Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Black Friday or Good Friday

This post comes to us from James Krombholz Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, New Providence NJ

I am becoming increasingly wary of comparisons of a church to a business enterprise -- even missional church. The comparison is all too easy, especially since all business is concentrating on staying "mission-focused" and mission driven. When we confuse church and business, don't we reinforce a way of relating to each other that reduces all relationships to customer-service relationships. Here's what I mean.

"Black Friday is the retailers’ showcase, a time when they should do everything they possibly can to ensure they perform flawlessly—to inspire customers’ long-term loyalty by delivering more than they were expecting."

Now substitute Christmas, Easter or other high-traffic church events for Black Friday and church or congregation for retailers. When we do this we come to diagnose (misdiagnose, I think) our problem as an inability to inspire our customers' long-term loyalty by delivering more than they were expecting. Maybe our churches cannot change, not because our basic model is broken, but because we as people and pastors cannot think or act or relate except as merchants or industrialists. We have received from our tradition and from our ancient scripture an agrarian way of understanding the world, each other and our God, not to mention God's work in our lives and in the world (see the parable of the sower), but we continue to think it would be better if we treated church as business and industry. We have applied industrial technique to agriculture with disasterous consequences. Why would we expect any better result for our churches. Treat a farm like a business and it will go bankrupt or become an plantation or destroy its environment in search of greater and greater profit. Maybe the same can be said for churches. I love this story from Wendell Berry's Economy and Pleasure ...

"I was fortunate, late in life, to know Henry Besuden of Clark County, Kentucky, the premier Soutdown sheep breeder and one of the great farmers of his time. He told me once that his first morning duty in the spring and early summer was to saddle his horse and ride across his pastures to see the condition of the grass when it was freshest from the moisture and coolness of the night. What he wanted to see in his pastures at that time of the year, when his spring lambs would be fattening, was what he called "bloom" - by which he meant not flowers, but a certain visible delectability. He recognized it, of course, by his delight in it. He was one of the best of the traditional livestockmen - the husbander or husband of his animals. As such, he was not interested in "statistical indicators" of his flock's "productivity." He wanted his sheep to be pleased. If they were pleased with their pasture, they would eat eagerly, drink well, rest, and grow. He knew their pleasure by his own. "

That sound a lot more like the work of a pastor than this ...

“I personally apologize for the experience you had, and I apologize for any other customer that might have experienced that,” he told me. ... When I asked about why that Wal-Mart worker [pastor] had pooh-poohed the website’s inventory listing [the religious or spiritual service I came looking for], he said there were some “misaligned incentives” between store workers [clergy] and Web orders [your spiritual desires]. At the moment, in-store employees don’t get any credit toward their bonuses for sales made online [self-guided spiritual experience] but picked up in a store [by attending worship]."

But guess which one sounds more like my day? Customer service, you got it. But that's what the mission-statement says: We're a "Christ-centered [customer] servant community." I don't think we need to change our model as much as we need to understand what we are and what we have to offer a world that is being destroyed by Wal-Mart, Amazon and a host of other enterprises that thrive on statistical indicators and productivity. Maybe we can once again offer a place, a community, a savior, a kingdom to which this "brood of vipers" or "generation" can flee for refuge, repentance and redemption.

Anyhow, maybe our problem is that we're a nation of merchants. How do we change that?