The Old Spice Challenge

Michael Metzger

by Mike Metzger & John Seel

Hello Ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me…

Isaiah Mustafa’s playful pitch for Old Spice plays well even though he makes most men look bad. With a comedic touch, comparisons can be constructive. In fact, lighthearted repartee can highlight whether a church is constructed for shalom.

Isaiah Mustafa is the buff-bodied Old Spice pitchman in two attention-getting TV commercials that debuted in February 2010. He’s a good-looking stud talking to wives and girlfriends everywhere. A former football player, Mustafa stands in front of his shower, telling women to compare: “I’m the man your man could smell like.” He makes men everywhere look bad. “Hello Ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man—now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me…”

Shalom is what a church can look like. It was the Jews’ goal in Jeremiah 29, when they were sent into Babylonian exile and told to build homes, plant gardens, get married, raise families and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:4-7). This is the mission of shalom. The prophet Jeremiah says the Jews’ flourishing came only as they promoted flourishing among their captors’ culture and in their captor’s institutions such as family, agriculture, and business. Does this describe the mission of your faith community? Why not take the Old Spice challenge?

Look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom. For starters, what is your church’s mission statement?

Most churches have mission statements that say “empowering individuals” or “making disciples from here to the ends of the earth.” These are heart-warming monikers that yield only hazy markers or measurements. That’s partly because they highlight individuals over institutions. In shalom, a church will have a mission statement something like this:

Our faith community exists to assist central business, educational, and arts institutions in our city—as well as charities and non-profits—in taking seriously a biblical definition of reality and acting on it.

Look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom. It’s a constructive comparison, since mission statements determine the means organizations use to achieve success as well as what they measure.

In most churches, the progression goes like this: craft the mission, establish church programs as the means, and then measure success internally by involvement. Dallas Willard calls this the ABCs: attendance, building, and cash. In shalom, the mission reverses the order of the last two: it’s measurement and then means. Shalom wasn’t a command to create a parallel Jewish sub-culture as a means for Babylonians to come to faith. The Jews were not called to invite Babylonians to get involved in the Jewish synagogue. Rather, the Jews were to assist in the flourishing of Babylonian institutions within Babylonian culture. Big difference. Different measurements.

Look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom. What does your church measure? MIT professor Edgar Schein reminds us that whatever an institution measures ultimately becomes it’s culture, or the means it uses to achieve its mission.1 Shalom churches measure the progress in their community directly due to the church’s assistance. The opportunities are there. Daniel Pink writes about the new “social businesses” being developed around a more accurate assessment of human nature. “These are companies that raise capital, develop products, and sell them in an open market but do so in the service of a larger social mission,” writes Pink.2 The question is: how many of these companies look to the church for an assist? How many churches are actually measuring this? What you measure determines the means.

Look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom. What are the means that your church employs to achieve it’s mission?

Sadly, most churches aren’t currently capable of enacting shalom. A shalom church would measure the flourishing of companies like The Magellan Fund, if the faith community was based in Boston. How would these churches do that? For starters, economics is not the study of money but of human behavior. Two University of Chicago scholars, economist Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein, say economic theory assumes we’re rational beings.3 We’re not. They have a model based on a different view of human beings—one that’s remarkably parallel to what scripture teaches. The Wall Street Journal describes their book, Nudge, as a “realistic view of human behavior, not fantasy.” Local churches with a shalom mission would be assisting investment firms in adopting Thaler and Sunstein’s model. They would align resources—their means—to assist congregants at wealth management firms to enact shalom.

Look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom. The point is, shalom churches start with a problem in a Babylonian institution rather than a program in the church. We can’t say this enough. They don’t start with “conversations” about “faith and work” in the church. They start with real conundrums in real companies (or educational institutions or wherever) and let reality drive the equation. Shalom churches translate theology for congregants on their terms… on their turf. They translate a biblical definition of reality for the workplace by grounding the education in a real-life experience of reality in the workplace. This shouldn’t be rocket science, but it is for too many faith communities. They think programs, not shalom.

Old Spice can measure the effectiveness of Isaiah Mustafa’s playful pitch by looking at sales. Churches can measure success by looking for shalom. And what might shalom look like in, say, T. Rowe Price? It might mean higher worker satisfaction, lower voluntary turnover rates, and—get this—an end to our recurring economic crises. Does this sound like good news? Does this also make your church look bad? With a comedic touch, such a comparison can be constructive. For most churches, shalom is a new paradigm, not a new program. If this sounds disruptive, your faith community might be on it’s way to renewal. Just look at your church. Now back to shalom. Now back at your church—now back to shalom.

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1 Edgar Schein is a Professor of Management at MIT and the author of Organizational Culture and Leadership, Third Edition. New York: Wiley Publishers (2004).
2 Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York, NY: Penguin, 2009), p. 25.
3 Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New York, NY: Penguin, 2007).

