talking about just what I’m doing and I can start sharing about what I’ve been learning in a way that can help others.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Joshua actually ends up doing something pretty radical. He resigns from being a pastor and decides, “I am just going to write and teach on minimalism full time as my occupation.” He ends up taking all this content that he’s been writing on his blog, the things he’s been teaching on, and he starts putting it together and he actually ends up putting together a book. It’s a book called The More of Less. It actually goes on to become a national bestseller. And so he goes on to write a bunch more books and even now continues to speak regularly on this topic. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so does he offer any practical tips on pushing back against consumerism? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. For example – shopping. In his blog, Joshua wrote about questions to think about before you buy something. The list is really long. Let me give you three examples. Okay, tip number one – “Can I borrow this from someone instead of buying it?” 

ANNA TRAN: Okay. Maybe if my neighbor or someone from church already has this thing, maybe I can borrow it from them instead of buying it myself. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Totally. Good old-fashioned neighboring. You know, I had a neighbor just the other day say, “Can I come over and use your saw?” And that’s a great example of somebody going, “I don’t need to go spend 200 bucks on a saw. I’ll go use my neighbor’s.” 

ANNA TRAN: Right. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so tip number two – “Will I have to maintain it?” 

ANNA TRAN: So extra maintenance – like if I buy this piece of clothing, is it dry clean only or can I machine wash it? If it’s dry clean only, I’m going to have to invest more time, money, energy to keep it well maintained. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yes, so if you’re purchasing something, just think of “How much time am I gonna have to invest to take care of this thing?” Okay, and then tip number three – “Do I own something else that can serve the same purpose?”

ANNA TRAN: Okay, what’s an example of that, though?

JESSE EUBANKS: So, imagine that you really love cooking burgers on the grill outdoors. But then you’re also like, “I really like also cooking burgers indoors, like if it’s kind of cool outside or it’s rainy.” So you end up purchasing this other version of a grill that you could put on your stove. He would say don’t do that. Don’t buy two things that are redundant. They’re achieving the same purpose. Make the one purchase, and then figure out a way to make that usable all the time. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, so maybe I put on a raincoat and grill the burgers outside. Or I have an umbrella and I’m grilling burgers outside while it’s raining. I might get a little wet, but I can still grill the burgers.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, exactly. And here’s the thing – like, it’s easy to hear all of this and just go, “Oh, Joshua’s just doing this because he’s just sort of trying to be like an ethical social justice warrior or something.” But the deal is this – like, for Joshua, this minimalism, you know, this attitude of “I don’t want to own things that I don’t have to own,” that is a part of what it means for him to follow Jesus well.

JOSHUA BECKER: For me, minimalism is about pursuing those things that matter in life and doing what I’m best at, but not for my own little kingdom, not for the sake of growing up my own little castle, but for the sake of him and his kingdom. 

ANNA TRAN: So when we think about consumerism, a lot of the times we just think about buying things. But the truth is we really need to be curious about what’s underneath the buying of all the things. 

JESSE EUBANKS: You mean like if, if folks are buying things because they’re like, “Oh, this will lead me to happiness or stability or it’ll give me purpose in life.” 

ANNA TRAN: Right, exactly. We see, we want, and then we assume that it’s ours for the taking. But what happens when we don’t get what we want? Especially from the church. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: We would answer phone calls and emails nonstop from some parents who were just irate. 

ANNA TRAN: Stay with us. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: Anna Tran. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Consumerism.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: So we’ve just heard from Joshua Becker, a pastor who found the joys and benefits of owning less stuff. But, where we left off, Anna, you were pointing out that consumerism isn’t just about having material possessions themselves. There’s more to it. 

ANNA TRAN: Right, exactly. With consumerism, there’s this underlying attitude that we deserve or we need the things that we buy. And not surprisingly, these attitudes also make their way into our churches. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: If you just want to kind of do an apples to apples comparison to, like, what my role was within the church to a role in the corporate world, I was in middle management, but it really and truly was we’re managing resources.

