This past Saturday, my congregation hosted a booth at a large city gathering as an opportunity to say thank you to military and civil servants (Lakewood Salutes). We saw an opportunity to connect with neighbors; we set up shop and gave away microwave popcorn ("pop on over to a worship service at St. John's!"). Later in the day, with increasing daytime heat, we gave away cold water. With a box and a stack of 3x5 cards, we collected the prayers of anyone willing to share their concerns, promising St. John's would lift them up.
We were surrounded by many different kinds of vendors, many honest business people sharing what they had to offer in the public square. For some people in business, the pressure is on to collect names, give away items, persuade people to make a purchase, become a member, make a donation. These actions are inherently bad. Businesses participate in these actions, as do non-profits, clubs, ministries and congregations.
The danger for any of these organizations is than the people with whom they encounter easily become commodities. Because I work in the church, I can tell you what the commodification of people looks like in the church.
Your average Joe Smith walks in the door (tee hee) to Twelfth Lutheran Church in Medianville. Twelfth Church has a lot going on for years, but in the past few years, things have been slipping a little bit. Sunday School teachers are in shorter supply. There's a fairly small, yet slowly expanding list of vacancies on a variety of boards. The offering collection is down.
People get anxious. The mortgage has to be paid. The Sunday School classes need to be a reasonable size for the teachers. The windows need to be replaced. The staff needs to be paid fairly (but you know, maybe they're being paid too much for the trajectory of the congregation--hey, let's talk about that at the next board meeting--or better yet, let's talk about it in the parking lot, or at the café, or on the golf course).
That average Joe Smith that walks in the door starts to look like fresh meat to the congregation. He could serve on a board! Joe could mow the church lawn! Joe could teach Sunday School! Maybe he knows how to fix stuff! I wonder how much money he puts in the offering plate...
None of these ways of serving local congregations is bad. They're all good. The problem is that people know when they're means to an end. That Joe Smith knows, too. I have been reminded in many different ways over the past few months about the damage that is done to a church and organization when people are viewed as commodities than recognized and valued in that they are made in the image of God. In the church we have created institutions at the expense of the relationships--and people know it. Even though people sometimes willingly participate in their own commodification, no one finds joy in being a commodity, traded and treated like cattle. This is never the initial intent in any organization, but anxiety can turn the tables, often subtly.
What is the commodity index in your church or organization? Are people the means to an end? To what degree is this true? Are people inherently valuable for who they are as someone created in God's image? To what degree is this true? The answers to these questions will give you some idea of your Organizational Commodity Index.
Post Script: Measurements in your organization are not inherently bad, either, but as a tool to understand your relationships, or (dangerously) another way to see people as commodities.
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Location:Motor Ave SW,Tacoma,United States