THE “McDONALDIZATION” OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES. I have marked in bold blue the meaningful parts to me.
Last week we talked about how the McDonald Company has incorporated three values into the production of their hamburgers. These are values that increasingly dominate sections of American society, including our spiritual lives. They are efficiency, calculability, and control.1
Calculability: In building a hamburger or an automobile, given the right inputs, the expected outcome can be calculated. Perfect the process and the product is guaranteed. We run into trouble however, when we allow this kind of managed thinking to drift over into the spiritual realm. God reminds us that "…My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8, 9) Jesus informed Nicodemus that the work of the Spirit in our lives is a mystery that cannot be calculated, controlled or even understood. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3:8)
In our approach to spiritual maturation, we run the risk of “McDonaldizing” the process in assuming that if we can just get people through standardized discipleship programs they will automatically mature. When spiritual formation (maturation) is reduced only to a formula, we are in danger of stultifying our souls, and numbing our sensitivity to the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit. The popular “Church Growth Movement” of recent memory, for example, was based on the premise that spiritual growth could be analyzed, programmed, and thus predicted. Today, many mission experts, challenge that assumption. In truth, the mysterious movement of the Spirit of God in people’s lives shatters predictability: A teenage girl is impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-20); the Spirit visits people from disparate countries around the Mediterranean rim who speak in foreign languages not their own (“tongues”) (Acts 2); both King Saul and David, seized by the Spirit of God step out of character and joyfully prophesy and dance. (1 Sam. 10:10, 19, 20; 2 Sam 6:14-20) (See Ecc. 8:17; 11:5; Mk. 4:27)
A biographical history of the Church reveals that over the centuries, joyful and wildly free-spirited men and women with hearts aflame did great and often unpredictable exploits for God. No one could have calculated how God would use such people as John Hess, Joan of Arc, Jim Elliott, Billy Graham, etc. In fact, the actions of the men of faith in Hebrews 11 were often incalculable: Abraham, “by faith…when called…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Others “…through faith conquered kingdom… shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Heb. 11:33, 34 - Selected) God, I believe is looking for men and women with hearts burning with His love, who dare to challenge the status quo by attempting great things for God that often upset and even turn on end the stagnant, predictable norms in the Christian ghetto.
Jesus was that kind of maverick and it aroused the fury of his adversaries. Throughout his 3 1/2 year ministry he was forever vexing those around him by his incalculability. People were continually attempting to program him along their theological and prejudicial lines. Yet, He would not be boxed in, as he regularly received and followed His Father’s divine instructions. (Jn. 5:30; 8:29)
If you and I make it a practice to wait upon Him, and truly listen to his voice, our lives will become increasingly impossible to calculate. God will guide us into paths of service we can not imagine: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them...” (Isa. 42:16a) Yet, everything in us seems to fight for predictability and the utter absence of risk. Yet, God is continually stretching our faith, and challenging us to step out to do the incalculable; the unpredictable. Just today I received a phone call from George and Jeanne, business people in their 50’s who feel compelled by God to leave their easy upper-middle class life style for a couple of years, and go to Rwanda in the Name of Christ. It is their desire to try and help solve some of the horrific problems in that traumatized Country.
QUESTION: Have you relegated your spiritual life to the calculable “McDonaldization” process? You know, spiritual auto pilot? Or are you inviting the fresh wind of the Spirit of God into your life to paint a unique portrait of Christ in and through you? Are you available to do the incalculable for God? Are you willing to be surprised by God, should he call you to do the incalculable? Perhaps he has a work for you to do that in your wildest imagination you could not have conceived? In a word, are you available to Him on His terms, rather than yours?
1 Alister E. McGrath, The Future of Christianity, Pages 52,53, Malden, Mass., Blackwell Press, 2002