“Free” and the Destruction of Worth


It's free!It takes time to prepare a bid on a project. Time is money. You make no money preparing bids. A bid is simply a hope for a future realization of money.

I don’t think the man requesting bids on one particular project was a bad person. He simply was misinformed. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing by submitting his project in a public forum. Maybe he was the smartest person in the forum.

The bid to write that 250-page technical manual was won by someone bidding $99.

I remember one bid where it would not have been outrageous to expect $30,000, but only $2,500 was budgeted by the offerer.

I saw a writing job offered recently that sought a writer to compose 10 children’s books. The offer was $50. Not per book, but for all 10.

And newspapers are fighting to stay alive because their revenue model keeps taking hits.

Everywhere I turn, the quality of writing has gone down. Not because people can’t write a decent sentence, but because the writing contains so few ideas of worth. It possesses no depth. It exists to occupy space on a page. Whether that page is digital or print doesn’t matter. I read the words, and they vanish from my head as swiftly as they entered, a nonstop stream of gruel.

Everyone is a writer, and yet so few truly are.

Free is to blame.

People have fallen in love with free. Open source software. Free. Internet advertising. Free. Information delivery systems. Free.

When I first started my business, I got regular calls from the Yellow Pages seeking my listing. They don’t call anymore because you can list your business for free in multiple outlets that will drive far more business to your storefront.

But, of course, more and more of that business is expecting something for free. Or darned near close to it.

Free has come to dominate how we think. In an article on unexpected trends, I read that free is killing the industry that dominates the Internet: pornography. We even want our vices free.

Don’t we get a little touchy when we can’t get something we want for free? Or a perk for free along with that paid item? Something. Anything.

That I’m using WordPress to compose this missive and power this blog is not lost on me. How WordPress makes money for Automattic is.


I think the Church is struggling with free. Most of what the Church does is free and always has been. Someone to be there by the bedside of a sick member. The dinner delivered to the family with the new baby. The Men’s Group oil change for the single moms. All free.

The struggle?

Now that we live in a world where free is expected, something terrible happened to worth.

When a company expects a writer to churn out 10 children’s books for $50, the underlying truth is those books have no worth. It is not a far stretch to consider that the writer of those books doesn’t have much worth either.

Did I mention that it was a Christian company behind that children’s book project?

What the Church offered for free once had immeasurable worth. We Christians saw how much effort went into offering to others our time and effort.

Now it seems that few consider what goes into the service we render to others. Like so many things that are now free, the inherent worth of that service and the people who give it is lost and forgotten.

Free isn’t so much appreciated as it is expected. And once it becomes an expectation, it becomes harder to see its value.

I believe that many people today cannot see the value of the little aspects of Faith in Jesus and the life we live as a Body because free has reduced their perceived worth to zero.

We do not gather together daily as the Church once did because we no longer comprehend the ROI.

We do not appreciate the authenticity of ritual because ritual is free and therefore easy and next to worthless.

We do not ponder the lives of others because human life is cheap in the eyes of the world.

Jesus is free, and so are eternal life and the fellowship of Faith.

Is it any wonder then that so few people grasp that trio’s infinite worth?

Misfits of the Church


This post has long been in the queue. Though it has been ruminating in my heart, I haven’t wanted to hurt anyone or to run the risk of being too personal or too specific, which might have repercussions and would make life harder for me and the people I love.

But I have to write this anyway. It’s just taken a few months, and I can’t vouch for the results. YMMV in whether this is a worthwhile post or not.


The people in my church whose homes I have visited have been leaving. While the church itself appears to be growing, familiar faces, the ones I most look for, are gone. The tables in the church café once occupied by those who were ready to talk deep things now sit empty. I look for those people whose thoughts I most appreciated, but they aren’t there.

Empty pewI note the fact that I have visited these people’s homes because it says something about who they are. Sure, I’ve visited the homes of a few others who are still around, but the disproportionate number of leavers still says something about who those people were to me: my best church friends.

Gone. And they’ve taken something vital with them.

People leave churches for different reasons. Church shoppers will go on about one or two things they didn’t like that became dealbreakers, but when longtimers leave by choice and their reasons for doing so vary widely, one wonders if a more systemic problem exists.

When I reflect on the people I have known in my Christian life who have left churches, they all seem to have something in common: they are square pegs in round holes.

This is not to say that no square hole exists for them anywhere, only that they will always stick out from the crowd. Not only do they tend to be the 20 percent who do 80 percent of the work, but they tend to be the least acknowledged for it.

And this is because the Church in America has no idea what to do with them.

