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

Course Correction

Written by: on October 24, 2023

Black-and-white thinking
In Oxford and immediately afterwards, our cohort had numerous conversations about over-simplified thinking. Simon Walker spoke about the overwhelming complexity of our current era and how our brains desperately grasp at over-simplifications. I found his explanations comforting. It’s not our fault that we reach for simplicity. Our brains crave it. Of course, as responsible thinkers, our task is to stay engaged in the nuance and reject “pantomimes”, as Walker called them. [1]

I bring this up because I’m about to take you on a journey that will necessarily be over-simplified. Bear with me.

Close your eyes and imagine
I’d like to imagine together a giant game of tug-of-war. On one end of the rope, we have unregulated capitalism. On the other end we have Christian fellowship as described in Acts 2. Capitalism, by nature, entails the relentless pursuit of profit whatever the consequences. It sets up the accumulation of material wealth as the highest aim. Karl Polanyi traces this posture back to the Industrial Revolution “which was accompanied by a catastrophic dislocation of the lives of common people.” He goes on to lament the “readiness to accept the social consequences of economic improvement, whatever they might be.” [2] Previously there was a certain societal contract of obligation to one’s neighbor and perhaps ideas of decorum about flaunting one’s wealth. These societal norms were elevated above capitalism; in a sense they “regulated” the system. But as those societal norms weakened, the accumulation of personal wealth and by consequence the unabashed pursual of self-interest became acceptable, indeed lauded. In some, certainly not all, streams of evangelicalism, this has gone so far as to produce a certain disdain for the poor. [3] If “the pinnacle of identity in market society is the individual who ‘pays his way’, is in ‘nobody’s debt” [4] the corollary seems to say that the less fortunate must be lazy, morally inferior, all-around “less-than.”

To return to our tug-of-war analogy, on the other end of the rope we have Acts 2:42-27 which paints a picture of Christian fellowship. As an integral part of their brand-new faith in Jesus, this community prioritized sharing and providing for those in need over and above holding on to their personal wealth. We find no moral judgement against the poor, just a fraternal love and devotion to the fellowship of believers.

Some of you good evangelical readers are probably worried that I’m launching into a defense of socialism. Don’t worry, that’s a conversation for another time. My aim in using the tug-of-war analogy is to show how modern individualism pulls us away from the communal nature of our faith. In its very essence, the Christian faith is meant to be lived together in a way that I fear modern, western evangelicalism misses completely. In the New Testament, notably in Acts 16, we see examples of whole households coming to faith and being baptized together. We see kinship language used to address believers, pointing toward the church’s nature as a spiritual family. This implies far more solidarity and mutual accountability that we see in most evangelical churches today.

When we allow our individualism, inherited from our culture, to override this essential “togetherness” of our faith aren’t we buying into the “secular religion” of the capitalism market that Dr. Clark references in his dissertation? He writes, “Polanyi sees a move from a Christian society with a responsibility to others, which limited the effects of markets, ultimately replaced by a turn to the self that “renounces human solidarity” with the development of the “secular religion” of the market.” [5] If we allow this to happen, individualism has become our idol.

Living in Tension
How do we back away from the cliff of black-and-white thinking that I’ve nearly pushed us over? How do we deal with the very real tensions of living in a capitalist society and living in beautiful Christian fellowship at the same time? Again, the tug-of-war analogy is useful.

Despite my teenage dream, I am not going to go live in a Christian commune. Church leaders, you are not going to impose a redistribution-of-wealth scheme on your congregations. But maybe we could start asking ourselves and asking each other, what is enough? How do I know when I have enough…money, material possessions, reputation, influence? Is more always better? What are the limits I won’t cross in the pursuit of self-gain?

However we choose to live out this communal faith, I’m convinced that the church can and should play a role in correcting the excess individualism and materialism that we see all around us.


1 Simon Walker, Lecture given at Portland Seminary Advance, (Christ Church College, UK, September 25, 2023).

2 Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001) 35.

3 Kaitlyn Schiess, “The Disrupters Podcast.” InterVarsity Press, InterVarsity Press, 9 Jan. 2023, www.ivpress.com/the-disrupters-podcast.

4 Clark, Jason. Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship. London School of Theology, 2018. 143.

5 Ibid., 135. 

About the Author


Kim Sanford

10 responses to “Course Correction”

  1. Kally Elliott says:

    Kim! That was not simplistic! That was super helpful to me as I wade through all this information this semester! I love your wisdom, “Church leaders, you are not going to impose a redistribution-of-wealth scheme on your congregations.” Trust me, I’ve tried…or at least I’ve preached about this….and you are correct, I didn’t get far! Hahah!

