The following quote is an answer Skye Jethani gave to a question Dave Fitch asked about Skye's new book (which I'd like to read) called The Divine Commodity. It revolves around how the current economic recession can be a catalyst for church leaders to begin to steer their congregations toward missional engagement, because of the disruption it is causing in people's attachment to their consumer identities (and the amount of cash available to build a consumer church).
I quote Skye's comments at length because they are so closely aligned with my own convictions. Read on for the quote.
an opportunity for “creative dislocation” within the church. It may
force us to acknowledge many of the assumptions that have driven our
view of ministry in many large churches as well as many smaller ones.
Central to this, I believe, is consumerism-rooted believe that
institutions are the instruments and vessels of God’s mission rather
The common assumption within the North American church is
that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right
programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the
ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry
makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit
resides within organizations and systems rather than people. In
addition, this model of ministry requires a significant investment of
money to pay for the buildings, programs, staff, and resources to run
the programming. It depends upon the laity’s willingness to give their
surplus time and surplus money to keep the church’s programmatic
But what happens when people have less surplus time
and less surplus money—like in a protracted economic recession? Will
the mission of the gospel simply have to wait until we can pay for more
LCD screens and multi-media auditoriums? Or will we rediscover a
different way of participating in God’s re-creative mission? This
economic meltdown might prove to be one of God’s greatest blessings to
the modern church. We may find that the gospel is an incarnate reality
living within and among the people of God, not a program to be designed
and marketed. And we may find that the reality of the Good News is
transmitted via the human/divine medium of relationship, not simply the
electric impulses of digital media.
As far as simple/practical things
church leaders can do during this recession to help their congregation
detach from consumerism, let me offer two ideas:
- Look for
programmatic redundancies and simplify your church’s institutional
footprint. If another faith community has a pre-existing ministry,
participate in the work they have already initiated rather than
launching or continuing your own. Most churches believe that in order
to have an impact in the community they need to start programs. In some
cases this may be true, but why does everything have to be under our
church’s banner? Rick McKinley from Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon,
likes to say “No logo, no ego.” As people in your church sense God’s
calling and discern their giftedness, why not engage them outside your
church’s programming? If First Baptist down the street already has a
homeless ministry going, why do you have to start one at your church?
Instead, send your volunteers who are passionate about caring for the
homeless over to First Baptist to help. By looking for places where
local church have redundant programming they can be more effective,
practice Christian unity, reduce institutional overhead costs, and
engage more people with their gifts.
- Change what your church
measures. Dallas Willard has said that most church measure the ABCs:
attendance, buildings, and cash. These are all institutional markers,
not necessarily missional markers. Determine a way to measure how many
people in your congregation have at least one meaningful relationship
with another believer (other than their spouse) with whom they can be
vulnerable and challenged to grow. Or begin to measure how often people
are engaging Scripture on their own and praying. These measurements are
not to be legalistic, but to communicate that what’s most important is
engaging God and fellow believers and not just institutional programs.
What we measure reveals what we value. And this isn’t simply to help
the laity experience transformation, but church leaders. We, perhaps
more than anyone, need to find release from consumerism’s grip on our
minds and hearts.