Pragmatics and the Church, Or Mad Men May Expose Your Desire

It works. We just finished watching Season 1 of Mad Men. It only took me six months to get around to watching the last disc sent by Netflix. We are slow. And, in terms of keeping up with the story, we are woefully behind.

Peggy, Don Draper’s secretary, helped write a pitch for a product early on. Her aspirations to be more than an assistant grew with the realization she was good at copy writing. On the four final episodes, Peggy’s help is enlisted again. This time she is invited to help with a weight loss product for women. It became apparent that the apparatus did not really have any data to back up its claims, but after all the company is hired to sell a product not prove its claims.

Could the product live up to its billing? Peggy tried out the exercise device. Something like one of those products that promises to help lose weight without really expending any effort. Consider it something of an ultrasound device intended to stimulate muscles to contract for therapy with the hope that it would cause those pounds to fall off. You know the sort of thing, “You just wear this device, grab a good book, and read the pounds away.”

The problem came when the device had another effect. Now it was time to try to sell a product that promised one thing but would surely be popular for other reasons were it purchased. It really was not a bait and switch. Really. It seemed an unintended consequence of the product.

Setting up the commercial that would promote the product turned on the ability to persuade women this product would fulfill their desire for confidence and restore glow.

I recently read a brief post by a pastor who answered those who wondered, “Do Multi-Site Venues Work?” I am not interested in the debate. But, I am interested in what the questions implies. It is the unintended consequence of thinking about church life from the vantage point of pragmatics, “Does it work?” I could not help but think, desire makes an awful lot of things work that we want to work. The porn industry knows this to be true. Play to desire and titillate the masses.

Desire leads we pastor types to give into the consequent metrics used to measure success which in turn become the force that drives us to explore our shepherding pragmatically. We look for what works. It is an adrenaline rush to be sure. Execute your plan and give the evidence – a full house.

The dark side of this very common trap is described by Pastors Kent and Mike in, Renovation of the Church. The subtitle may me just a bit mis-leading. I do not mean misleading in the sense that they are not really describing what happens when a “seeker church discovers spiritual formation.” Instead, I mean mis-leading in that the irruption of the real may be experienced in any adjective ridden form of church – seeker, traditional, contemporary, multi-site, etc. Any setting where the pastor, staff, people, or authors sense the need to justify a method.

Creating and sustaining the ego, even in the most humble of us, seems to be the role desire plays in these instances. Pastors Kent and Mike liken the inevitable machine to a monster. One that must be fed. One whose hunger pains may be heard before the last meal is finished and the next one prepared.

When I find it necessary to demonstrate what works in church life and I show a photo of a full-house, I am not really talking about the Gospel working but that desire is in full bloom. The move is an expression of jouissance, or, “See there I told you it worked.” (It is interesting how a Zizekain critique opened up by Fitch applies so candidly.)

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

2 comments on “Pragmatics and the Church, Or Mad Men May Expose Your Desire

  1. I have to say that “Mad Men” is brilliant in so many ways, aside from the attention to period detail, the casting, historical contextualization, etc. But if you enjoy it you absolutely must jump directly into “Breaking Bad”. More moral dilemmas than you could possibly shake the proverbial stick at.

  2. I will have to check out your recommendation. I trust you are doing well.

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