I know business lingo does not sit well with everyone, but this thought came to my mind today.
Customer value can be defined as the overall benefits received from a purchase after subtracting the price the customer has to pay for a product. A product that delivers lots of benefits, and these can be intangible things like prestige and a sense of well-being, can be priced higher and still be viewed by customers as a good value for the cost.
Okay, so drop all the language you don’t like in that example when thinking about church: customer, purchase, product, etc.
Here’s the question: Doesn’t this same equation describe the reason people do or do not find Christian discipleship worth the effort? They are engaging in a cost/value analysis, even if implicitly. Do the benefits of Christian discipleship outweigh the costs? When the answer to that question is “no,” they stop having any interest in serious discipleship.
In an earlier age, the church was pretty explicit in explaining the benefits: Heaven or Hell. And so the cost of discipleship, while high, was not close to value of the benefits.
This has always put pressure on the church to reduce the stakes, and so lower the cost. There is always a market for low-cost, Wal-Mart style religion. And such a thing is a good deal if there is such a thing as a second-rate heaven (or New Jerusalem) for those who bought on the bargain plan.
As we have wavered in our confidence about the stakes of Christian discipleship, we have found ourselves more and more trying to convince people to pay a cost for benefits that could be easily attained for less effort in other places. We say, “We can give you a sense of belonging and some spiritual awe and a community.” Well, it turns out, so can the local professional football team.
It is not irrelevant to the dynamism of the early Methodist movement that it preached and took seriously the idea of the coming wrath. It is not irrelevant that the early Christian church saw itself in a spiritual war with the powers of darkness. It helps explain, rather, why so many people — but still a tiny minority of the overall population — were willing to pay the price about which Jesus spoke to his disciples.
In the words of Paul, they accounted all things loss compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ.
Can the church exalt the benefits of knowing Jesus, of following him, more persuasively? Would doing so change the tepid nature of much of our discipleship?