I was at my neices 18th birthday party last year, not a large affair, though a house and garden full of family and her friends in South London. As as is the norm with these things, the ‘young people’ were in the garden drinking or hiding the drink they were drinking, and the adults were mostly indoors (it was a fairly cold november evening), except for the odd excursion outside by the adult to ‘check on the garden’. All seemed to be ok. Balance of normality, with music in the garden chosen from one young persons Ipod, and adults inside either ignoring it, or being mortified at the odd swear word that escaped through on an album edit of a song. However, for a few minutes it seemed as though someone else was choosing the music, there was high school musical (these 18 year olds grew up on it (yes feel old)), and things like Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Little mix.
All of a sudden, equilibrium was destroyed, as one of the 18 year old girls, dressed in very inidividually designed attire, wanders into the lounge full of adults, and sat down on one of the chairs, looking disgruntled and annoyed, said (and I quote) ; ‘Im coming in here, I cant stand all that capatalist crap music being played’. Her remark, sifted the socialist leaning wheat and capitalist adhering chaff within the adults, as to their response to this from cheers and support to being taken aback. Now it could be said that this 18 year old was a dreamer, a Jeremy Corbynite, an idealist, influenced by a wide range of things – (but when a young person makes a statement about their shopping habits they are less likely to be criticised of being materialist, or influenced by ‘the right’). However, this point aside. What this young person had identified was a lack of integrity within music of artists for whom on the face of it, seem only in it for the money, or created and produced with making money in mind. It would be easy to say that even the music on earlier in the evening might raise legitimate money, but im not going to muddy the waters here. There was something about integrity within the music industry that this young person was looking for.
Moving the conversation on. John Drane a few years ago wrote the Macdonaldisation of the Church (others have followed suit with other similar pieces) . Within it he describes how
aspects of the church’s organisation, ministry and mission have fallen fowl to Macdonaldisation; the process of creating systems that are calculable, efficient, repeatable and can be controlled. They then can be repeated in a similar fashion across the church community. One example might be Alpha (which restricted use of its branding and ‘service’ to tightly regulated videos and activities as one example, although there are others), other organisations have fallen victim to this when issues of brand protectionalism and universalism stand in the way of contextual unique ministry. It is worth reflecting on quite how passive the organisations of the church were or are to external business and marketing forces that spoke a language and validated a form of practice that endorsed macdonaldisation, that churches adopted rather than being prophetic against. Sold as a way of having control, efficiency, calcubility and repeatedness – products are released into the church, mission and ministry, some sold as ‘franchises’ and ‘under license’.
Whilst talk of Macdonaldisation might be out of favour, even talk of ‘post-macdonaldisation’ is cheap. Some of it is merely a facade. Starbucks may offer ‘choice’ but it is still bounded, giving the impression of choice – and choice in other brands might merely be as similarly just a front. Post-Macdonaldisation is about personal choice, though personal choice bounded.
Another form of Management that is creeping into the church is talk of ‘leadership’. From ‘transformation leadership’ (the setting of strategies, target and aiming for compliance), to ‘entrepreneurial leadership and missional leadership – there is a movement of thought that in a period of time when the deckchairs on the titanic of the church are in the process of needing to be reordered and painted, that this role requires the right type of leaders, and leadership training is all the rage. And continues to be all the rage when in the main the church is ordered around structured organisations that by almost definition of their role are in requirement of a hierarchy that by default includes some ‘leadering’ of them. Sometimes one can fall into the other, where leadership training is in part to ‘make the church more effective’ sadly effective could be misinterpreted as efficient. Jesus didnt do ‘efficient’ ministry. If anything it was the opposite.
‘Transformational leadership is consistent with the neo-liberal assault on professional integrity’ (Sarah Lea, ‘ Are youthworkers free to lead’ in Ord J, Issues in Youthwork Management, 2014)
So, whilst the church is in a battle to be relevant (and relevancy is the badge of honour in youth ministry) , there can be a tension between ‘relevancy’ when it comes to some issues ( lets just say moral issues regarding sex/abortion/relationships) and a different type of adopted relevancy when it comes to the organisation of the church, ministry and mission groups which it could be argue try and have moral distinctiveness, but managerial uncritical adaption to essentially the ideologies of capitalism and managerialism. It might have at times adopted the practice of the companies of the 21st century even if their ethics and human rights (or tax paying) have been vacuous. Rarely does the church want to be run like ‘The Body Shop’. In short, much of christianity in the UK has sold its soul to capatalism, and it has limited integrity left from which to platform an alternative. As my nieces friend urged, ‘We need to get rid of the capatalist crap!’ – though it might be difficult, submerged in the culture to find it, or alternatives.