ANNA TRAN: Alright, this is Brad. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Brad McMahan. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so Brad was a student ministries pastor at a very large church for over 10 years. This church had multiple campuses, high church attendance, large budgets, and there’s a lot of benefits from that. For example, Brad told me about a time when the whole student ministry group had a day of community outreach at a local park.

BRAD MCMAHAN: The city had kind of abandoned it, and really within about four weeks of going down on Wednesdays for a couple hours, eight hours total, this park looked completely different. It looked like it was brand new. When we would mobilize and do stuff like that, we made a big dent.

ANNA TRAN: So Brad acknowledges that there are a lot of benefits from being at a large church, but on the flip side there are also plenty of complications. Another example – Brad told me that each summer the student ministries team would host a Bible-focused summer camp for students at a beach. And so, it’s not surprising that at a large church where there would be a lot of people interested, there’s also a lot of logistics. So, just a quick note, this audio sounds different because it’s recorded from a phone conversation I had with Brad later. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: There’s only so many ways you can fit a thousand kids into buses and a hotel, and the likelihood of us doing this with 100 percent accuracy and making sure everybody’s happy is impossible.

ANNA TRAN: Which totally makes sense. But that wouldn’t stop some students’ parents from really sharing their honest opinions. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: We would answer phone calls and emails nonstop from some parents who were just irate – “If you don’t get my kid in this room, they’re not going.” 

ANNA TRAN: You know, parents would name drop former pastors or threaten even to leave the church. And in response, Brad would say – 

BRAD MCMAHAN: “Well, if we can’t meet your demands and you back out, it’s all right, we’ll fill your spot. Like, it’s not hard to find somebody that wants to go.”

JESSE EUBANKS: I mean, that makes sense to me. You know, if you’ve got thousands of students, like, you cannot accommodate everybody’s preferences.

ANNA TRAN: Right. And honestly, these types of interactions were really normal and also pretty impersonal. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: A lot of those folks, you didn’t ever have to worry about seeing them again, right, because it was just a face in the crowd of thousands. 

ANNA TRAN: And I wanna be clear – this is not, you know, trying to say that everyone from the church was like this, but it was a pretty common and real experience for Brad. 

JESSE EUBANKS: You know, I think that this story really does illustrate something that I do see a lot within the church, where we can easily view the church as a hub of services – “What can this place offer me and my family? Will this music fit my taste? Will the sermons speak to me personally?”

ANNA TRAN: Right. I think it’s just a reality that the larger a church becomes it tends to operate more as an institution. And in the U.S., it can easily fall into these consumerist trappings where churchgoers operate as customers and ministries are the products to fulfill us.

So, as years of student ministry go by, Brad finds himself moving up in leadership. And he said that eventually he started spending 30 hours a week in meetings alone, which meant that he was spending less and less time engaging with students. And because of all of this, Brad has some thoughts that really start to trouble him.

BRAD MCMAHAN: I don’t know that churches are supposed to be that big. I don’t know that’s ever what Jesus had in mind. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, it’s 2019, and the timing of these questions also lined up with the fact that Brad and his wife sensed that their season with student ministries was over and that actually church planting was what God had in store for their future. It was that year when a friend of Brad’s from a nearby church came to him and said – 

BRAD MCMAHAN: “Hey, listen, we’re searching for a new lead pastor. Would you be willing just to consult with our elders?” 

ANNA TRAN: The church was much smaller than what Brad was used to. You know, in total, they only had two to three hundred people. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Here’s what’s crazy – like, that is still a pretty healthy sized church, but compared to the church that he’s coming from, it probably feels like, you know, minuscule.

ANNA TRAN: Definitely really different. So, Brad met with the elders, and as they described the type of person that they were looking for, Brad realized – 

BRAD MCMAHAN: “I think the person I’m describing to you is me.” 

ANNA TRAN: So, soon enough, Brad stepped away from student ministries all in good terms, and he became the senior pastor at this new church, which was actually only five miles away from the old one. So, on his last day, Brad went to his office – 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Packed it up, loaded my truck, drove it, unloaded it in my new – all in one day. 

