OK, full disclosure; this title is a rip-off of a Rebecca Schuman piece that ran last month on Slate.com. It’s a great editorial entitled “College Students are not Customers: a political shorthand that needs to die.” So your first task is to pause and read it, and try not to get bogged down in the comments section. (Most comments sections are unreadable, but you can tell that more than a few unemployed or underemployed academics responded to this article since the comments are uncommonly articulate.)
Now that you’re back, you should see why I am so eager to look at our churches through a similar lens. If (and this is very much a disputed “if”) we think of students as customers, then there will always be the temptation to goose the bottom line by appealing to the immediate desires of these students/customers. The analogy here is with political pandering. If all you want is someone’s vote, then you are more likely to tell them what they want to hear than to try to get them to hear the truth. So colleges and professors, when they treat students like customers, are inevitably drawn to shape curriculums and programs and even classes to fit “what the students want” instead of working to shape students through exposing them to hard ideas and holding them to high standards.
I could do a couple of things here. As a college professor I’m tempted to stay with the educational theme, but as your esteemed LE.org blogger, I’m moved to turn my attention to similar dynamics within the churches. Instead of asking the question, who are our customers, I’d phrase the issue differently. To whom should our churches be accountable? Who is our constituency?