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:
- Introduction (funny or personal story loosely relating to topic)
- Main Points (usually 3, each having an explanation, illustration, and application, alliteration helps here)
- 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?