Life’s Intersections (:mic)

Our friend Michael Thompson posted this and permitted me to post it here:

In the city where I live there is an intersection which has two gas station/convenience stores, one on the southeast corner and one on the northwest corner.  They are both Speedway brand stores . . . no joke.  It is my hope that they are owned by the same person, but I’ve never looked into it.

There has been a question forming in my mind, sort of a pastime thought experiment.  It started through my own shopping habits, but really took shape when I saw the double-Speedway intersection.

Here is a missional question . . .

All minor details being equal (cost factor, distance, quality of service, etc), if presented with two local business – one owned by a member of your church community, the other owned by a non-churchgoing agnostic – which place should a missional believer choose to frequent, for the sake of the kingdom?

On the one hand, we take care of our brothers and sisters in Christ and should support their livelihoods by making their business prosper.  On the other hand, we are summoned to be salt and light into a broken world, which would mean showing agnostic businesspeople the love and grace that Christian people (ought to) have.  One is the edification of believers, the other is lifestyle evangelism.  Of course, we could make a habit of going back-and-forth . . . but that might simply be the philosophical copout option when in reality we know that we get into routines.  (Also, the thought experiment assumes that you would be a ‘regular’ if either impact is to be made.)

What if we change the parameters a bit?

1. Christian-owned business v. outspoken-atheist-owned business.
2. Christian-owned business v. Muslim-owned business.
3. Christian-owned business v. Milwaukee-Brewers-fan-owned business (just kidding, nobody would choose the latter).

You get the idea.  I am curious as to what kind of thought we have when making decisions like these.  If we have any thought at all.  If we simply choose to support the members of our church without consideration, are we then in danger of creating a disconnected holy huddle?  If we simply choose to be the evangelists at all costs, then are we being unsupportive of those business that have a positive kingdom presence which could help transform neighborhoods?

One could go back and forth for quite some time, I think . . .

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  • Lac

    I clicked on this post thinking it would be on doubt. Ironically, I have found myself crossing over this intersection, changing sides from the church-going evangelical to the non-church-going agnostic.

    This person should frequent the store of the person they know…consider their friend. If both stores are managed by strangers, my hope would be that discrimination by religious beliefs not even enter the decision-making process.

  • Paul W

    I have no idea what the faith commitments are of the people who own or operate the gas sation that I normally get gas from– neither would it ever cross my mind to take that into consideration. Seems like an odd thing to struggle over to me. I can’t imagine that someone would actually organize their life in this manner. But perhaps I am just plain naive about how Evangelicals conduct themselves.

    Perhaps the ethical implications of normal fuel consumption is a more pertinent consideration.

  • As a Brewer fan, I take exception to your illustration and will from now on only read blogs written by Brewer fans.

  • I think you frequent wherever you have or can establish relationships. If your interest is in being missional and in the Kingdom then it’s relationship that matters, not being a consumer. Jesus frequented all kinds of homes but he went for table fellowship and the encounter, not to make sure he spent his shekels “missionally”. Without relationship there is no mission.

  • I am not sure a clear answer would be apparent for every such situation, as a multitude of other factors will inevitably be in play. For example, are both businesses financially stable? What is the proximity of the business from the neighbourhood you call home?

    That said, all things being equal, there can be an argument made that by supporting the Christian business, they contribute to the overall capacity of resourcing the larger missional community.

    Further, when confronted as an individual question, it is more difficult to answer. However, when you consider that 20 or different members of your church community could connect to both, it has less urgency.

  • I like comment #5 . . . Jamie makes the case that we AS CONGREGATIONS can be more intentional about what we are doing . . . this could be a division of labors (and giftedness), or an overall identity of purpose in the neighborhood.

    Still, I wonder at the non-Christian’s perspective of the church when he sees it drive his own business down.