ANNA TRAN: So Brad jumps into this new role at the smaller church. One thing you need to know is that the church was in pretty rough shape, which was no surprise to Brad. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Buried in debt, behind on utility payments, behind on mortgage payments. We had to have a, a guarantor on our mortgage. 

ANNA TRAN: And because of all their debt, they were on a spending freeze. You know, Brad is really working under very different circumstances here. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: The first, like, shock was all in all of our ministries – men’s ministry, women’s ministry, discipleship groups, kids, students, worship – everything in the entire ministry operating budget was, was about $10,000. The joke was I spent more on pizza in student ministry than the entire ministry budget combined. (laughs)

ANNA TRAN: Brad said that while it was fun at first to jump into problem solving mode and MacGyver like ministry, eventually – 

BRAD MCMAHAN: There came a point where I’m like, “I’m kind of tired of this lack of perceived stability. I am worn out by the lack of perceived resource.” 

ANNA TRAN: And on top of all of this, even though Brad is in a smaller church with less resources, he’s still actually sensing pieces of consumerist attitudes in the congregation.

JESSE EUBANKS: So it seems that consumerism is not a respecter of church sizes after all. 

ANNA TRAN: No. For example, one time when the church received a bunch of TVs for free, a church member, he had this idea. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: “Man, we could turn this into a video wall. We can do all kinds of stuff with this. We can put this in, like, our welcome area.”

ANNA TRAN: But this gave Brad pause ’cause he was thinking about, you know, “What would this communicate to the people at our church?” 

BRAD MCMAHAN: You were just given a bunch of flat screen TVs, and you, you hung them up on a wall to make a giant advertisement for yourself. 

ANNA TRAN: Now, Brad wasn’t trying to rag on his idea or anything or be dismissive. He was really trying to be sensitive to church members and visitors he was seeing coming through their doors who wouldn’t be able to own these kinds of things. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: There’s a likelihood that we would potentially alienate folks that are living paycheck to paycheck or folks who are on government assistance, folks who are underwater on their mortgages or their bills.

ANNA TRAN: And at the end of it, they didn’t end up using TVs for a video wall. They used it for something else – still in the church, but not for something flashy that people would see as soon as they walk through the doors. 

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s really fascinating because I think that for many of us, if we had a whole bunch of flat screens donated, we wouldn’t give it a second thought. Like, that wouldn’t even be a question on the table – you know, “How is this gonna be perceived by the community?” We would just go, “Looks cool. It’s gonna communicate the message we want to. Yeah, let’s do it.”

ANNA TRAN: And on the opposite side, there were some folks in the congregation who were really concerned that when any type of technology got incorporated into the church space. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: We had a few individuals that had some really strong feelings about, “Hey, I don’t like the way this is going. What are we turning into here?”

ANNA TRAN: And these folks were just really concerned about not wanting to use the church’s resources to be put towards stuff that seemed extravagant. Brad started seeing that there was a lot of friction in the church about what type of church they were going to be. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Everybody was kind of pulling in different directions, like, “I want this and I want that and I want the church to be like this.” And so there was not a lot of unity in terms of a shared, like, hope and vision. 

ANNA TRAN: And so early on, Brad knew that he had an opportunity to change the culture of the church. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: What Jesus taught his disciples is so counterintuitive because eventually he does say, “If you wanna save your life, you have to lose it.” Eventually he looks at him and says, “You have to take up your cross and follow me.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean, like everything else in life, consumerism at its heart, it is relational. 

ANNA TRAN: Wait, what do you mean by that? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Well, we talk about this all the time on this podcast, but this idea that all of life is about relationships. And so when we think of consumerism, you can really think of it in these two categories. There are healthy relationships, and there are consumer relationships. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay. Tell me some of the differences. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, yeah, so the focus in healthy relationships is going to be community – you know, “How are you doing, Anna? What, what do you need in this situation? What is God calling us to?” Versus a consumer relationship, it’s self-oriented. It’s about, “How do I feel? What do I want? How do I react? How are you meeting my needs?” It’s very self-oriented. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so self is a part of the community, so you’re – it’s not like you’re saying don’t think about yourself at all. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Correct. You need to obviously think about yourself, but in consumer relationships you think about your, your own needs, your own wants so much that it overshadows your ability to even see the bigger picture.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, got it. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Or things like this – like in a healthy relationship, it’s gonna be enduring, this sense of like, “I’m in this with you, we’re gonna stick this out, but I’m committed and we’re going to endure through this together” versus in a consumer relationship, highly conditional and momentary – you know, the moment in which you’re kind of not meeting my emotional needs, you’re not being the kind of friend that I want you to be, so I’m out. 

