When Serving Turns to Exploitation

I’m going to lift a quote from an email I wrote to my webmaster the other day about some changes being made for one of the platforms we use to get out information.

“It seems all these platforms start to serve a need people have, then end up exploiting people to fill a need they have.”

As soon as I typed it, I realized how ubiquitous that is to almost everything human, from business to bureaucracy, websites, and even religious institutions.

Almost all start to address a critical need. Facebook, at its beginning, provided a unique tool to keep family, friends, former classmates, and colleagues updated on each other’s personal lives. It was great to see pictures of grandkids, college roommates, and vistas from all over the world. Then, they monetized it, and instead of serving me the things I want to see and read, they twisted it with all kinds of algorithms, advertising, and hoops to jump through that don’t serve me well; they serve Facebook.

I’ve noticed that with websites as well. I’ll be reading something I’m interested in, and almost immediately, a pop-up window will obscure my reading and beg me to sign up for their newsletter or offer me a free “gift” if I give them my email address. We’ve been blessed not to do that at Lifestream or The God Journey because we haven’t needed to monetize it. We offer our content free and figure if people want to sign up for notifications or download a free audio or book, they can do it without harvesting their data for our purposes.

Monetizing the kingdom alters its nature and its message.

Hasn’t that happened in religious institutions? Many start with a genuine desire to serve people. Over time, however, the success of the program becomes more important than helping people with their needs. The mission shifts. It’s no longer what we can give to you; it is what we need from you for the ministry to survive. Instead of feeling served, you feel exploited, even if “for your own good,” as some say.

“That’s just sound business practice,” others might argue.

Precisely. That is my point. Mammon or kingdom. Only if you trust Father to provide for you can you give as freely to others as he has given to you.

The Gospel is a gift!  It’s always a gift. When it ceases to be a gift, it ceases to be the Gospel. Monetizing it changes its nature. I wrote an article about this years ago, mentioning the power of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has altered the lives of millions of people. Why does it stay so pure to its mission? Because it has remained free. It is a decentralized organization that continues to inspire those who’ve been helped to willingly help others without cost. There are no membership dues, no staff to pay, and no books to purchase. It’s people helping people—willingly, graciously, and freely.

I wonder what the life of Jesus would look like today if the Gospel had never been organized and monetized for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.



14 thoughts on “When Serving Turns to Exploitation”

  1. Excellent insight and unfortunately so true….freely ye have received, freely give! Thanks for all you do!

  2. Very well stated! I like the analogies to FaceBook and websites!!
    You’ve really captured it well with this statement:
    “Monetizing the kingdom alters its nature and its message.”
    Your article reminds me of a couple of Bible verses:

    No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

    They think religion is a way to make a fast buck.

  3. Which is why Jesus turned the tables over. Why didn’t that tell us all we needed to know? The one thing that did not get a gentle response from him…unlike a prostitute, a thief, even the people killing him, who did.
    I keep hearing calls for a new Christian Reformation.
    To do church differently, because it’s not working and falling apart. My question to them was, so why not let it fall? Why keep trying to prop it up? It says in the word that He would shake the things that can be shaken….did we think he didn’t mean Christianity? I think we’re first! I remember years ago being in prayer circles where people asked God to judge the world or certain Individuals…I would immediately pray afterwards asking for mercy and transformation for whatever it was. I don’t know what they thought but my sense was judgement would begin with the church if it began anywhere.
    The peace of living outside all that is sweet. Still praying for love and mercy to break in. In Christianity especially.

  4. Dear Wayne,
    thank you so much for your mail about monetizing the kingdom. This is so helpful to me.
    I get confronted with this topic again and again and am always unsure, if I am wrong in my thinking. I think, that you simply cannot charge someone for spiritual service. And yet this is, what happens. I started a dream-mentoring in 2012. There was a charge, but it was very low and totally o.k.
    Now the charge gets higher every year and I have to think twice, if I can afford it yet. I had always given additionally to that person. Now I decided, that I will only pay the dreammentoring and not give anything in addition to that. But it feels not good.
    And I know, that the Lord is speaking to me through dreams and visions. So does this mean, if I cannot afford the higher costs, that I still need to spend the money and don’t care about it? The person once told me, that I should trust the Lord for giving me the money needed.
    I was angry, because this sounds like hypocracy to me. This person is raising the cost and I now need to trust the Lord more….
    And the argument for raising the cost is, that life has become so much more expensive. And then I sense a bad conscience on my side, because I earn money regularly and don’t have to see to my income. I am still not clear about it, but somehow I feel, that it is not o.k., to charge for spiritual service. I am wondering, if I then need to stop the contact totally and trust the Lord for provision in a different way. Maybe it is not right to go on with this, if I feel exploited, even though I feel a need for the help of this person.

    The link to the article in the Mail didn’t work. Would you maybe send the link again?
    Thanks again. Your views often are radical in the best sense of the word and help me to stay on the narrow path.
    And I hope, that should I ever be in the situation, where I am called to trust the Lord directly for my income, that I will gladly practice this adventure.
    May the Lord bless you and keep you and all your family!!

