~Faith with a Personal Touch~
But now thus sayeth the Lord that created thee…
“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee,
I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”
Dear Members and Friends,
Stories from the world of commerce and business rarely capture my imagination, but I was surprised recently to read about some of the most successful companies in our country and world today. None of them are what you would have expected.
When you think about taxi cabs—which we rarely do here in Pittsburgh—you probably think of a boxy yellow car doing 70 miles per hour in a 35 zone. I always assumed that the company “Yellow Cab” had a monopoly on the taxi trade in America. Yellow Cab is so successful that you might even think twice before getting into a red or a blue taxi. “Is this a real cab, or just a kidnapper with a blue sedan?” Even in third world countries, where Yellow Cab doesn’t operate, all the independent taxi drivers paint their old rattle traps yellow—just to give them an air of respectability. (Sure, there used to be Checkered Cabs, too, but those have been gone for a long time.) And so, it was a surprise for me to learn that Yellow Cab is not nearly the biggest taxi company in America. Bigger by far is “Uber”—a company that got started just seven years ago…and owns not a single car. They make their money by finding you rides in other people’s private vehicles.
If you asked me what company ranked as the biggest “accommodation provider” in America, I might have said Holiday Inn, or Motel 6, or Hampton Inn. But all of those answers would be wrong. The biggest accommodation provider in America is a website called “Airbnb.” They don’t own any real estate, not so much as the Bates Motel, not so much as a rustic little inn or a manger behind an inn. They make their money by finding places for you to sleep in other people’s homes.
And what do you do when you want to watch a Hollywood film? You could go to a movie theater, show up at the appointed time, stand in line, and get yelled at for putting your feet up on the back of the seat in front of you. But you’re more likely to watch your movies via a company that won’t sell you popcorn; “Netflix” only broadcasts movies into your home—where you can put your feet wherever you want. And the world’s fastest growing bank, “SocietyOne,” doesn’t own or lend any actual money. They turn a profit by matching private lenders with private borrowers. Just one more example: The two largest phone companies don’t own any telephone lines or infrastructure. When you drive your car into a telephone pole, they don’t send out the repairmen because these companies only exist online as “Skype” and “WeChat.” You get the point.
At first glance, this seems like a lesson in how the Internet has revolutionized contemporary life. But what do most of these things have in common? Well…they’re all innovative; they bring people together to meet each other’s needs, and they let people stay as much as possible in the comfort of their homes. It seems that people are less likely than they once were to put their faith in big, monolithic institutions. They’d rather experience the personal touch: a ride to the airport in a stranger’s private car, a night in a stranger’s guest room.
All of these unexpected success stories remind me of the cardinal rule of preaching—the one that I learned in seminary but never obeyed: Don’t talk about yourself in sermons. “It’s rude to talk about yourself,” the professors said. “Congregations don’t care about you; they want to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, plain and simple.” And yet, I think that venerable old rule—though a good guideline to keep in mind—is outdated for all the same reasons that Uber and Airbnb have swept their markets: modern people are longing for the human touch. In a world that makes us feel unknown, we’re looking less for name brand professionalism and more for those things that make us feel connected to other people. This begs the question: How can you, a regular church member, use your personal connections to share the beauty and the power of faith with friends and neighbors who may not respond to religious institutions and religious professionals?
In Christ’s Peace,