ANNA TRAN: So just cut the ties. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. And think about just how that is going to infect our relationship with God. You know, in a healthy relationship with God, God is valuable because of who he is. He’s beautiful. He’s good. He’s true. But in a consumer relationship with God, God is valuable because of what he does for me – “He gives me this. He gave me this thing today. He’s an existential vending machine.” It’s about, “What does he produce in my life?”

ANNA TRAN: So I think that brings up the question – what are we going to do about this? So when we come back, we’ll look at how Christians can fight back against consumerism. Stay with us. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse. 

ANNA TRAN: Anna. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Consumerism.” We’ve been hearing stories of Christians grappling with the consumerist culture we live in, and now we wanna look at this question – how can Christians fight back against consumerism? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, I know that we need to finish Brad’s story, but before we do that, I actually want to sidestep for just a moment because I have this really surprising thing that we discovered in the course of getting ready for this episode. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, very mysterious. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so this is the story of a Christian woman who started this movement that today, right now, if you go out into the world, is one of the largest anti-consumerism movements on the planet. And the thing is this – she didn’t really mean to kick off a movement of that size. But to tell the story, we actually need to go all the way back to the 1940’s.

Okay, so the early 1940’s in the U.S. – it was largely focused on World War II, and the war was really also funding our economy. So in 1945, when World War II ends, the U.S. economy suddenly needs to figure out what’s next. So there’s this big shift away from wartime products to home life products – stoves, refrigerators, mail order homes. Like, it’s this incredible movement towards helping U.S. citizens begin to develop their home life. So that’s the climate that’s going on when we head into the next decade. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: 1950’s was called “The Age of Affluence.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so that’s Claire Brosius. She co-wrote a piece in Christianity Today about a woman that you’ve probably never heard of, a woman by the name of Edna Ruth Byler. Okay, so let me paint a little picture of Edna Ruth for you. By the time that the 1950’s rolled around, Edna had lived a lot of life. She had lived through the Great Depression and trying to figure out how to provide for her family amidst the Great Depression. Of course, she’s living in the U.S. as World War II takes place and all the turmoil associated with that. So now, you know, she and her husband and her kids – they’re trying to figure out their place in this new era of American life. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: And so there was this explosion of jobs and income and variety of goods to meet demand. The 1950’s was the beginning of TV advertising. Credit cards were also introduced. So the idea that you could spend beyond your means was a new thing.

JESSE EUBANKS: So if you think of like the 1950’s and you think of a woman in the 1950’s, like the picture of a housewife comes to mind. But here’s the thing – while Edna Ruth was a stay at home mom, she was a lot more than that. She was outgoing. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: Something like unbounded energy. She was an excellent mobilizer and organizer. She would just see a need and then say, “Well, let’s get to it.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so another thing to know about Edna Ruth is that she was always a part of various Mennonite communities. 

ANNA TRAN: Oh, right. Yeah, so I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There’s very large communities of Amish and Mennonite folks. They’re similar, but Mennonite communities won’t emphasize as much the separation from society. So they’ll actually use a lot of technology, they’ll wear similar clothes to you and I, but the main thing is that Mennonite people, they really want to focus on serving the community and living simply.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and so then, in light of that, it makes sense that Edna Ruth and her husband were really engaged socially. And one of the places that they would try to serve the community through was this organization called Mennonite Central Committee, MCC for short. So they were this Christian nonprofit that focused on relief and development efforts. Now her husband actually worked for the organization. And even though Edna Ruth didn’t, it doesn’t mean that she was not still highly involved. For example, there was this one occasion where –

CLAIRE BROSIUS: She went on a trip to Puerto Rico with her husband and that was her first international trip and that was where she met women and became really fascinated by these embroidered linens that they were creating.

