If you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard this news yet :), there’s a publicly-traded company called GameStop that sells video games in brick and mortar retail stores. Similar to how Netflix put Blockbuster Video out of business just a decade ago, people are now downloading video games from the Internet.
Blockbuster was unable to make the transition in their business model to accommodate new technology and consumer behavior. Many believe GameStop won’t be able to make the transition either. But some other people do and they make a strong case for it.
So a bunch of institutional rich guys (called hedge funds) did something called “shorting the stock.” Without getting into details and making you completely confused, it’s basically betting on a company to fail. That’s no big deal except when a bunch of rich and powerful guys do this, they typically accompany these bets with shady, selfish activities to try and make sure the company indeed DOES fail.
Basically, instead of letting things play out and taking their wins or losses fairly, they’ve been known to leverage their power to get what they want through manipulation (bad press, payoffs, etc.). They try and send the company into bankruptcy by controlling the information flow even though the company is still valuable and may have a chance to pivot and be successful in the future.
What happens to all the other people that actually believe in the company and that it could have a successful future that they as the owners would benefit from? They get wiped out.
A monumental decision
So what happened in the case of GameStop that is so monumental is a bunch of “laypeople” investors (not institutions or professionals, but individuals investing their own money) got into a discussion on an internet forum site called Reddit and decided to see if they could wield their power by buying and holding the stock.
I won’t confuse you more by explaining the technical details of why this caused the price of the stock to skyrocket; but the idea worked, a bunch of “laypeople” bought the stock, and the price went from $4 in the summer of ’20 to a high of $483 on 1/28/21.
The person who started the move to buy up the stock showed that his original $53,000 investment in the company had soared in value to $48 million!
Now of course it didn’t stay there, but it is around $60 as I’m writing this. I’m not going to get into the ethics of the whole thing as that’s not the point I’m looking to make here. But what I do want to point out is how this relates to what’s going on with church life in our culture and day and age.
Taking back control of information and participation
The main issue here is the access to and spread of information made possible by new technologies, and the subsequent ability of anyone to work around the systems that have been created to control participation.
As has been said, “information is power.” Those that have the information can decide what it means and how to use it. When an “elite” few have access to and control of information (or the perception that they do), they can then interpret, explain and present whatever they choose and manipulate outcomes.
This happens in all sorts of industries and communication channels like investing, politics, the media, and yes…churches. Those that make it into the “elite” few may actually be thinking they’re doing what’s best for people. Intentions are just part of the issue here though. Truth, freedom, and responsibility are as well.
Control in the name of protection
In the case of the institutional investing system, the good intention is to protect the person that knows nothing about investing by having a “professional” invest their money for them for a fee. Regulators are out to protect poor, innocent, naive investors, and there are some out there. They think that…
- Laypeople investors are too stupid to know what to do for themselves.
- Laypeople investors don’t know enough.
- Laypeople investors are not responsible enough to know what to do.
These “laypeople” investors then get the “convenience” of not having to take responsibility for what happens with their money and avoid the possibility they’ll make mistakes. They stay safe and stupid.
The truth is…people are learning that the system doesn’t actually keep them safe. But it does keep them stupid.
The system doesn’t actually allow money managers to do good investing for people (see this post for why), and “lay” individuals can do much better than professionals if they learn some fundamentals of investing and take responsibility for their own financial well-being.
In fact, information about what some of the biggest and best investors in the world put their money in is available to anyone with an internet connection. If you would simply learn some techniques to clone the investments of those guys over time, you’re bound to do much better than paying fees and allowing your money to be managed by most professional financial advisors.
Also, data shows that most money managers on average don’t even perform as well as if you stick your money into a fund that simply mirrors the performance of the stock market over time.
So here’s the thing – the community that pulled off this event are not poor, innocent, naive investors. They know what they’re doing. They’ve learned, taken responsibility, taken back control made possible by new technologies. They’re equipped to know what they’re doing.
