Industrial Christianity

FYI: This post was inspired by a book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and a blog post: Gospel Grocery Stores by Arthur Sido. I am aware that it may seem negative and divisive. Much of it is generalized and not universally true. I do not intend it to be offensive or judgmental. I think the main point is worth consideration.  I don’t know what you do or why you do it. I just hope that we can all continue to test our methods and practices against The New Testament so we can follow ever closer to Christ. Thank you.

Last year I read a very interesting book titled The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It was a great book about the way we, as Americans, eat. It falls in line with a recently popularized discussion on where our food comes from; you have probably heard of the movie Food Inc. same sort of stuff. The author tracks his food from the ground to the plate in three different food chains: the industrial, the farm, and the hunted/gathered. I want to talk about the industrial food chain and the shocking connections I found between it and the way many of us think of the church.

Industrial food systems think of food in a simple way: as a product. I used to work in a grocery store and they were always trying to encourage us not to think of what we sold as product but as food. It was hard when everything came in boxes, every piece of “food” was of uniform size, every package was covered with professional designs to properly market the “food,” and every element of each product (I mean “food”) was quantifiable: calories, weight, nutritional content, expiration date, etc. It is hard to think of something as natural, like food, that comes in such a form, but to industrialize the food chain that has to be the way things are done. Food production and distribution have to be treated like car production and distribution or electronics production and distribution or clothing production and distribution, you get it. This is why food at the grocery store comes nicely packaged in a uniform stackable form. It is also why a feedlot for cows looks more like a factory than a farm.

So we see clearly that food has become industrialized, but has Christianity as well? Is Christianity produced and distributed like clothing and cars? I think it is safe to say it is in many cases. How is it produced? Well, someone else takes the raw ingredients: Scripture, or whatever they want to teach you, and breaks them down into nicely packaged uniform bits for you, typically called sermons. Most sermons go like this:

  1. Introduction (funny or personal story loosely relating to topic)
  2. Main Points (usually 3, each having an explanation, illustration, and application, alliteration helps here)
  3. Conclusion (how all points work together toward one main point, usually culminating in a call to decision making)

If that doesn’t sound like uniform neat packaging to you then I don’t know what is. A passage of scripture goes in one end of the factory in its raw form and comes out the other end nicely packaged for the consumer.

How about distribution? Is there marketing? Well, the most important element in marketing is knowing your audience: who is going to buy this product and how do we reach them? Well the church is so broken up into homogenous groups that it would make your head spin to think of them all. Why are we broken up? What other reason could there be then that the product we are receiving is specifically marketed toward our special group: the youth have messages delivered by young hip leaders who have earrings or spiked hair, the older crowd comes to the early service where they can hear traditional music, the people in their twenties go to two different groups depending on if they are married or not, and possibly another group for those with children. The messages, the material used, the music and everything else is specifically catered to the particular group it is marketed toward.

I know this all sounds pretty cynical and negative and I want to assure you that is not my goal. I just think it would behoove us to ask why we are doing the things we do when we gather. Is it because the New Testament calls us to do it? Is it because we have a consumerist/industrialized world view? Do we think of the Scripture as a product?

One last thing I want to point out is that the food industry will do anything to produce, and therefore sell, more food. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma the author explains that it is common practice for chickens to have their beaks cut off to prevent them from pecking valuable meat off their bones, and that pigs tales are cut off so that in their confined spaces other pigs wont gnaw at them and cause infections. The animals are simply raw material, they are treated as inanimate objects. Has the New Testament understanding of the church been mistreated to make it fit into our industrial culture? What have we cut off in order to make a nice clean product? Do we treat the Scriptures like a living thing or like a product to be manipulated?

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About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

9 responses to “Industrial Christianity

  • Anthony

    Hey Brother!!! Wow! This was truly a profound analogy of the tragedy of what we call “doing church” or “going to church.” I so appreciate your tender heart toward the body.
    Bless you bro!

  • Dan Allen

    Anthony,

    I’m glad you found it encouraging.

    It was just one of those things that “popped” into my head while reading Arthur’s post!

    I think we all tend to “industrialize” from time to time, it is part of our worldview which is not something that we can easily “turn off.”

    Thanks for your participation on this blog!

  • Ben

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for sharing this. I was just listening to AW Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” this morning and he was talking about how back in 1943 that the church had become too programmatic, and that people were happy with the altar even though there was no fire. (BTW the book is the free download this month from christianaudio.com)

    I am excited to keep listening because I see the problem, but I am wondering what the solution is. Is it time for another reformation, or will a revival do? Are there some good things that we can take away from this industrialized model, or do we scrap it and start from scratch. I know God has been changing my views on a lot of things lately, and I have really come to see His love for me, and all of humanity. Maybe it will take people truly seeking God instead of just attending church that will make the difference.

    God Bless and thanks for sharing
    Ben

  • Dan Allen

    Ben,

    Thanks for the input! I think that the last part of your comment nails the issue: “people truly seeking God.” I think what is important is where we start. Lets not start with what we want to do, or what we/they have always done, lets start with the Bible, see what it tells us to do (trying to avoid putting our ideas in there) and go from there!

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    -Dan

    (also thanks for the info on the A.W. Tozer book!)

  • penandpapermama

    Maybe it is also because we have got centered on the “scriptures”/book aspect, and often replace the Word with the “word”….

    And maybe, in terms of the whole food analogy: if we planted and watered and grew and reaped a lot more of our food at home and in the community, the whole distribution and packaging problem would not be so supposedly necessary… maybe the same can be said about the church?

  • Dan Allen

    Norma,

    I think you are very right in both points. We have taken the living breathing Word of God and made it into a book! Without the Spirit it is nothing, right?

    In regard to food what you suggest is wonderful, but would really hurt the food companies so I’m sure they wouldn’t stand with you on that! As far as that applies to the church … I will leave that for others to fill in.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    -Dan

  • Arthur Sido

    I think this is on the right track. I wrote something similar last year looking at the idea of mass production in worship: http://thesidos.blogspot.com/2009/03/assembly-line-worship.html

  • Dan Allen

    Arthur,

    I just read your post. I promise I didn’t try to copy it! I’m glad to see that there are other people who see the influence of the industrial production mentality on the church.

    I especially loved your line: “What it has become is a subcontracting of worship out to others”

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Dan

  • Weekly Update: 07.25.10 | The Ekklesia in Southern Maine

    […] had a great email discussion with a good friend in regard to my post, Industrial Christianity, I will be sharing a series on this conversation at some point in the next couple of […]

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