JESSE EUBANKS: And so Edna Ruth, naturally, she starts engaging with these ladies, she sees their beautiful work that they’re creating, but she also discovers something else that surprises her – they can’t find anybody to sell these goods to. And so, as a result –

CLAIRE BROSIUS: The local markets couldn’t sustain the amount of income that they needed.

JESSE EUBANKS: And Edna Ruth, being a woman that wanted to do something when she saw problems in the world, she’s like, “I wanna do something about this.”

CLAIRE BROSIUS: She said she would do what she could. She saw a need and wanted to help. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so she buys a bunch of linens from these ladies in Puerto Rico, she comes back to the United States. And then as she’s talking about this whole experience with friends and other people in her community, they actually say, “Well, I’d love to buy some of those linens.” And so she’s like, “Okay.” So she sells the linens to these folks in her community and then she takes the money and she goes back and she actually buys more linens from the ladies in Puerto Rico. But here’s the thing – she didn’t end up just doing this for these ladies in Puerto Rico because she would end up traveling to –

CLAIRE BROSIUS: Uh, you know, Europe, Hong Kong, Jordan, traveled through India, you know, with her husband. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And just to clarify, this was something that she was doing on the side – you know, it wasn’t like she was trying to be a traveling salesperson. So wherever her husband’s work took them, she would find opportunities to connect with local artisans who made beautiful goods. And so she’d go, she’d buy some of those goods, she’d bring it back, she’d sell those things, she’d reinvest the money, bring it back and sell them, reinvest the money. And this cycle just kept on repeating. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, this is starting to sound pretty familiar. I feel like, you know, there’s organizations that do some of this stuff today.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, so today we would call this the Fair Trade Movement. 

ANNA TRAN: Oh, holy smokes. So she’s the one who, like, kicked off the Fair Trade Movement. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, but she actually never called it that. You know, she really was – she was just a woman who wanted to help other women in poverty around the globe because of her love of Jesus and because she had the ability to make a difference in an ethical way. And what she didn’t realize at the time was that she was actually pioneering one of the absolute main principles of this modern day movement. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: Which is opening up global markets to makers and creatives in markets where the demand isn’t high enough. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so then comes 1958. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: Was when she and her husband bought a house and set up a shop in their basement, and so that’s often the year that people say is the first Fair Trade store that became 10,000 Villages. 

ANNA TRAN: Oh, 10,000 Villages. I’ve definitely seen those stores around. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean, throughout the 1960’s, MCC started to formally support her efforts, and they folded this small basement shop actually into their organization. Claire said that it’s during this time period that there’s this collective awareness of two important things. So first –

CLAIRE BROSIUS: Means of travel and global trade. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, here’s what that means. The airline industry was booming at a global level. And as a result of that, if you literally look at graphs and charts, you will begin to see through the decades – especially in the 1960’s – goods from around the globe start going everywhere. So this global market is expanding at really high rates. And suddenly this country that we’ve never done any trade with, we actually have access to. So the first thing is all about global trade. The second thing is –

CLAIRE BROSIUS: There’s this growing kind of production and consumer culture happening. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So as this global economy is starting to expand all of a sudden, there’s all these goods that are being made, there’s also a lot of folks that are saying, “Man, there’s an opportunity here to make a lot of money.” So you could go to another country, you could set up shop, you could start making goods in a country where you could pay people a lot less money. What that means is the owner of the company is going to take home a lot more cash. But there’s a whole lot of folks that are also looking at that going, “Wait, wait, wait. You shouldn’t necessarily just be going to an impoverished country to make a whole bunch of money. We’d actually need to do this in a way that is fair and ethical.” So there’s also this growing movement around – “What does it mean to pay a fair wage? What does it mean to take care of your employees? What does it mean for something to be ethically sourced?” And so those attitudes are carried forward into the 1970’s and 80’s. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: That’s when there was an emergence of the, you know, International Federation of Alternative Trade, which was the precursor to the World Fair Trade Organization, the sort of formalization of the institutions we know of today.