But its difficult. Things that need paying for, like buildings, and ministries and resources and organisations. Especially those that have large salaries, rents and mortgages. It is easier to make money with a programme that maintains the status quo, than challenge the system that creates it. Though that doesnt mean that our tune need to stay the same. Erving Goffman suggests that the integrity of persons appearances and interactions relies heavily on how close it is to goods. Its as if even sociologists know that proximity to things/money/resource affects integrity. Maybe thats what Jesus was on about when he told the disciples to go with nothing, its so that things didnt get in the way.
If our churches and ministries are to follow a different way, then currently it will be pioneering, it will be set to an off beat drum, and will be seen to be odd, strange or provocative- and invalidated. It will be pioneering to scale down rather than up. Pioneering to gravitate down, to live more simply, to create different structures within the church that have clearer intentions of equality, goodness and ignore the disparity between rich and poor. Currently the church doesnt have much of a voice of the oppressed, largely because it lives to serve them and be for them, not as Friere argues, build a pedagogy of them, or as St Francis would remind us a spirituality from the streets, not the temples. There are questions to ask, about how the church regain a sense of community that shares much, rather than individuals that collect and share little. Boff picks up the story, ‘that between 1970-80 the lay person began to organise themselves into christian base communities, where there is an experience of ecclesiogenesis, this movement exercised ministries, committed to faith and promotion of and liberation of the oppressed’ It was a movement that affected the establishment church which honed in on service, of Gospel to the margins and commitment to the poor- but also a more participatory and fraternal society’ (Boff, creation of a popular and Poor Church, in St Francis, a model for human liberation, 1980). St Francis recognised that even in the 1200’s that a simpler life was required, and by all accounts, the 1200’s would have been a simpler life than now, in many places – certainly in the west. But again, to follow Jesus, meant for St Francis, to go, and to rely on the hospitality of others, to rely on the community of the poor, and to identify with by being poor. What he also recognised, was that things did not make him free, they were a burden. To be free was to remove them and give them away, for them to lose their control. And freedom from things seems to be the way of Jesus. Although easy to criticise, the freedom that pastors with millions of pounds in mega churches dont have must be awful. But there are other ‘things’ too, like fame, influence and authority. With all these things the temptation is to gain more. St Francis would suggest otherwise.
‘An individual cannot own anything that only belongs to God.Not even the certainty of ones salvation is ours, but rather solely God’s’ (St Francis)
Francis and Boff go on to say that for the Christian faith to appropriate within the capatalist system is illegitimate; stating:
‘Ownership looks for security, prejudices the community and neighbours, is inspired by passion and pleasure, wounds the soul, searches for one own well being, degrades work, overvalues the corporal, sees in intelligence and will a private property, is the road of sin and the devil, enemy of all good, taking sides against God and denying his kingdom’ (Boff, p71)
This is strong stuff, and its hard to know where to start with this, given how my own nearly 40 years of existence with the UK and broadly evangelical church culture has shaped me. If we regard our role in the Theodrama (a role given to us) as witnesses to the story, not the heroes within it, then to witness is to go and project a new reality. It is difficult to project a new reality if everyone is practically the same. Our distinctiveness need not be our morality, but our simplicity, or generosity, or care for the other. A care that St Francis suggests is true Humanity.
Oh, and if young people see that a capitalist crap has infliltrated the music scene, how much more might young people view the establishment and ordering of the church in such a way, that is less movement of social transformation, than ordered gatherings to maintain the status quo. Young people, theyre a perceptive bunch. They often want a cause they can believe in that has integrity.
How might the church rid itself of its capatalist crap? Especially if this is what young people might just want…
Might youth ministry, that once pioneering path that changed the church since the 1960’s- adopt a different tune completely for the future, forging a new pathway, not of organisation, but of true movement for the gospel doing so within community, integrity and simplicity. Might young people find in St Francis the hero to save humanity and model life around him, or view Christianity through St Francis.
If Capatalism and Neo-liberalism is under threat, as ‘populist’ politics (short hand for far right fascism) becomes influential, might the churchs response to be and act more prophetically, and create an alternative?
Boff, Saint Francis, A model for human liberation, 1980
Freire, P, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970
Rohr, St Francis, A Way of Life, 2014
Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, Christian Ethics, 2005