I 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.
Nebraska Christian College