    With lots of Thankfulness and love from Germany,

    1. If Father is giving you dreams, you don’t need a mentor to interpret them for you. Ask God to show you what they mean and share them with other brothers and sisters around you who can hep discern which are from God and which are from yourself. Anyone charging to be a “dream mentor” gives me great pause. Nothing like that exists in the Scripture. I’d be especially concerned about what who charges for such services, too.

  5. The focus has shifted to us and what we’re doing instead of being on Jesus and what He’s done.

  6. Love this, Wayne! What a great example with AA’s model and success. So simple, pure and this effective.

    The irony is that this cycle of giving back freely is so healing, contagious and life-giving. Isn’t that what real love is like?!

    So powerful! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hi Wayne

    One other piece in addition to monetizing the gospel. We addicts call it G.O.D. The Gift of Desperation. If God does not help us we will die. Most Christians do not live with this dynamic. When you find His love because of your addictive nature not in spite of it…….. that experience powerfully motivates the rest of your life. You will go to any lengths to help a fellow sufferer.

    Blessings and love.


  8. I absolutely agree Wayne. So many ‘succesfull’ churches and ministeries are run like corporates and it has always made me very uncomfortable. You are an example to all, a breath of fresh air and I suspect will be seen as a threat by some. Thank you for your courage in speaking out. It needs to be said. Surely it is the way that Jesus showed us.

  9. Right on, Wayne! Thanks for sharing this timely piece. The message is much needed and appreciated, and very uplifting for those of us seeking fellowship and direction from our Creator.

  10. Simple. True. Why do we feel the need within Jesus’ church to structure so much that it requires more and more money to exist? It was one of the reasons (of many) that I resigned a “paid” position almost 12yrs ago and began to search God’s heart for alternative ways to build His kingdom. May His Spirit guide us and the many of His people who feel “used” by “churches”. I’m still searching – it has taken a while for the “de-toxing” of religion to occur in my heart. Thank you for sharing your gift of teaching and pointing to these things within His church. May He be glorified in all things.

    1. Isn’t “full time Christian service” the dream of so many. Rather than holding a real job, they’d prefer to be paid for their ministry. There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, only what we’re really to compromise to keep doing it long after Father has led us to.

  11. Wayne I have so appreciated your ministry over many years and have learnt so much about who my God is and who I am in Him. My whole being has been healed and restored as I learned to ‘live loved and to love’. I no longer fear God’s wrath or anger or rejection because I can’t always be as perfect as I would try to be. I can run to Him instead of running from Him when I have failed. So I am so very grateful for your ministry and abundance of teaching.
    In the last 3 years I have found myself again involved in a gathering of people under the authority of a religious group. The group, as such, have a loving and committed desire to serve the Lord with all of their energy and resources. I don’t doubt their Godly intent in any way. However as you have said over and over, when a group of like minded people come together it is inevitable that it develops into an organisation and requirements.
    That is where I find myself at the moment. Trying to following the ‘rules’ and ‘requirements’ within this group.
    The requirements all seem to be appropriate and necessary to grow a group of people together. We need people to be greeters at the door. We need people to organise the morning tea after the service. We need Connect group leaders who need to be trained and kept in some sort of covering to make sure they don’t crumble under the load, or do the wrong thing by the people in their group. There is a desperate need for Kids Church teachers, because otherwise how can we encourage families with kids to come to our gatherings. Not to mention people needed to clean the building after each gathering. And so it goes on and on.
    I have been involved in all of these activities since the beginning of this group of people, because I wanted to see it encompass the needs of the community around us. But typically it has worn me out very quickly and I have had to ‘step down’ from each responsibility and leave it to someone else to pick up.
    I feel that to some degree I am actually using the construction of this group to enable one thing that I love to do which is facilitate a grief group for those who have lost a loved one in death. I truly feel an anointing when I facilitate this group and stand amazed at the way God is working in the lives of each person who attends. I recognise that I probably couldn’t be part of this grief group if I didn’t participate in the ‘church’. I wouldn’t have the platform for legitimise the grief group and help people feel safe to involve themselves. So I feel as if I am using the ‘church’ for my own purposes, albeit from a heart of love and care for the broken hearted.
    I wonder what your thoughts may be on this?
    I understand that you are going through an enormous challenge yourself at the moment, so will understand if you are not in a position to answer me. And I pray that your situation will be an opportunity to know Him in a way you never could without experiencing this.

  12. Hi Joyce. Your words and your journey certainly touch my heart. I love how God has won you into freer space with him and with loving others. Thanks for sharing all of that.

    As to your question, I don’t know that I have any input into this. If your desire is to serve people dealing with grief and they are there and they are willing to lead you touch those folks, that’s awesome. If it feels like you’re “using them”, however that probably isn’t the best. So, sort that out with Jesus. Is this about “using them” for a platform, or about loving people who can use your help. And let this all play out. If they come back at some point to use the group to leverage you to do more things for the group that aren’t on your heart, it may be time to leave. Just remember God isn’t limited to that one opportunity. A person’s gift always makes room for them, so you can look for other ways to help people in grief if the need arises.

    I wonder if you’re trying to figure out all the contingencies you can’t see yet. That’s very dangers. Live each day by following him as best you see him. Let circumstances shape the way this all unfolds in you. God will show you one day at a time, not by going you a road m ap to follow…

    With love, Wayne

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