JESSE EUBANKS: So Edna Ruth actually passed away in 1976, and I think it’s fair to say that the advancement of the Fair Trade Organization and all of the models around that – it grew way beyond what she ever could have dreamt of. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: She wasn’t trying to set out to influence consumer behavior. She wasn’t trying to say, “Hey, there’s this alternative to global trade.” She wasn’t really trying to do any of those things. If you look at the confession of faith for a Mennonite church, there’s following Jesus above materialism, living life simply, and serving others.

JESSE EUBANKS: And so here’s the amazing thing – like, if you consider the implications of all of these things, you consider how massive, you know, the modern fair trade movement is and the, the push for fair wages and ethical standards and, and even the notion of, “We want to financially support people in poverty in a, in a just way,” like, in so many ways it can be traced back to this simple woman in the 1950’s and 60’s who loved Jesus and just wanted to love these women around the world. 

CLAIRE BROSIUS: She really was focused on loving her neighbor and her community and was really focused on relationships she had, the local community she was a part of. She and her husband were charter members of several different churches, and so they were really about building the communities they were a part of and helping the needs as they saw them for their global neighbors as well.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, I think about how it’s so easy these days to get the stuff that we want fast and cheap, but, like, that all comes at a cost. 

JESSE EUBANKS: But here’s the thing – a lot of times we don’t even think about that cost. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah because we can so instantaneously just get what we want. It doesn’t matter how much that costs if I get what I want. It’s so interesting though that there’s just a lot of large successful companies out there that they actually have plenty of ethical violations like forced labor, terrible working conditions for employees, not paying livable wages. Some of the companies accused of these things – some of their products are in our homes. We’ve used their websites. Companies like Temu, Apple, Nestle.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so you politely allowed me to interrupt Brad’s story. 


JESSE EUBANKS: Uh, take us back. Where do we go from where we left off? 

ANNA TRAN: Right. So where we left off, Brad, he saw an opportunity to lead the church in pushing back against consumer Christianity. So he really wanted to see people be participants of church, not just consumers of church. And so one practical way that he does this is with just a slight shift in language. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: If you want to join our church, you’re not a member because we’re not a country club. You’re a partner. And so the expectation is you should expect us to walk with you and help you develop in your discipleship. Our expectation is for you to jump in and help us do ministry.

ANNA TRAN: So, this may seem like semantics, but Brad, he decided to change the language around church membership. And so people who join the church, if they’re really serious about wanting to be a part of this church, they’re not called church members. They’re called church partners. And so this is just a subtle way he wants to frame how people interact and engage with church. Brad wanted to lead the congregation to be more in line with what he saw in Scripture. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Jesus says, like, “I want you to produce fruit.” Not just fruit, but more fruit. Not just more fruit, but much fruit. 

ANNA TRAN: So, that’s a lot of fruit there, right? (laugh) So, you know, when we go to church, we’re not just taking in the fruit that other people are trying to give out. We do have a responsibility to produce. It’s something that Jesus talks about. And of course, change like that doesn’t happen overnight, but Brad told me that he is actually seeing something beautiful happening right now in his congregation. After many years of teaching on the importance of ministry participation, recently, when he asked people from his church what they hope the church will look like in the future, here’s what they said.

BRAD MCMAHAN: “Three years from now, we hope that crime in our community is going down because we’re meeting needs that aren’t being met. We want to see the divorce rate drop. We want to see the percentage of families living on government assistance go down.” 

ANNA TRAN: And the thing is that Brad is seeing a shift, a shift in people caring more about what they can give versus about what they can get. They’re caring about things like justice, about caring for the poor, making disciples, taking care of each other. And Brad pointed out that just because there is a perceived lack of resources, that doesn’t mean a church cannot be fruitful producers. 

BRAD MCMAHAN: Instead of looking at what you don’t have or the lack of resources or lack of funding to be able to buy this, that, or the other that you think will make, will make it possible to do X, Y, or Z, just get on mission and let Jesus take care of, of stuff.

