Free market evangelicalism

Free market evangelicalism

A couple of years ago I was sitting in an evangelical worship service with some Mormons I had invited. They were very curious about our songs and if people in the church wrote them. I explained that the songs we sing are written by people who sell worship CDs. We sing the songs we like from the music we buy. As I contrasted that with the Mormon church, it just sort of dawned on me that evangelicals have adopted the free market as their model for distributing music and other resources. It doesnt stop with music and books. Our schools, colleges, missions organizations and even churches compete in an open market.

The free market has its good points and bad points. On the good side it works. People are able to get quality materials with a minimum hassle. There is a significant downside. Money is required for everything and some people dont have the money to pay.

Sermons and Sunday schools are still free, but these fall short as discipleship and leadership training tools. That is why we have books, music, conferences and leadership/discipleship training institutions. Essentially there is a two-tier church experience. There is one for the people who can pay and one for those who cant. Many churches moderate this by providing scholarships for conference fees or subsidize education by donating to colleges. Despite this it is expensive to be a Christian and very expensive to become a Christian leader. People arent considered qualified as leaders until give tens of thousands of dollars to institutions to teach them.

It is my contention that as a whole we have adopted a system that is fundamentally counterintuitive to the gospel. When Johns disciples were sent to ask Jesus if he was the ONE Jesus had an interesting answer. “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news proclaimed them (Luke 7:18-23).” This was fulfilment of a messianic prophecy confirmed in Luke 4:18 where Jesus essentially said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has ordained me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

Isnt it interesting how the signs of the kingdom of God Jesus pointed out are all supernatural miracles except for one, preaching the gospel to the poor?! Jesus said he was ordained to preach to poor people. As Christs ambassadors do we not have the same calling? Do we fulfill that calling if we introduce people to Christ for free and start charging after that?

Where are we today? Churches are fleeing core neighbourhoods to the suburbs. We invest heavily in marketing to middle class people while ignoring those who are less likely to make our institutions a financial success. Evangelicalism has little room for the poor.

I think we can do better. I maybe a few years ahead of things but I believe that the Internet can be the medium that upsets the status quo. Imagine if we paid authors directly. Imagine open source books. Imagine collaborative projects that involve people across the globe. Imagine supporting artists, musicians, theologians and authors in the same manner we support missionaries and they do their thing for free. Their free works are picked up and enhanced by others.

If we take major costs out of teaching materials and discipleship then people can afford to work and plant churches in poor neighbourhoods. Imagine a church where ministers can be trained without being saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

The bottom line is we cant serve God and money. We will love one and despise the other or we will hold on to one and despise the other. They way our whole system is structured we hold on dearly and tightly to money and we compromise kingdom values because of it.

  1. #1 by Linea on August 29, 2004 - 9:33 pm

    That is a very true commentary. How to get around it?

    One thing that happened to us is that when we were swamped with student loan debt and going out to the Congo one of our churches took on the payment of those loans for us. Don’t think we could have done it otherwise. So there are ways that Christians can support people out there doing things other than the free market route.

  2. #2 by MennoKnight on August 30, 2004 - 11:16 pm

    The CRC’s (Christian Reformed Church) pays for their young people to study for the ministry. If they don’t take up a position within a certain time, and hold it for a certain time, then they owe the conference that amount, but otherwise it’s paid for. Perhaps more denominations should take that on.

  3. #3 by Toni on September 7, 2004 - 2:47 pm

    Some of what you suggest has been going in the ‘Salt and light’ churches (at least in the UK) for years. We do have a bible college, but it’s designed to equip people, rather than turn out leaders. There are also significant numbers of church leaders that have never been through extensive bible school.

    We’ve recently changed our community head (pastor is the name for someone that exercises a particular ministry). Steve B is 30, and a junior school teacher. He did a year’s worth of a once a month discipleship course in his early 20s. But God’s call for leadership is on his life, and it is that which we recognise, rather than a formal qualification. As part of the Oxfordshire area churches he also has access to resources and information, if he wants it, as well as encouragement through networking with other pastors with and without the community church.

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