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.