Something is broken in our churches when it comes to some kinds of people. I’ve encountered too many ultragifted people who ended up as so much church-created roadkill because church leaders either had no idea how to utilize that gifting or they resented or despised that person’s gifting.

Some would argue that this is all sour grapes, but the list of names keeps growing of good people I’ve known who were either used up by a church and discarded or ignored altogether.

The one who creates beautiful art but who is told she can’t display it in the church building.

The one who hears from God but who is told such words are not appreciated.

The one who can see the roadblocks preventing growth and ways around them but who is despised because he is not ordained.

The one from the “rough background” who is forever limited by those who cannot put aside what he once was and did.

The one who failed once and will never be given a second chance.

The one who doesn’t agree with every denominational position and so will never be considered for leadership.

The one who warns people, who prefer the status quo, of the dangers ahead.

The one with great vision who is surrounded by those with little or none.

The one with many flaws but who loves people abundantly and unconditionally, just like Jesus did.

The one who is always serving, though not with the imprimatur of those in charge, and who makes them look bad for doing so.

Those are ten such “misfits” of the church. Many more exist. You may be one of them.

I keep encountering more longtime Christians who are giving up. They’re not abandoning Jesus; they simply don’t know how to fit within the typical church. And it’s not for trying. I know these people have tried. But they’re weary of always receiving the left hand of fellowship, and they despair of ever contributing their God-given gifts because The Church™ does not want those gifts or it places ridiculous qualifications on their use that have no basis in Scripture and every basis in human selfishness and pride.

We talk, talk, talk, and talk about community in the Church, but what kind of community do we really have when someone is told to stop being the person God Himself is making him?

The Kingdom of God is filled with misfits, so how come our churches aren’t?

Unity & Disunity in the Church


Tim Challies at Challies.com posted twice this last week on the issue of unity within a church (“Satan’s Great Desire” and “How to Build Unity in Your Church“).  As usual, Tim does a good job of noting the problem, rooting it to Scripture, and offering a solid biblical response to maintaining unity.

But what is left unsaid in those two posts is what has nagged at me the last few days, especially since I believe the topic of the year is church community (and the sudden interest in community seems to be widespread now).

Tim says that a lack of mutual love within a church is a major reason for disunity. His answer is for those in the church to use their spiritual gifts to serve each other.

You’ll get no arguments from me on this.

However, I believe that the problem we have with disunity within churches is more insidious than a lack of love.

What I share below is my experience as a trained observer of churches and people. I can’t give you a lot of Bible verses (yet) to back my observations, only that I believe that what I write is going to resonate—especially with seasoned Christians who have been wounded by their church experiences.

First, a clarification. How does disunity in a church manifest?

What most people see of disunity itself is anger, frustration, resentment, people leaving the church in numbers, and church splits.

Personally, I don’t believe that the majority of this disunity and its fruit can be traced to the Smiths not loving the Joneses. For the people in the seats on Sunday, not getting along with other people in the seats is almost never their reason for manifesting the bitter fruit that leads to people leaving the church.

What I know of people who have left a church or of a church that has split, the reasons are of a different sort. The leavers and splitters are far more likely to note the following failures:

Nuclear blast1. Church leaders failed to address “sticking points” within the church despite others (usually nonleaders)  noting those issues.

2. Church leaders failed to respond to pleas for personal help.

3. Church leaders failed to nurture other people’s God-given spiritual gifts (or even purposefully stymied them).

4. Church leaders failed to communicate vision and direction to the rest of the church body.

5. Church leaders failed to recognize they are fellow brothers and sisters of equal stature with the rest of the people in the church and therefore failed to lead humbly.

Picked up on the pattern yet?

Most solid people (as opposed to church hoppers/shoppers) who leave a church or most churches that split do so for one major reason: church leaders failed.

This is not to excuse those who are not church leaders for their personal culpability in that failure, but it demonstrates an enormous, glaring problem.

If church leadership failures are a major reason for disunity in a church, perhaps the problem is not one of love, as Tim Challies notes, but of the entirety of the way we allow our churches to be led. Perhaps the models of church leadership and proper church functioning we have fallen into over time are not the models depicted in the New Testament. Perhaps this is why church leaders fail so often, why so many people leave a church (or Christianity altogether), and why disunity reigns.

Sadly, almost no one within the North American Church wants to deal with this problem because it means a total rethink of the way we do church and would prove too threatening to a vast number of people.

But if the Church is to do more than survive, thriving means dealing with that problem.

And that is going to have to take a whole lotta love.