Monday, October 31, 2005


Is Christianity a commodity? Some think so. If you need food, go to the grocer. If you need electricity, call an electrician. If you need spirituality, go to church. This paradigm, if you choose to accept it, will set you up, as pastor, to become a “dispenser” and “provider” and set people up for disappointment, when you don’t “deliver.” You will be sadly reduced to a “purveyor of religious goods and services,” instead of a shepherd of souls.

Is there a better idea? Thad Williamson, writing about college athletics, offers the "logic of friendship.” He’s responding to frustration that often arises on the part of fans, when their favored athletes and teams don’t perform well:

I strongly believe that the relationship between fans and college athletes should proceed not according to a logic of commodification, in which the fan “buys” a product and is entitled to a return, but rather a logic of friendship. Both logics allow for the legitimate expression of disappointment and dismay in the wake of losses and other setbacks. But whereas according to the logic of commodification, this often takes the form of being angry at the players or coaches who “owed me” more in the way of vicarious satisfaction, in the logic of friendship this takes the form of sharing the pain coaches and players themselves feel when they do not meet their own goals and dreams or live up to their own expectations. To subscribe to this latter logic of friendship, of course, runs against the grain of American sports culture.

In both sports and church there is an attempt on the part of leaders to get groups of people heading in a common direction to accomplish high and lofty goals. When things are going well (“the thrill of victory”), it can be hard to tell which logic is in play (commodification or friendship) because everyone’s happy. When things are not going well (“the agony of defeat”) the underlying logic is often revealed. Are we “all in this together” (logic of friendship), or does someone “owe me” something (logic of commodification)?

Pastors can “coach their team” toward the logic of friendship by regularly saying things like “We need every one of you to get on board” or “We’re fellow strugglers here.” Over the years I have stressed that “CTK will not be a better church than the people who comprise it. If CTK is a loving church, it will be because you and I are loving. If we are a serving church, it will be because you and I are serving. If we are an outreach church, it will be because you and I reach out.” Every time I say this I nudge the culture a little further away from the logic of commodification, and closer to the logic of friendship.

“We are above all things loved – that is the good news of the gospel....To come together as people who believe that just maybe this gospel is actually true should be to come together like people who have just won the Irish sweepstakes.” Frederick Buechner

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