Free Market Christianity

Recently I have been reading the book Neighbors And Wise Men by Tony Kriz. There are a lot of good thoughts to be found in this book, but yesterday I came upon one that has in some ways captured my imagination. Tony was telling the story of a student at a college where he did ministry that would bring students to a homeless ministry for a couple of hours then bring them back to the school. Tony went along one time and discovered that this was an excellent ministry that just needed a little branding to really make it come alive. Long story short the student tells Tony that the purpose of what he’s doing is to help the students he loves get in touch with the homeless people he also loved. Then he goes on to point out that for centuries Christians (especially protestants) have been separating over the need to market things differently.

I have been politically conservative for as long as I can remember. Initially I’m sure it was because my parents are conservative, but over time I’ve thought through the issues and come to my own conclusions. One of the primary reasons I remain conservative is my belief in the free market system and it’s ability to be more efficient than government at getting things done. The principle is easily seen when comparing FedEx or UPS to the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS put food on my families plates for many years, so I have no ill will towards them, but they are a remarkably inefficient organization. There are numerous reason for their inefficiency, but  the biggest seems to be their inability to escape the machinery of government. For instance it still takes an act of Congress to fire an under-performing employee. Congress doesn’t have time for these types of mundane things and the managers at the USPS don’t have time to get all the paperwork done for such an act. The end result is a lot of under-performing employees that have no reason to up their game. FedEx and UPS on the other hand are private businesses and can hire and fire as they like, which means that under-performing employee at FedEx or UPS gets fired and a more efficient better performing employee is hired. This is just one example of how FedEx and UPS are more efficient than the USPS. It’s also a good example of why a private company can do things better than a government organization.

As I was reading the story that Tony was telling I started to wonder why the church hasn’t embraced a more free market model in our ministries. How many churches do you know that have a homeless ministry or a children’s ministry. Exactly how many VBS’s are enough in a contained geographic region? Might it be better if rather than have a bunch of small ministries in every church we instead reach out to have a large regional ministry? And what if that ministry was not run by one individual church, but instead by a board of people from several churches? Would it become more efficient – or in this case efficacious – at achieving the goals of this type of ministry?

My wife, who has spent the past decade as a church administrator, tells me this is pretty much an impossible dream. The primary reasons being that people are A) lazy and B) like to control things. I’ve spent a good time working in and with churches and she’s right. People tend to not be willing to do the work despite saying that they’re passionate about it. Even though they don’t do the work they still feel like they should have a say in how the ministry works. This is part of the reason for the rise of youth and children’s pastors. People feel passionate about having a strong ministry for their kids, but they also don’t want to make time to see it happen. It’s easier to hire a pastor to do the work and then tell them how to do their job.

Despite this reality, I’m still an idealist. I think this is a good idea – an idea that needs a lot more working out – but still a good idea. I think it’s especially a good idea in urban areas where church attendance is dropping but the need for service is rising. I’ll need to think on this more,but I needed to get the ideas out there so they could breathe. Thanks.


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