Archives For August 2010

I was recently pointed to an organization called “Trade as One.” They partner with churches and individuals to direct consumer spending toward making more Fair Trade purchases on everyday items. Not a particularly new or unique concept. They have a vetting process for the products they sell which ensures the buyer that in addition to making a Fair Trade purchase, he or she is also helping to provide a sustainable wage for individuals in the most abject poverty. From their website:


[Trade as One] uses the power of consumer dollars, not donations, to bring jobs and holistic care to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. By choosing to substitute goods made by missional businesses for ones traditionally bought in the shopping mall, people in America can use their consumer dollars to bring hope and dignity to thousands of families.

I was particularly intrigued by a campaign they run near the holidays called “Just One.” The idea is to encourage people to make at least one of their holiday gift purchases a Fair Trade item. They claim that if everyone who attends church in the US made just one Fair Trade purchase that would be enough to lift one million families out of poverty for an entire year. To that end, they’ve partnered with churches like Willow Creek, North Point Community, and Menlo Park Presbyterian to mobilize their congregations to make more Fair Trade purchases. Watch this two-minute video on how Trade as One partners with churches:


Did you catch that bit in the middle? The organization’s founder, Nathan George, says,

[The church] has enormous potential to speak prophetically to the marketplace and model a redemptive way our money can be spent.

While this is all true, they give only a cursory nod to a deeper, more insidious problem of our hyper-consumptive culture. The Doctor of Ministry program I’m embarking upon will spend a lot of time unpacking the idea that consumerism is more than a damaging cultural trend; it is, in fact, a competing religious system. If that is true, the call to Christians must reach beyond an attempt to redeem our spending. It must move us to reconsider what faithfulness to the One, True God means.

Your thoughts?

Will It Last?

August 23, 2010 — Leave a comment

My good friend, Bob Robinson, recently blogged about the importance of a broad, Reformational application of the term “Vocation.” In summing up a discussion he had with two ministry friends on a commonly held, yet dualistic, notion that only “church work” (think evangelism or missions) is eternally valuable, he wrote,

…before Redemption there was Creation. While being a Christian is no less than participating in the work of evangelism and mission, it is also so much more. We are created in the image of the Creator and Redeemer God, which means that the Gospel of the Kingdom has as much to say about our work as creators and culture-makers as it does about our work as missionaries and evangelists.

What Bob is talking about is incredibly important (read the rest of his post here). One of the places where popular Evangelical theology has damaged Christianity is in  emphasizing the redeeming work of Christ to the exclusion of His creating work. God’s act of Creation didn’t stop after the (literal or proverbial) seven days. In fact, Paul used creation language to talk about the work of redemption:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)

Being redeemed (literally, “bought back”) is a beginning, not an end. It begs the question, “Now what?” The purposes of redemption must be larger than the obtaining of wayward souls. Otherwise, we risk making God in our own, consumption-acquisition oriented selves. Living out the “now what?” is inherently tied into a sense of vocare, predicated on there being a Caller who is summoning those He’s bought back to lives of work oriented toward the building of His Kingdom. As any of us knows, a kingdom is more than citizenry.

Our mandate as redeemed culture-makers is to work, not for our own gain, but for the gain of the Kingdom and the King. Then we will be able, with surety, to know that our work will be the kind that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3:13-14. So, let’s move away from dualistic language of “secular” work and “sacred” work. Instead, let us have the right attitude that everything a redeemed-one works at has the potential for being eternally-lasting, Kingdom-altering activity.

Len Hjalmarlson recently posted a link to a TED talk by Nicholas Christakis on the hidden effects of social networks. If you have 18 minutes, it is worth viewing. The gist is that the social networks human beings form are required for the spread of good and valuable things and, likewise, the spread of good and valuable things is dependent upon vibrant, sustainable human networks. He challenges the notion that we form linear, lattice-like networks and, instead, offers that our relational networks are much more organic clusters that vary based on factors like genetics, class, economics, and era.

In a couple weeks I formally start doctoral work on discipleship in community in the 21st century American church. I am convinced that the only way the church can avoid falling over the brink into irrelevance is for it to find a way out from under the bondage of rampant individualism, stoked by unchecked consumerism. For too long there has been a “me and Jesus” mentality in the way that Evangelicals approach Christian life. The church is reaping what she’s sown in giving, volunteerism, and mission. That way back must be rooted in an understanding of community that is incorporated into the very identity of what it means to be disciples of Christ.

There are a good many promising movements that have sprung up over the past several decades that are attempting faithfulness in this area, but they are, unfortunately, disconnected from one another, localized to a fault, and unable to find a means to voice their presence to the broader Evangelical establishments. Christakis argues that networks have value and are a kind of social capital through which new properties emerge because of our embedded-ness in them. I think that if the church can foster environments in which these bonds will be nurtured and strengthened, we will see the spread of the “good and valuable” things that he imagines can happen.

This means shifting away from contriving social networks. They happen organically and there is little we can do to artificially fabricate them. Those of us in ministry are notorious for doing this. We read in the Bible about networks of relationships and then try to replicate them to a tee. I worked for a para-church organization whose volunteer leadership strategy was articulated as “3-12-70.” It was based off relationships Jesus had formed with his followers. He had twelve disciples, three of which were were closest to him, and at one point commissioned a larger group of seventy. The leadership principle that was extrapolated from this was that we were each to have a core of twelve leaders, three of which we should mentor individually. If we did that, we would soon see a larger group (70) begin to form around us.

As leadership structure goes, it is an alright idea. However, no one talked about the obvious symbolic importance of the numbers 3, 12, and 70. Instead, our supervisors began asking us, twice a year, to literally write down the names of twelve core volunteers, three of whom we were to identify as being mentored by us, and as many of the seventy as we knew. It became part of the metric by which we were evaluated.

The power of social networks was entirely missed. The importance of significant relationships shelved for a new kind of accounting. Less than three meant you must not be working effectively enough, more meant you were in danger of diluting your influence. Instead of empowering and releasing people to build and strengthen the social networks that would organically form, we were asked to (mis)apply a Biblical formula.

I only bring this up because it is symptomatic of what has been happening throughout American Evangelicalism. We have become so focused on inventing things we can measure, we keep missing opportunities to strengthen what God is already doing. What would it look like for us to stop trying to create parallel social structures and, instead, to find ways to nurture the networks we’re already entwined in? Christakis closes by saying, “The benefits of collective life always outweigh the costs.” Jesus knew that as well. Let’s lean into life together instead of trying to needlessly reinvent it.