Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on March 19, 2015



Commodification – “To turn into a commodity; make commercial; to treat as if a commodity.”1

I would like to expand this definition just a bit, not alter it, just expand it.

Commodification – “To make something (or someone), not originally intended to be bought or sold, into an item to be exploited, used up and ultimately discarded as empty and without worth.”2

Is that better?  A little heavy on the cynicism?  Sorry…

Here’s a quote for you: “A sacramental view of the world sees all things as part of God’s good creation, potential signs of the glory of God; things become less disposable, more filled with meaning.”3  Cavanaugh offers this statement with the implicit directive to choose this path, that each of us has the opportunity to wear sacramental lenses when we view our world and that we should take full advantage of that opportunity.  Easy, right?  Just embrace “a sacramental view…”  Ok.

I think by this time in our journey, all of us in the cohort are feeling the pains of our consumerism deeply and personally (Jason, we get it, already!  Ease up a little bro!).  What I’m trying to dig down into is a little more of the why behind the what.  By this time, we can all clearly articulate the problems, where we have strayed from God’s purposes, but I’m haunted by the “why?”  We all agree there’s a problem yet we seem to be incapable of altering our routines substantially beyond the occasional altruistic adjustment (“fair-trade” coffee, Tom’s shoes, “charity” golf tournament etc.) brought on by the pangs of guilt.  Fits and starts, winding back up essentially where we began…  Tired from our frenetic consumerism, entitled to our comforts, ashamed of our neediness.  So, why?

Why do we tend towards commodification?  How have we allowed our compulsion to consume to seep into so many corners of our spiritual DNA?  We have even commodified the most basic of all relationships, the relationship between the Creator and the created.  To consume  has “become the dominant cultural practice, [systematically misdirecting us] from traditional religious practices into consumption.”4  The end result being the commodification of the very thing (religion) intended to make us better, more like our Creator.  Our spiritual practices become a sub-set on a menu of self-centric choices:

“For an appetizer, I’ll have the contemplative spirituality with a side of care for the poor (just a dash please).  Then for the main course, give me the narcissistic, wow-factor Sunday service!  Then for dessert, the tiny pang of altar-call guilt (my wife and I will be sharing that so bring two spoons please).  If we like it, and feel well-treated, we might be back next week… Unless a better show opens up across town, of course.”

Again, I am really good at articulating the problem but every time I attempt to dig into why, I just circle back to “what?”  Maybe it’s just the simple reality of the fallen flesh, this is just how we are and we can’t help it!  We’re prone to follow the path of least resistance, giving in to our fleshly desires.  I don’t know but something in my gut tells me there’s a more sinister action underway here.  There seems to be a foggy euphoria triggered every time the thirsts of the flesh are momentarily quenched (even in the realm of the religious…), just enough to make me want more but not enough to truly satisfy.  I no longer produce anything that I consume, as if the fruits of my own labors are not good enough, I must have the fruits of another man’s sweat.  “We used to make things; now we buy them.”5  And there is never enough to truly satisfy.  This MUST be the modern expression of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) which are not from God, but rather, from the tempter, seeping into the most sacred of domains — our relationship with God.  My heart is pricked, I must find the “why?” so that I can take it before the Lord and surrender it to him.  Our world cannot continue with those of us who are supposed to bear the image of God being swallowed up in our own reflections instead.



1. Dictionary.com

2. Lexicon of Jon-isms

3. William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed, Economics and Christian Desire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 58.

4. Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2008) 225.

5. Cavanaugh, 37.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

15 responses to “Commodification”

  1. Travis Biglow says:


    Thanks for you post. Going back to my post and what you asked me and you hit the nail into the wood. I dont want to be a commodity or become commercial. And thats what 21st Century culture tends to do. The media is a monster and being on TV has to be one of the best places to be turned into something commercial or a commodity. You bought reason to why I have not even looked into it yet just my wife. I want to do everything I am called to do but I sure dont want to becme consumed by commercialism of our time! Great post

  2. Brian Yost says:

    Lacking the ability to even begin to answer your provocative questions (thought I’d use the word provocative just in case Caroline is reading), I’ll settle on just making a comment.
    I love your re-defining of the word commodification. The fact is, there are commodities that we must obtain to survive, but as we consider the consequences of commodification today, we encounter serious issues.

    “To make something (or someone), not originally intended to be bought or sold, into an item to be exploited, used up and ultimately discarded as empty and without worth.”

