Can you be Market Driven and Please God at the same time?

And having asked that, can you please God if you don’t attend to your market?

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes, “If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

It is easy for the more individualistic to take this verse to mean they should be indifferent to “men,” speaking aggressively and assertively the gospel as they perceive it regardless of how they communicate it. They interpret the phrase “pleased men” to mean “showed consideration for the feelings of men” or even “loved men.” Regrettably, not a few Christian leaders have taken this attitude over the centuries and quite a few do it now.

On the other hand, even more Christian leaders over the centuries and even right now take an attitude that what they say should be directed, not to the needs of men, but to their appetites and passions. This is the market driven church or school.

Things get complicated on this side. In the 60’s and 70’s conservative Christians, reacting to the growth of socialistic dogma in American politics (but failing to set themselves outside the paradigm that gave rise to that growth) adopted the libertarian doctrine of the unfettered, free market. For many conservatives, to argue against the free market came to mean to argue for socialism or other forms of tyranny – or worse, against Christianity.

In that context, the market came to be the center of people’s affections and ambitions. People cannot imagine any other way to survive financially apart from selling things to the free market or working for a company (increasingly gigantic) that sells things to the market.

And what is the market? It used to be the agora – a public place where people gathered to buy and sell. But the publicness of the market has diminished. First of all, the public became the masses and they were efficiently gathered into impersonal malls where the sellers were exchanged frequently and where well-being depended on masses of impersonal sales. Unlike “the old days”, which still survive in some urban and rural areas, nobody knows his butcher anymore.

Our material comforts have grown wildly, like a strong addiction. We wonder how people survived before air conditioning, supersized value meals, and electronic superstores.

But our eyes are closed to the costs of our prosperity precisely because those costs are not directly obvious. For example, we’re a fat, lazy people with a few superperformers leading us by persuading us they can keep the costs of our obesity down (whether it be the price of chocolate or the price of health care). In 1980 Time Magazine described Americans as “an unloved child with ice cream: fat, full of pimples, and screaming for more.”

Even worse, I think, is the social cost. Because we no longer need our neighbors we don’t know them. The market, unfettered and severed from higher purposes, has proven that it will find the weaknesses of the masses and service them. It has become one gigantic pimp, providing the means for all of us to indulge our gluttony, our cowardice, our lusts, our pride. I could have believed in the free market at one time, but that was before the internet showed what people will spend their money on when they are in the privacy of their own heads. The Brave New World is no longer around the corner; we’ve entered it.

We could never have reached this point without an inordinate worship of the market. It cannot solve our problems. It cannot save our souls. It does not merit the worship of our hearts.

Of course, a significant number of readers is asking whether I have become a socialist. God forbid. I am a Christian. I reject every form of economic and philosophical materialism. That is precisely where the argument for the free market went astray. It is a materialist position, one into which the 20th century conservative was maneuvered by falling into a dread of socialism apart from a faith in a God who transcends the market.

We see this false dilemma played out in our schools continually. If God has called a group of people to build a Christian classical school, then they are bound to build a Christian classical school. If it succeeds, that is good. If not, He has only asked for faithful stewardship.

But stewardship is the issue. And you can’t be a faithful steward without trying to succeed and that means people coming to your school. And those people are the market. Right?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “market.” If you are using the term loosely to describe everybody with whom your school comes in contact and communicates with, sure, they’re the “market.” But if you are using the term to describe the people on whose pleasure the success of your school depends, no, they’re not the “market.”

In the end, only God can be that market.

The market, in other words, cannot be given the authority to determine what kind of an institution you are, the kind of curriculum you will teach, the philosophy you will live and die by.

I prefer to think of them, not as the market (which means their pleasure is your object – i.e. they are the boss), but as the beneficiaries of your service. They are the recipients of your Christian love. Stewardship demands authority. You can’t hand that over to the people you serve, and then blame them when you lose your way.

Besides, even if you hold to a market driven model, what the market is looking for in education is leadership. It’s confused. To listen to it is to betray it.

Now we’re back to the issue of hard-heartedness. Surely I don’t really mean you shouldn’t listen to the market – to the beneficiaries of your service.

No, I don’t mean that. I was using a sort of hyperbole. They can’t be your guide on the direction you’re moving. But they can’t be ignored either. If you are out hiking and somebody falls into a ditch, Christian love doesn’t ignore that person so you can reach the goal. They’re the ones you are leading, for goodness’ sake. You should spend endless time listening to them and their needs and their capacities. Mostly face to face.

But when they try to redirect you to from your path, you can’t compromise your stewardship. You aren’t working to please men but to please God. In the end, that’s the only way to please the men that matter most.

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