  • gingoro

    To my mind this question is a complex one and would require a long answer to really express my position.
    In general I avoid business
    -run by Christians as my experience with the ethics of Christians in business is not good
    -where the owners were aggressive fundamentalists in promoting their religion
    -if the product of one left a lot to be desired eg I avoid a small family run gas station near us because their fuel tends to be dirty and contain water due to having old tanks
    -if one owner was practicing business unethically doing such things are giving short change or short measure

    In general I probably would use the station that was on the same side of the street that I was traveling on as gas stations tend not to be very plentiful where I live and also tend to be large with many pumps and thus the cashier is usually lined up and impersonal.

    Factors that would tend to bias med towards doing business with one or the other
    -if I had a relationship with one
    -if the local fundamentalists were boycotting one I probably would frequent that one
    -if I knew that one was a struggling business and the other was doing well then I would likely choose the struggling business
    Dave W

  • eric

    so maybe the gas station isn’t the best option for discussion here, since noone knows who owns the gas station, and its not a place where we are spending much time.

    The first time I heard a pastor pose this kind of question, he was talking about his barber. Would you choose a Christian to have your hair cut, or a non-Christian?

    I think, if I didn’t know either of them, I would choose the non-Christian. However, don’t go there, build a relationship, share the gospel and then run out to find another non-christian. Otherwise we have made evangelism the goal, rather than disciplemaking.

  • When I go to a gas station, convenience store, grocery store, restaurant, barber of other business, I don’t ask myself whether it is owned and managed by a Christian. But I do ask myself whether it is well-run, providing good service and a quality product at a fair price. However, wherever I go, I pray that the glory of God would be revealed there through the revelation of King Jesus the Messiah, and that I would be a good reflection of that.

  • (9.): Thank you, Jeff. Questions like these are…entertaining. I am utterly unaware of Speedway, and can’t comment about the commitment each of the stores identified have to the well-being of the community beyond some goods and services they already offer within their business location.

    I just finished reading a summary of a dissertation that considered how the faith commitment of entrepreneurs of a South Asian nation influenced their participation in community transformation. The entrepreneurs of the Hindu tradition gave their bucks directly toward the improvement of the local community. The Christian entrepreneurs gave their bucks to evangelism among the employees and the community. It was remarkably distinct with very very little in-between, so to speak. One version isn’t better than another: just different.

  • Paul

    A gas station is weird option as I don’t normally talk to anyone at the gas station (I pay outside and leave…I also don’t buy things at gas stations as it is over-priced and of poor health quality).

    That being said, given two businesses of any type, I would probably go to the Christian business. In fact, I would partner with the Christian business owner to reach out and make his business a missional space to live out truth and love to the community. Through this business we could then reach out and partner with other businesses of similar variety to see who would be interested in partnering together to further benefit our community. in this way I would imagine missional life being lived out. I don’t see being an individual Christian spending time in a business as a particularly effective way to reach out to the community in a missional way.

  • Tim

    welcome post in the Boycott Age. A friend and I were discussing the call to boycott Starbucks, and we ruefully imagined the outcry if non Christians started boycotting Chick Fil A for ruining everyone’s Sunday afternoons.

  • Royce

    The non-believer.

    The owner that’s a part of my church community would get edified by being a member of my church community (meeting regularly for worship and fellowship). It doesn’t require me becoming a regular of his business.

    If he needs my business for his business to stay afloat, I would tell him he should consider another venture for income.

  • “All minor details being equal (cost factor, distance, quality of service, etc)”

    It’s been my experience that those things are usually not equal. That’s part of the reason this kind of decision making doesn’t enter into things for most of us. That, and we don’t usually know who we buy from. That should be a nudge for us to buy locally from small businesses. Developing relationships is always part of evangelism and discipleship. Still possible to do that in the big-box stores, though perhaps not as easily.

    That being said, my husband and I make it a practice to never do business with people we go to church with. It makes things way too difficult if something goes wrong with the sale. A lesson sadly learned from experience.

  • I would leave my own comment, but I think it would be identical to #9, Jeff Doles. Well said, Jeff!

    Great little food for thought, too. Thanks for posting, Michael/Scot.