    This view of what something or someone was originally meant to be pairs nicely with the concept of looking at the end result of our choices.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Brian and Jon,

      In light of both of your comments below, do you think that the church (as a general corporate body) treats their workers (pastors and missionaries) as commodities? And, if so, is this contributing to the mass numbers of ministry professionals leaving the field and mission organizations / churches lacking pastors?

      “To make something (or someone), not originally intended to be bought or sold, into an item to be exploited, used up and ultimately discarded as empty and without worth.”

      “This view of what something or someone was originally meant to be pairs nicely with the concept of looking at the end result of our choices.”

      • Brian Yost says:

        Great question Dawnel.
        While many churches and christian organizations treat their workers in a very godly way, others are no different or even worse than many secular employers. I have heard more than once the phrase “if he doesn’t produce, cut him loose” applied to pastoral positions.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:


          This has been my observation also. In fact, I find that many secular organizations treat their employees much better than Christian organizations. And, Christian organizations that treat their workers well aren’t common enough. Too many times, Christian workers are expected to “sacrifice for Christ” and this is used as an excuse for organizations to exploit their service.

          • Jon Spellman says:

            Hey folks. Sorry for my silence. I’ve been on a men’s retreat at Myrtle Beach over the last couple days… Refreshing!

            Dawnel and Brian. The idea of original intent is what was ringing in my heart this week. God has created us for fellowship, relationship, community, shared-life, etc but we so often see people insight of what they can offer. What they can offer us, our organizations, the world in general, whatever… This is, perhaps, the greatest damage of commodification, the dehumanizing of God’s highest creation. The fact that it regularly occurs within the walls of the “church” compounds the travesty I think.


  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, Great post and great job dealing with the heart issues. The world asks “what” questions while Jesus seems to ask “why” questions. I really like your “why” question and it seems to deal with the heart issues. If you find an answer to your question I think you should write a book and sell it for a lot of money. (-:

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Ha! Thanks Nick. but isn’t that the underlying irony behind this whole thing? Remember the “Purpose-Driven” movement (as one example…)? What was supposed to be a movement of re-establishig the value of the individual and the discovery of his/her “shape and purpose” became a multi-million dollar industry complete with purpose-driven bumper stickers and coffee mugs…

      What shall we do?

  4. Dave Young says:

    Jon, great post.

    So I’ll put in my two cents toward the ‘why?’… When it comes to the commodification of church in a consumer culture. It’s not that we don’t know where to go with an alternative, we can all read scripture and look at our traditions and come up with practice that is more authentic and less cultural driven. We don’t because being different is hard. There is no positive reinforcement either in the culture or the church culture for Christian practice, church life that looks more organic. Add to that pastors like to get paid. So doing something completely out of step, even if you feel it’s more reflective of the kingdom may result in less popularity and less support.

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    Wow, talk about making me think 🙂
    What if that’s the way God made us? To be consumers, but of a different sort. What if God made us to have desires and longings so deep that we can’t help but feel that foggy euphoria from time to time? Our response is the practice of discernment. When is foggy euphoria a “thin place” to steal a celtic term and when does that foggy euphoria only create a greater hunger for something that will not fulfill? That’s why I love the point you brought up about Cavanaugh’s sacramental view – even Jesus took that which was natural, human, secular even profane to transform it into something divine and sacred as well. I’m not sure the “why” question will provide you with what you want.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary… I wonder of when the answer to “why” becomes clear (or at least less murky) I’m just going to find that it isn’t the core question that I think it is… It could be that we are wired to consume, to have desires and our spiritual genetic code just keeps pushing us that way. Then, add to that the tainting of the fallen flesh, and it is a perfect storm of sorts.

      This stuff is bending my brain

  6. Dawnel Volzke says:


    Your last sentence resonates loudly, as it is the statement that rings in my heart. “Our world cannot continue with those of us who are supposed to bear the image of God being swallowed up in our own reflections instead.” The reality we must face is that we can’t continue down this path. My heart is heavy today, as there aren’t easy answers. I see too many people and churches who claim to follow Christ, but don’t.

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, “Our world cannot continue with those of us who are supposed to bear the image of God being swallowed up in our own reflections instead.” Agreed! I would say there is a huge lean towards “victimization” within the Church on the issues of consumerism and materialism. I feel it within me. We want to blame, but have to look in a mirror. If we “as the Church” can’t live an obedient life that offers an alternative story of justice, compassion, kindness, fairness, equality, moderation, sacrifice, contentment, etc . . . what are we doing . . . are we even really the Church???

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