Are You Loving or Commodifying Your Congregation?

Valuing People

Being loving means recognizing the intrinsic worth of individuals and treating them with genuine dignity and respect as people created in God’s image. That should happen unconditionally, apart from the person’s wealth, power, abilities or personal attributes, because this is the way Jesus designed it.

By contrast, valuing and respecting people only to the extent they can “produce” in some way is not loving them at all. When one’s value is measured primarily by utility, people share the same status as a commodity.

Viewing People as Commodities

The commodities market is clearly beneficial to investors and producers. However, quantifying the value of a person is now being extended well beyond business. It is influencing just about every kind of relationship including life in the church and particularly marriage. Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker made this point more than 40 years ago in, A Theory of Marriage: Part II. Becker demonstrated how even the most intimate of human relationships can be commodified, cautioning that “economic theory may well be on its way to providing a unified framework for all behavior.”

The Role of Utility

Dr. Becker argues that the selection of a spouse, how long to stay married, whether to have children, can all be quantified. He uses a series of related utility functions (income level, physical capital, intelligence) to calculate value. This is not to suggest that vast numbers of people are testing mathematical correlations to select marriage partners. However, it’s clear that such variables are becoming more prominent in relationships, particularly in the church. This is not a good way to promote church growth.

Biblical Model of Covenant

Ironically, growing evidence indicates that the Biblical model of covenant applied to relationships in any kind of organization, is far more productive than the commodities model. That’s because commodities can be manipulated, but people must be led. As fundraising consultants, we see that organizations built on the principles of covenant, are ones where leaders respect and value people intrinsically. It makes sense that rather than being commodified, people would prefer to be treated lovingly. And after all, isn’t that the way Jesus told us to treat one another.

The Commodities Model in Organizations

Yet, organizations still cling to a commodities model in just about everything, including human relationships. It’s what we know. The “value” of individuals is often measured by how well they can serve my self-interests. That certainly is prevalent in selecting leaders in the church, at least in some churches. The intrinsic worth of individuals is sometimes lost in a culture of non-related performance measures. Not that performance isn’t important, it is. But what does corporate achievement have to do with leading in a church and knowing how to motivate church members? Clearly covenanting with people is a far more loving and productive proposition than commodifying them.

When relationships are steeped in consumption rather than commitment the product of the relationship (what I receive) becomes more highly valued than the individuals. Human interactions are reduced to the exchanges of products, services or resources. Conversely, when people are valued intrinsically and bonded together in love, they tend to give themselves more fully to a purpose, and productivity often skyrockets.

Truly Loving Church Members

Unfortunately, though it is far less effective, such commodification still seems to be the model of choice in many churches. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Spiritual maturity transcends career. There are as many spirit led plumbers as there are CEOs. The job of pastors is simply to find and love them.