In a continuing and lame effort to co-op the brilliance of others and put forth content that is psudo-original, here is another installment of my take of Freakonomics and Church.
There is a wonderful little book titled 30-Second Economics (which can be found on goodreads.com here) Near the end of the book, there is a little economic theory written about known as "The Tragedy of the Commons". Here is the explanation given:
Several herders graze theirs cows on common pasture. From each herder's point of view, it's rational to add more cows to his herd, because his profits will increase. However, every additional cow depletes the pasture's resources. If every farmer acts "rationaly" by adding more cows to his herd, the common land will eventually be overgrazed, grass will stop growing and all the herders will suffer. In essence, actions that are rational for the individual may be irrational for the group.(emphasis added)"
While it is easy to see how this tragedy is common among environmental situations, but how does the tragedy of the commons play out in the church? A few thoughts:
- Ministers: The UMC is a church that has ministers who are appointed to the congregation. So in essence, the ministers of the conference (a large geographical region) are shared by all the churches. While it is rational, good and logical from one congregation's point of view to have "minister A" it may very well not be rational, good or logical for the conference for that congregation to have "minister A" because there are other congregations that would better benefit from the resource of "minister A". As a United Methodist, I have bought into a system that places a greater importance on what is rational, good and logical for ALL churches not just a few.
- God's Grace: On the flip side, many Christians hold to an idea that God's grace is limited. While not using those words, the idea is expressed in a number of ways such as "Only these type of people are real Christians" or "You 'get saved' only after you accept Jesus by way of a prayer." The idea that God's grace is limited to a select, or the 'elect', is arguing that God's grace is limited. And if we think there is limited Grace then we are going to act differently than if we believe Grace is limitless and boundless and endless. When we believe Grace is limited then of course we will live in a such a way as try to get as much grace as possible and, just like the herders above, that is very logical and rational. However if Grace is thought of in these ways, then we also will indirectly restrict other's access to Grace because there is only so much (grass/Grace) to go around. So the question for the Church becomes - Do we hold to an idea that Grace is limited and thus fall victim to the "Tragedy of the Commons" in which we act rationally in self interest but ultimately to the demise of others? Or is Grace unlimited and we believe no matter how many cows there are there is always enough grass?
There are other applications to this economic theory, but these are just a couple of jump starts to consider.