Theological Mistakes: The Customer Is Always Right

angry-woman-2I recently witnessed a very ugly scene in which an irate woman customer publicly humiliated and berated a store employee for a comment she perceived as “rude.” I don’t know what the comment was (and it may have indeed been very rude), but the loud spectacle and angry tirade were unsettling and made me view the complaining woman as a fool. Personal Confession: I speak as one who has done similar things, but this does not make her or me less of a fool. Thousands of years ago, the author of Ecclesiastes observed:

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
    for anger resides in the lap of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

The angry woman repeatedly reminded the employee that “as a consumer I have choices” along with angry variations of “the customer is always right.” Funny, these commonplace business sayings don’t seem as reasonable when someone is screaming them.

I have long wondered about the wisdom of “the customer is always right.” If this means, “In general we will serve our customers well, even when they may not deserve it,” I can buy in to the idea. But as any sort of an absolute statement, this is ludicrous. Ethical standards for employees must rise above the whims of customers, especially irrational or rogue customers.

Here is my question for today: has this idea become a centerpiece of how we do church? If so, it would seem to be a theological principle, because it mandates how we take care of God’s church, the body of Christ. When we overly-impose marketing principles on the church, we may end up with a model that sees the paid church staff as store employees and church members and visitors as customers. Since the customer is always right, ministers should seek to please. Isn’t this the formula for a happy growing church?

I am all in favor of happy, growing churches, but there must be a higher standard for what we do than what people like. For example, should we preach about biblical standards of morality? Some people might not like this, so best avoid these topics. Should we teach principles of stewardship, that what we do with our money is important to our relationship with God and our spiritual health? No, we don’t want to do this because it reinforces the stereotype that the church just wants our money. Should we be so brave as to tell folks that God is in control of everything (including their lives), not them? Why, no, that might make people feel like the church wanted to exercise control over them!

Of course I am being ridiculous here. If we are to be biblical churches and preach biblical sermons, we need to preach the full message of God’s word, not pablum designed to offend no one. We must be in the business of letting Scripture and Spirit transform people’s lives, not letting current cultural norms and trends dictate our message. The customer is always right? No, not in the church. God is always right, and he is neither our customer nor our employee. He is the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, the Wisest of All Kings, and the Great Judge of all things. Listen to him.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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5 thoughts on “Theological Mistakes: The Customer Is Always Right

  1. Good post.
    I’ve thought for a long time that the single biggest threat facing Evangelicalism is consumeristic spirituality and a consumerist approach to church. I’m not sure what a good solution to that is from within Evangelicalism. However, I think liturgical worship tends to avoid that problem for the most part. When the Scripture readings are based on a lectionary and much of the prayer and worship is written, not spontaneous, it tends to be more theological and less emotional and consumeristic. When I go to mass on Sunday, I don’t feel like I’m being catered to or that it’s all about giving me a good “spiritual experience” so that I will be a happy “spiritual customer”, rather the focus is entirely about the people of God worshiping their God.
    I recall a Eugene Peterson quote (can’t find the source) that said said something like: asking what people want and then giving them exactly that is about the worst thing you can do as a pastor.

  2. We need to do what we can do at any time to show them that we care for them and show that God’s love though us no matter what it costs us. No matter what they say to us or how they act toward us. 1 Peter 2:17 “Show proper respect to everyone:” To me we need to treat all people the same. So we need to treat all the same. If they need food, feed them, are meet the onther needs they may have. Love them just like you love yourself.

  3. Jesus didn’t always please the crowds. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” caused many to go home. Peter rightly stated his commitment to Christ who spoke the words of life. I am committed to preaching God’s word, even when it is unpopular. That said, I don’t want to be the cause of someone turning away from Christ.

  4. To witness to the truth in what you say and speak and offend somebody is bearing witness. To purposely and vituperatively continue to harp on it is bordering on Sin. When the offense is in the heart of the person hearing the message, it is a wound of grace. When it is spoken again and again it is the church doing the wounding. We walk the fine line of bearing witness in love, and slamming a personal agenda.

    P.S. I had not seen the world pablum for a long time. I have come across it twice in an hour. Once in the Snodgrass reading for class, and here. Good word!

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