JESSE EUBANKS: So of course the question is – what do we do with all of this? And what are the implications of the good news of Jesus and the gospel on this issue of consumerism? It’s really easy to get to this point in a conversation like this and to think, “I shouldn’t be a consumer,” but God made us to be consumers. We are dependent people who need things, and we don’t just need just water and just bread. God gives us a lot of really beautiful, good gifts in life because He’s just a loving Father. There are some things that are just created for joy and pleasure, and we should be able to enjoy those things. But here’s the deal. At its heart, consumerism is a relational issue. Relationships with the products and services that we buy, relationships with people, relationship with God – consumerism turns these relationships into transactions. And in these transactions, we feel like we always have to come out net positive and if there’s any situation in which we’re coming out net negative that is not tolerable and that’s not how things are supposed to be. But God’s kingdom is different than that because here’s the deal – when we are citizens of God’s kingdom, we live in a state of net positive because of all that Jesus has done for us, because of who we are to God, how important we are to Him. And that puts us in a place where we don’t have to have just purely transactional relationships with people and things because God abundantly provides for us. And it doesn’t mean that there’s not a whole lot of gray that we’re gonna have to navigate on this issue of consumerism – “Should I buy this or not buy this? What is the nature of a healthy relationship with this person or that person?” That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is this – we don’t always need to look out for number one, ourselves, because God’s looking out for us and we can trust him, and that puts us in a place to be able to give generously and freely with less strings attached.

BRAD MCMAHAN: Psalm 24 starts off with, “The earth belongs to the Lord. And everything in it and everyone who lives on it, it all belongs to him. Why? Because he founded it.” And so you realize like, “Everything that I have has all been entrusted to me by God to use it in the way that ultimately he directs as he would.” You are an owner of nothing. You’re a steward of everything. If you can get that right, then things like giving and generosity and all this stuff come along with it. If you see it as yours, you’re gonna treat it as yours. But if you see it as, “This all belongs to Jesus, he’s entrusted me with it for whatever reason, and so I’m gonna do the things that he would do with it like he would.”


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewees – Joshua Becker, Brad McMahan, and Claire Brosius. Listen, you can check out Joshua Becker’s writing on minimalism by going to You can also check out Brad McMahan’s sermons by heading over to If you’d like to read Claire Brosius’s original article about Edna Ruth Byler, head over to To hear one of our other episodes related to the topic of money and possessions, check out our episode number 17 – “Where the Gospel Meets Wealth.” 

ANNA TRAN: Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. Co-host is me, Anna Tran. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor who, the other day, when she was describing the kind of person that would be Katy Perry’s backup shark dancer, realized –

BRAD MCMAHAN: “I think the person I’m describing to you is me.”

ANNA TRAN: Music is from Lee Rosevere, Poddington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions, and Murphy DX. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Listen, if you have not already left a review for this podcast, please do so wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. It helps people find this show, it means a lot to us, and it also really encourages us. So, make sure you look up Love Thy Neighborhood on whatever podcast app you’re on. Leave us a review. 

ANNA TRAN: This show is brought to you by Love Thy Neighborhood. If you want a hands-on experience with missions in our modern times, come serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. Love Thy Neighborhood offers summer and year long missions internships for young adults ages 18 to 30. Bring social change with the gospel by working with an innovative nonprofit and serving your urban neighbors.

JESSE EUBANKS: Experience community like never before as you live and do ministry with other Christian young adults. Grow in your faith by walking in the life and lifestyle of Jesus and being part of a vibrant, healthy church. Apply now at Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, “Go, and do likewise.”


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To hear one of our other episodes related to the topic of money and possessions, check out episode #17: Where the Gospel Meets Wealth.

Statistics referenced:


Special thanks to our interviewees Joshua Becker, Brad McMahan, and Claire Brosius.
Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks, co-host is Anna Tran.
This episode was written by Anna Tran with Jesse Eubanks.
Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor.
Music for this episode comes from Podington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions & Murphy D.X.