There must be something more
The same thing is happening in the case of the Christian religious system. The system’s intention is to protect people that have less knowledge about Christianity by having a “professional” explain who God is, who they are, and what they’re supposed to do in life for a fee (salary). Professionals are out to protect poor, innocent, naive Christians, and there are some out there. They think that…
- Laypeople Christians are too stupid to know what to do for themselves.
- Laypeople Christians don’t know enough.
- Laypeople Christians are not responsible to know what to do.
The “layperson” Christian then gets the “convenience” of not having to take responsibility for their spiritual well-being. They stay safe and stupid.
The truth is…people are learning that the system doesn’t actually keep them safe. But it does keep them stupid.
The system doesn’t actually facilitate the equipping of people for how to do life together by God’s design, and individuals are learning they have the power and the responsibility to do much better if they learn the fundamentals of the gospel of the kingdom and its implications for life together.
As “laypeople” get more information, they’re coming to the conclusion that how institutions do church life isn’t cutting it and they’re realizing there must be something more to God’s purpose for us than the religious machinery most people are a part of.
They’re coming to the conclusion that how God designed the church to function isn’t how most churches go about life together, and they have access to information to learn instead of having to trust incentivized professionals that largely aren’t equipped themselves.
People are awakening to the fact that they too can know the God of the Bible just as intimately as a “professional” who has taken some theology classes, which can do very little for authentic spiritual growth. They’re also more plainly seeing that most “professionals” are fallen human beings themselves who will manipulate and use their positional power for selfish gain and to stroke their self-esteem.
Heck, all you would have to do is go and watch some short videos about the meaning of the story of the Bible that the Bible Project created, and you could come away with a much different picture of how we should be doing life together than the vast majority of Christians are a part of.
The approach of the first church planters
The biblical answer to developing healthy church life is equipping people to be able to take responsibility, not control by one or a few that keeps people ignorant and dependent.
Every letter in the New Testament written to churches was written in the midst of a crisis. Influential people were teaching false gospels, people weren’t applying the truth of the gospel to their behavior in everyday life, etc.
The approach of the first church planters wasn’t to control people out of fear that they’d get themselves into a mess. It was to teach them the Truth about who God is, what He is like, His purpose for creating, who they are in Him, and the implications of all of that for our behavior and life together.
When they addressed the congregations they were writing to who WERE a mess, they called them “saints” and “holy ones.” Each. And. Every. Person. In. The. Church.
The people that manipulated the stock price of GameStop were absolutely aware of what they were doing and they take great offense at being told they’re too stupid to lose their own money. They can go ahead and lose their own money as a responsible adult just fine. The idea that they need to be babysat is insulting and strips them of their dignity.
Yes, church members will absolutely, positively do stupid things. They’ll do things that are not of the Spirit. They will do things in ignorance.
But these are never, ever, never, ever, and I mean never reasons to institute means of some humans having control over other humans. It’s not of the Spirit and it’s not in the Bible. It’s not at the beginning, middle or end.
Remember Israel? This was the family God said He was going to use to show the rest of the world what it was like to be God’s family. You think He gave them the freedom and responsibility to mess up? Uh, yeah.
Equipping with the TRUTH
In what many call Paul’s most amazing letter on God’s purpose, he says this in Ephesians 4:11-16…
And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature human, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
As a result, we are no longer children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Paul is saying when people are supplied with the Truth, they can grow up. It’s out of this that the whole co-equal Body takes care of and builds itself up as each does its part. But those parts must be supplied with the Truth.
What happens when you create a system that puts control in the hands of a few “professionals” in order to protect the ignorant? The ignorant stay “safe” and ignorant. This is why our churches are filled today with overgrown spiritual babies.
The Bible shows us all throughout the story it tells that God rules His Kingdom by His glory and absolute freedom. Our role is to extend that glory and freedom to everyone made in His image.
In both cases, how do you protect without control? Not through artificial labels, positions, concocted responsibility tiers and power grabs. It’s through trust earned over time in close-knit relationship.
Lots of Christians today (I’m an example) are using their access to information to learn Truth, take back their freedom, and take responsibility for knowing the Lord and His purpose.
They’re also deciding to do something about it. They absolutely know what we’re doing.