The commoditization of spiritual content

Looking at how much time we do it I’d say the evangelical church assumes that the most important ministry in the church involves having specialists pass on teaching, challenge, knowledge and wisdom on to those who aren’t specialists.  We spend a lot of time and money on Sunday school, small group curriculum, sermons, conferences, books, and Christian higher education and all of these forms of ministry follow along this similar track. 

If we go back far enough we see most churches located in small rural communities because most people lived in on farms or small towns.  In such a town there would be a smattering of educated people like teachers, doctors and clergy.  In this situation the pastor or the priest would be one of the more educated people. 

Fast forward to 20 years ago.  Western society is now thoroughly industrialized.  More people live in cities than in the country and many more people are educated.  Television, tapes and books are used extensively by the church.  The local church no longer held the monopoly on spiritual content.

Now fast forward to today.  Information on many topics has been thoroughly commoditized.  The knowledge that used to be difficult or costly to access is as available today as tap water. This includes spiritual content. As people tap in to teaching that is cheap, easy to access to often even better than what they get at church they are beginning to wonder why they bother attending.

There is a great scene in Good Wil Hunting that demonstrates how information has become commoditized, and how formal education has become something of a racket.

A few friends I’ve known that post their sermons online have observed a consistent surge in traffic  on their websites on Friday and Saturday. In many churches what we hear on Sunday is a warmed over version of what the pastor found online the night before.

As information becomes as accessible as tap water it isn’t appreciated near as much either.  People are drowning in a sea of information.  It isn’t always quality content but there is a massive amount of it.  People are saturated in it.  There just isn’t that much more capacity to absorb. 

I think this might be one reason why many evangelicals have shifted over to the Orthodox or other traditions with a more formal liturgy.   The heart of their church gatherings isn’t passing on information.  They seek substance, divine connection and participation in the sacraments.  It doesn’t necessarily rock my socks but I understand the desire to go in this direction. 

One reason why people leave the church without leaving their faith is they believe what the local church offers them isn’t significantly different from what they could get with Itunes and youtube.  The currency of the church must shift down the spectrum from knowledge to love.  Immediately people will object by saying we can’t cast away knowledge because we will end up becoming ignorant and futile.  I’m not arguing that we cast away knowledge.  It isn’t an all or nothing thing, just that we need to rebalance things to the point where people feel a tangible connection with others.

  1. #1 by Paul Johnston on October 23, 2009 - 1:32 pm

    Well said, Leighton. However if I may offer a friendly “push back”.

    Perhaps you might consider a more thorough examination of the liturgical and sacramental. Particularly with regard to the claims of “divine connection”.

    Such a critique is more consistent with your temperament and abilities, than a simple “rock of the socks”. 🙂

  2. #2 by Leighton Tebay on October 23, 2009 - 5:53 pm

    Is there an archbishop of post-evangelical fishing somewhere that assigns you Catholics to lurk on evangelical blogs? 🙂

    /giggle /giggle

    Right now I’ve never fit better with my local church experience. I’m not suffering from the cognitive dissonance rampant in generic evangelicalism and I feel like I’m making a difference. For now I’m where I’m supposed to be.

  3. #3 by Paul Johnston on October 24, 2009 - 8:22 am

    To know you are where you should be… such blessing, praise God.

    You, and other evangelical bloggers, help me so much with my rational understandings of God. How I wish I could share the Eucharist as I experience it, with you.


  4. #4 by Rev. Mike on October 24, 2009 - 5:42 pm

    I don’t see a spike on my blog on Saturdays, so I must not have anything worth stealing. 🙂

    Interesting thread on First Things yesterday about “online church.” Check it out.

  5. #5 by Erica on October 29, 2009 - 4:38 pm

    OK. For real… this may be the most ridiculous post/response ever… but all I can say is “I heart Matt Damon. Big Time.” Hahaha… that was funny, I like that guy – he spoke my thoughts (only is way way way smarter!).

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