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6 thoughts on “The Old Spice Challenge”

  1. George Hepburn

    Hi Mike and John,

    I think I get this and I do like the comparison.The Church’s impact on the world ought to be creating Shalom everywhere, including big and small institutions, all the while with hopeful conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  2. Mike Metzger

    By George, that’s it! The point is faith communities typically start in the wrong place – with their programs rather than specific problems in the wider world that need solutions. Measuring our success in, say, Sears, would change the game.

  3. Thomas Keppeler

    Mike, I really like your posts. It really is about a new (or old?) way of being in the world. As Hunter asserts (To Change the World) “it is a mode of individual and collective being.” Not one or the other. Institutions are a reality but so are the individuals that make institutions. The mission of shalom is about making and forming disciples of Christ with a view of the world and reality that includes individuals and institutions. Is it not about starting with real conundrums in individual lives and real companies? On the pastoral level.. people indeed do show up in my office with real (and often very messy)personal conundrums in their lives.

    I believe a real weakness that we have in the ev.church is a thin theology of vocation. One of the key issues is how we shape (or mis-shape) and “discple” people to understand their role and engagement in society and move beyond a “platform/instrumentalist” mentality of faith engaging with culture and institutions.

    Just a few ramblings! TOM

  4. There is a great deal packed into the sentence “Shalom churches translate theology for congregants on their terms… on their turf.” When I think of subject matter experts for my profession, the church isn’t even on the list of potential consultants/partners to solve my problems. Can you fill in a little detail or give an example of what you mean here? With the church, I still bring the integrity, stewardship and ethics to the equation and am wondering about the rest.

    Thanks,
    Troy

  5. Hello Mike,

    I found this article a very interesting read. I’m an actor in New York, and as you may or may not know, acting is a profession with a rather checkered past relationship with the church (it was outlawed at various points etc…but hopefully we’ve moved on!).

    I think you’ve touched on a very important nerve that I’ve experienced in my dealings with other artists in NY, which is that the Church, by and large (although not entirely), is out of touch. It’s still operating the same way it was operating 50, 100, 200 years ago. And because it’s trying to continue using those methodologies in our modern world, a lot of folks feel that there is nothing for them in this “religion” thing. And what’s sad is, they’re right.

    I love this idea of engaging culture as it exists, because it’s the only way to demonstrate that we’re here to serve the world, not to get the world thinking and acting as we deem appropriate. As an artist, it means a lot to me that there are people looking to find God’s work in the world, and back it up. We should never give up.

    But I would caution us not to only look at our interaction with culture on an institutional scale. I believe in the church being involved in organizatins that serve the kingdom, but I also think that can lead us to become disconnected as well. It’s true the Israelite nation was told to pray for the prosperity of the city, but they were also told to get in there with the people and get their hands dirty. Marry them, eat with them, learn their ways and culture, GET INVOLVED. And when Jesus showed up on the scene, he walked right into the middle of the marginalized of society and loved them. He didn’t take the time to go through an organization or a charity, he went right to them and started giving them hope. He also gave them healing, food, and knowledge.

    Let me make it clear here, I’ve got NOTHING against institutions working towards the good of society, but I think it’s also true that supporting an institution is not the same thing as getting personally, viscerally involved. And that looks different for everyone. For me, at least right now, it’s getting to know some fellow actors that have been burned by the church and religion. It’s eating with them, working with them, valuing them. Some people go to Africa and hold orphaned babies. Some people build hospitals in Indonesia. Some get accounting degrees. THEY’RE ALL GOOD! AND it’s good to support the Salvation Army and Christ based business and Christians in the arts. I would posit that it’s all part of Shalom.

    Thank you for this article. Keep writing, keep digging, keep working over the things that we’ve come to take for granted. There are always new things to be found. That’s why God’s so cool.

    Thanks again,

    Ben

  6. One of the reasons the church can’t be serious about Shalom is that our adult learning paradigm is stunted. We don’t know how to move beyond the “…‘conversations’ about ‘faith and work’” because we don’t know how to connect faith to the reality of work. We emphasize children’s Sunday School – using various forms of pedagogy to teach and train our kids, but we know very little about andragogy – how we teach and train adults. A foundational principle of andragogy is that adults learn best when we are problem-solving; meaning that as adults, we are hardwired to grapple “with real conundrums” in the workplace – where, as adults, we express one of the most significant aspects of our imago dei. I am not saying we should de-emphasize the education of our children, but I am saying we need to take a careful look at how we educate adults and then make some significant changes. Most of our forms of adult study, small group activity and large group assembly do not facilitate adult learning. At best, they encourage koinonia, the care of one-another, and the dissemination of vital information. There is nothing wrong with those things. They are good. They are biblical. However, living together in a caring community that disseminates vital information is no substitute for adult learning. When all these good activities is said and done, we still ignore the flourishing of the wider community because, in part, we don’t know how to measure the church’s ability to connect faith to the realities of life within the institutions where we all live.

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