In the software world, we have this thing called the "VAR", or "Value-Added Reseller". You see, a company like Microsoft or Intel rarely sells you just the part they make; instead, some corporation somewhere packages up hardware from Intel, software from Microsoft, popular add-ons, and some of their own software, and sells you the integrated package. These folks are critical to the phenomenon of Consumerism--they make consumption easier by tailoring (and retail-oring) products to various markets.
In Christianity, we have these too, only we call them "preachers", or sometimes "pastors". Both terms miss the mark; or rather, we miss the mark when we become VARs instead.
If you take segments of the Bible and explain how to apply them to the lives of Christians, you're not a preacher. Preachers announce events; Christian preachers announce the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Many who call themselves "preachers" today instead package up scripture, writings of saints (both ancient and modern), popular culture, and personal anecdotes into an integrated package. These folks are critical to the Consumer Church--they make consumption easier by tailoring products to various markets.
If you do this an a regular, structured basis, maybe weekly on Sunday mornings; if you don't expect your congregation to recall your sermon from last week: your messages enjoy the benefits of "planned obsolescence". The consumer must spend time again and again to obtain fresh, useful product.
Consumerism is only possible in an economy where people have more than they need. The excess is displayed and must follow constantly-changing fashion, trends, and styles to maintain and even grow itself. If you are an emergent church; if you are a red-letter Christian or (gasp) a Christian hedonist: your sect is well on the way to giving people more than they need at a self-perpetuating cost, with aristocratic group membership to boot.
Why do we feel the need to explain the words of Jesus when he himself rarely did? When he fed the five thousand, did he then preach a sermon for an hour or two explaining himself? Why then do we? He obviously thought his actions were self-explanatory, even for the ordinary, what we would call marginally literate, men he called as his disciples. Perhaps we do so because ideas are easier than actions. Perhaps our surplus of words and ideas is fostering a Consumerist Church.
VARs repackage and sell. Preachers announce. Pastors abide with, correct, sometimes save, and usually love their flock. I'd rather be a pastor.
And no, the irony of me blogging about too many words is not lost on myself...
Seth Godin writes:
If people criticize you, they are actually criticizing your behavior, not you.
Is there a you besides your behavior? What if there isn't?
We spend a third of our lives in sleep, yet so often ignore it as an unimportant aspect of what defines us.
Now go read an author like Hobson who argues:
Dreaming, then, is not like delirium. It is delirium. Dreaming is not a model of a psychosis. It is a psychosis. It's just a healthy one.
What if Heaven is more like sleep than wakefulness? What if it's more like delirium?
Since there is a limit on the time we can serve, we need to look for maximum effectiveness. Structuring our ministries around our giftedness will help us do that. Knowing where we are spiritually gifted will help us know where to put our focus, energy, and time. It will show us where we should plug into ministry.
Maximum effectiveness. What a modern, Western concept. Super-size my spirituality! Everything else is maximized these days, why not my gifts? I find it interesting that the word "maximize" is present in the 1913 Webster's Dictionary but not the 1828 version . The word "maximum" certainly is, but in my guess, that word has always meant "apogee"--the limit of a function, the peak of achievement with a corresponding descent from that height. The maximum was an observed property, not a manufactured one. It is only in the last hundred years or so that we have begun to maximize as a verb--that is, to increase output to the highest degree and keep it there. Brewer's entry seems to support that theory:
The greatest and the least amount; as, the maximum profits or exports, and the minimum profits or exports; the maximum and minimum price of corn during the year. The terms are also employed in mathematics.
Proving this would be a good Master's Thesis.
What happens when we turn church into management? We cut people out that don't fit our optimum model because they keep us from maximizing our effectiveness. We have all the gifts and all the faith and all the service, but have not love. What a waste.
I've been bothered ever since I started Foucault's The Hermeneutics of the Subject, in which he says, almost offhand:
We will call "philosophy" the form of thought that asks what it is that enables the subject to have access to the truth and which attempts to determine the conditions and limits of the subject's access to the truth. If we call this "philosophy", then I think we could call "spirituality" the search, practice, and experience through which the subject carries out the necessary transformations on himself in order to have access to the truth.
Sigh The more I think about this, the more I come to the conclusion that Western Christianity has abandoned "spirituality" and valued only "philosophy". That is, our churches have become so focused on the objective truth (which we call "theology"), that we have forgotten that discipleship requires subjective transformation. We have come to the conclusion that being a good church member depends on what we know (things anyone and everyone can know equally), not how we ourselves have changed (in ways that not everyone can change equally, since not everyone has the same history). I keep seeing "church life" made up of classes, seminars, and sermons, with only lip-service to testimony, repentance, and discipleship.
I was reminded of this in yet another context today, when our senior pastor mentioned he had seminary professors that actively encouraged their clergy students to foster a distance between themselves and their congregations--don't play favorites; don't make "friends". What a difference from the life of Jesus, who favored three and especially loved one of his disciples.
Why do we do this?
I think we've been duped. We've had "objectivity" hammered into our brains at every opportunity: education, science, business, parenting, law, social interaction, war, markets, fashion, even art and poetry. We've been taught to manage everything, to the point that even our nuclear families are now all chiefs and no indians. Having conflict with your boss? Manage it! Having a fight with your spouse? Manage it! Your child? Manage it (together)! Anger issues? Manage it! Boredom? Manage it! And by "manage" here I mean we are told to step outside ourselves and objectively analyze our lives as if we were an slightly-interested observer. But there are dangers to applying management techniques too often and too strongly.
I recall a recent meeting of church leaders where the question was asked, "why do we want more people in our Sunday morning services?" The answers were all management answers: "we want more trained parishioners to help run all of our cool programs." Nobody said, "we care about all people and want them to meet Jesus and become mature in him." Too many chiefs and not enough indians.
I'm going to cut this short so I can publish it now. More later. This is a capital-T Theme for me these days.