There are two ways to live life. One is to live as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is to live as though everything is a miracle. - Albert Einstein

This past weekend, my brother and I were driving up to Whistler, which is roughly a 4 hour drive from our home in Bellevue. Now, my brother and I get along great, but lets face it. We're guys. We're not gonna spend the whole 4 hours talking. So I decided to bring along a few books that I'm currently reading - Charles Wheelen's Naked Economics, as well as Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Reading a few chapters of each of them in succession caused several things to happen:

Firstly, I decided 2 hours of straight reading is about all that I can do.
Secondly, I realized that I've often heard critiques of fiscal policy and many business related principles from a "Christian perspective", but I have never heard the converse.

I then decided to give the idea some thought, and the remaining hours of the drive flew by.

In Blue Like Jazz, Miller accurately comes to the conclusion that in our world today, there is decreasing value in the beliefs and opinions of individuals, and an increasing amount of emphasis placed on being trendy, or "cool". At the end of the day, popular culture no longer cares about what you believe, what you stand for, and what you are passionate about. The underlying value assignment made to you is dependent on your "coolness", not on any of the above.

The problem is that Christianity is not considered cool. It is not a very popular thing to be a Christian. Christians often hide their faith from their peers for a variety of reasons - fear of rejection, not wanting to be considered a hypocrite, not wanting to offend people, and - worst of all - being ashamed of their faith. Why is this though? Why are there so many negative connotations associated with being a Christian?

Let's leave that thought for a sec and switch gears to economics.

Economics makes predictions on people based on the theory of Marginal Utility. For those of you who have forgotten your Econ 101, this is the theory that believes that people assign utility (or worth, value) to everything (for instance, reading a boring textbook may have a negative utility value, while reading this blog would definitely have a largely positive one), and that people generally strive to maximize their utility. It becomes clear that society on a whole associates a negative utility both with Christianity, and with being told about Christianity. While much of that comes from the negative portrayals of televangelists, prominent political and religious figures, as well as personal experience, this doesn't change the fact that people just don't want to hear about Jesus and all that He stands for.

It thus behooves us to understand why the modern Church is not only failing to address and mend these negative feelings, but also why she is propagating (and in some cases intensifying) the problem.

In Naked Economics, Wheelan identifies several needs of financial instruments:

1) Raising capital
2) Storing, protecting, and making profitable use of excess capital

How does this relate to Christian Spirituality and the Church?

1) Raising Capital.

All too often, the Church has taken a "here and now" approach in its investments. I'm not talking about capital in the traditional sense (ie. money and/or physical goods). I'm talking about Human capital. In his book, Wheelan describes the growing trend towards investing in Human capital. Our economy is evolving in ways that favor skilled workers. Technology makes smart workers more productive while making low-skilled workers obsolete. Society therefore makes investments in human capital - education, internships for work experience, mandatory volunteer hours (I love that one).

Many Churches often do not invest in human capital at all, or do so as an afterthought. Much of the Church's finances are used in "immediate" ways (traditional capital like sound systems, outreach programs, bus services for students, sports programs etc), but little or no attention is given to raising capital (Christian education, practical/hands on experience).

2) Storing, protecting, and making profitable use of excess capital

In my (albeit limited) experience, it is not uncommon for individuals who do not succeed elsewhere (whether it is school, work, business etc) to pour themselves into Church leadership roles, perhaps wanting to gain the sense of accomplishment that they could not obtain elsewhere. The problem this brings however, is that these under-skilled workers who seek personal satisfaction can often hinder the passionate and capable workers from working in the Church. It is not uncommon to find Churches that have more political struggles than the office place. This is clearly a deterrance for talented individuals to enter into ministry.

Consider the options. Building a career outside of the Church often means better hours, better pay, better benefits, more vacation time, intellectually stimulating work, advancement based on achievements, and recognition for excellence, to name a few. While ideally, these things are technically factors that should not be the main incentive to work for the Church, they cannot be completely ignored. Couple that with the prospect of working with individuals who are in it more for themselves than anything else and the balance quickly tips in favor of working "in the world". This is especially true of highly skilled workers, who could earn a much higher standard of living by working for a private firm.

So if the Church doesn't invest in raising future capital, and is currently not offering many incentives for those individuals who are rich in capital to stick around and work within it, can we really be surprised that she does not help to alleviate the hangups and negative associations society has with Christianity? Does it truly surprise us that the products of this industry (the people) are of substandard quality (often afraid to share about their faith, even ashamed of it)?

Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on how the Church ought to overcome these problems so that she can (and I believe, will) become relevant and cool.



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