Skye Jethani’s “Divine Commodity”: The economic crisis as opportunity for “creative dislocation” in the church

Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity Skye Jethani, Managing Editor of Leadership Journal, author of the new book, The Divine Commodity, and friend,  is visiting 20 different blogs today to talk about his new book. Skye’s book deals with several subjects that have been part of my work for the last ten years: consumerist culture, consumerism in American church, and the spiritual disciplines that are a necessary practice for true faithfulness amidst these forces. The best thing about his book is the endless streams of stories, illustrations, analogies and artistic explorations that enable us to see and imagine what consumerism is doing to us and where we might go from here.
My question for Skye concerns our current economic crisis and the disruption it is having over much of the consumerism of America. Currently, as our economy crashes, rebounds and (I believe) crashes again, it is undercutting the various ways consumer attachments, idolatries and habits that have formed our identities. The stable consumer self , that consumer Christianity has appealed to, is being disrupted to the core. Given all of Skye’s thinking on how to move beyond consumerist forms of church, I asked Skye: how can pastors take advantage of this economic upheaval to forge a new post consumer post American way of being church-mission in the world? Here’s Skye on that question:

Skye:  I believe the current economic recession, if it is protracted, presents 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 than people.

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 engines running.

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

Thanks Skye, that’s alot!!

I know Skye will be visiting around all the blogs today, so if you have a follow-up question or comment, perhaps he’ll get a chance to respond.  What follows is a list of the blogs involved in asking Skye other questions concerning his book and this very important topic.

Out of Ur (OutofUr.com)

Flowerdust.net (http://www.flowerdust.net/)

Stuff Christians Like (http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/)

Ragamuffin Soul (www.ragamuffinsoul.com)

Monday Morning Insight (http://www.mondaymorninginsight.com/)

Mark D Roberts (http://www.markdroberts.com/)

Ben Arment (www.benarment.com)

Church Relevance (http://churchrelevance.com/)

Bob Franquiz (http://bobfranquiz.typepad.com/)

Bob Hyatt (http://bobhyatt.typepad.com/)

Cole-Slaw (http://cole-slaw.blogspot.com/)

The Forgotten Ways (www.theforgottenways.org)

Reclaiming the Mission (http://www.missioalliance.org/)

Shaun Groves (http://www.shaungroves.com/shlog)

Frank Viola (www.frankviola.wordpress.com/)

The Gospel-Driven Church (http://www.gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/)

Christina Meyer (http://w2christina.blogspot.com/)

Lee Coate (http://leecoate.wordpress.com/)

Preaching Today (http://blog.preachingtoday.com/)

Gathering In Light (http://gatheringinlight.com/)

Off the Agenda (http://blog.BuildingChurchLeaders.com)

Take Your Vitamin Z (www.takeyourvitaminz.blogspot.com)

Staying Focused (http://kimmartinezstayingfocused.wordpress.com/)

ZonderFann (http://zonderfann.com/)

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