This afternoon I read an essay entitled God is Not A Capitalist (Michael L. Budde) from the book called God is not ... religious nice "one of us" an american a capitalist edited by D. Brent Laytham.
The essay I read today made me go "hmmmm" -- as in, these are things to think about. I work in a mega-church, and I am on the board of several Christian organizations, and perhaps some of what Budde talks about in this essay is applicable to my ministry situation.
Budde begins the essay by stating that "whatever we conclude God is or is not should have an important influence on what we think the church should or should not be". No argument from me on that.
He then goes on to talk about the fact that in North America and Europe there has been an increasing mixing of the for-profit world with the ministry world. Not only have churches and ministries begun to look at business models for how to run their ministries, but in some Christian circles for-profit companies have even begun to sponsor Christian events, concerts and conferences. Sometimes churches or denominations have lent their name or celebrities to for-profit organizations (see the phone card below I saw in Germany), while at other times Christian events have had corporate sponsors.
Some denominations, churches, and Christian organizations and movements have employed marketing companies to help them develop a more positive image. Discussions on "branding" have become more popular on the boards and leadership teams of churches and Christian non-profits.
Are there problems with these approaches, or is it simply a matter of Christians catching up with the rest of the world? Budde makes two comments in response to this question.
- Using the tools of the for-profit industries (televsion, advertising, movies, marketing, etc.) also requires the ideological assumptions of those industries, including "don't get people depressed", "we need to keep the message positive", etc.
- Once one moves from congregants to customers, the logic is relentless and its effects on the church are not easily contained.
In addition, countless books have been written that have taken the practices of leadership and management from the corporate world and introduced them to the church. For example, I can't remember how many times I have recommended Good to Great by Jim Collins to church and ministry leaders -- and how many times it has been recommended to me (it is a great book, by the way) or quoted in meetings I have been.
All of this (and I suspect there is much more) makes it seem that as Christians we believe that God, in some shape or form is a capitalist. After all, we don't seem to have problems with mixing the philosophy of capitalism with our Christianity.
But is God a capitalist? Budde suggests, that if He is, He is not a very good one.
- In Matthew 20:1-6 Jesus pays people who work for Him for an hour, the same as He pays those who work for Him all day. Overpaying for work does not a good capitalist make (underpaying people makes for a much better capitalist).
- In Matthew 18:12-14 Jesus leaves the 99 sheep to find the 1. Jesus obviously doesn't understand that getting so personally invested in individual sheep is a bad idea. Just as an employer can't get too close to employees he may one day need to fire or lay off, it is simply bad business to get hung up about a single sheep.
- God's personnel policy isn't exactly capitalistic either. On more than one occasion He seems determined to call the lame, the poor and the marginalized. In fact He rarely seems to have good things to say about the rich, the compentent or the qualified. Not a great way to build a successful company.
- God's benefit package isn't the greatest either. Jesus tells His followers that "as they do to me, they will do to you". Now Christ was persecuted and martyred. He obviously didn't get His corporate message right.
- Jesus also kept saying things about " the last shall be first and the first shall be last". Wouldn't this be a sure way to scare away would-be investors, lose market share and push the most ambitious people out of the firm?
- God also isn't real good on getting a maximum return on His investment. He sends Jesus to the backwaters of Galilee. Wouldn't Rome have been a better place to announce the Incarnation?
So what does this all mean? I'm not 100% sure, but my suspicion is that we need to begin to think about economics differently. Perhaps we need to think about the role of the church and the corporate world differently. Perhaps we need to think about our economics in terms of what the church is called to be as a foretaste and forerunner of the Kingdom of God.
Now that there seems to be a resurgence of beginning to understand the church in missional terms -- as a community of people who are called by God to continue Jesus' kingdom work, perhaps we need to also think about the church as having its own economy, its own exemplary and real-world practices, ideas and theologies of provision, property and prosperity.
Perhaps we need to look at the Sermon on the Mount and see what it may have to say to us about economics, and how we live our lives. How do we live out Matthew 5:42, or the Lords' prayer (ask God for daily bread, not our bread for the next 10 years), or living like "the lilies of the field" (Matthew 6:25-33)? I don't know, and I'm not sure. I wonder if I truely have the faith to live like that. Perhaps I have become more of a capitalist than God, because I can think of LOTS of reasons why this is all impractical and it wouldn't work. After all this is 2006 and things are much more complicated, and, and, and ....