    You ask some important questions, questions that do preach, questions that as a church leader I need to keep asking myself and my congregation.

    Also, your writing, as usual, is clear, concise, and interesting to read. Thank you.

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kim, you wrote, “How do we deal with the very real tensions of living in a capitalist society and living in beautiful Christian fellowship at the same time?” This sounds like a question of being in, but not of, the world, which is so important. I wrestled with this in my mind in our recent reading(s). We do need to ask our fellow Christians, “What does it look like to follow Jesus in our present socio-economic context?” I agree that local churches (By the way, are these Clark’s “islands of social care” in some ways, from your perspective?) should speak into the challenge of swimming in a world of materialism and excess individualism. When my wife and I were in our 20s, we didn’t join a commune, but we did start a small church that met in our home (and other smaller places). Our hope was to figure out some of these questions that you’ve raised in a way that, at the time, I didn’t feel like we could so easily tackle in the large church we had been a part of. That’s another story, but your post reminded me of those days.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Interestingly, a number of us have been referencing the idea of being in the world but not of it. I think this is one of those phrases that takes on different meanings for different people. To be clear, I agree with your application in dealing with the tension between capitalism and community. But I was just remembering that when I was growing up in a mostly Mennonite context, that phrase was commonly taken to mean that we physically live in the world but we should actually have as little to do with the world as possible. In other words, we are inevitably “in the world” but our Christian ideal was to be “not of the world.”

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    Hello, Kim,
    I actually started reading this week’s posts because I was having a hard time grasping Polanyi (probably because I am consumed by my Design meeting this week).. Your post was very helpful and gave much food for thought regarding our individualistic and materialistic society. You stated “In its very essence, the Christian faith is meant to be lived together in a way that I fear modern, western evangelicalism misses completely.” I find myself wondering how to change this in our own congregation since our church context is in what was cited last year as the loneliest area to live in America as well as the wealthiest. I wonder how, psychologically, materialism and individualism feed into chronic loneliness. This could be someone’s NPO for a future doctoral student.
    Thank you for such a well-written, throught-provoking post.

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Wow, Esther, I think you’ve hit on a really important insight. Materialism and individualism absolutely contribute to chronic loneliness. When we’re taught to only worry about ourselves (including taking responsibility and being self-sufficient) the next logical step is that I shouldn’t ask for help. And then we’re taught that accumulating wealth (or at least being financially able to take care of ourselves) is the mark of success. It’s almost as if we’re unconsciously communicating that living in give-and-take, serve-and-be-served community is somehow an indication of weakness. It’s almost like we’re setting ourselves up for loneliness and isolation.

      • Esther Edwards says:

        You mentioned “self-sufficiency”. I believe what might be the hardest in our individualistic society is not serving others, but perhaps being served. It is humbling to be served. When I serve others, I can still appear to have the upper hand. This was a point that Jennie Allen made in her book, “Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World”. I lent the book out to someone so I don’t have it, but that was a point I remember Allen making that has stuck with me.

  4. mm John Fehlen says:

    It’s all about tension, isn’t it?

    Every time I teach on Acts 2 & 4 about the way the church responded to one another, I fear being labeled a “socialist.” How can we get beyond that? I think the answer is found in the tension. Yes we want to be Book of Acts people and function with communal faith and care for one another, and yet we live in 2023, and there are heavy forces pushing against that kind of living, especially when the forces of darkness push against a biblical standard. I don’t want to resign however. I want to keep contending for more and better ways of operating in the fullness of the Spirit, with biblical fidelity, and the heart of Father God.

    I hear those similar desires in your post. Thank you Kim.

  5. Jennifer Vernam says:


    Like Esther, your comment “In its very essence, the Christian faith is meant to be lived together in a way that I fear modern, western evangelicalism” caught my attention. It took me back to Bebbington’s 4 postures of Evangelicalism…. how do you think the focus on individual conversion may have contributed to the trend you are referencing, here?

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Good connection. I think evangelicalism’s emphasis on individual conversion was itself a necessary course correction to practices and assumptions of previous eras. Now we’ve just let the pendulum swing too far and it’s time for another course correction. Shout out to Todd who talked about progression in last week’s chat. His comment brought a lot of clarity to my thinking. We’re on this long journey toward the Kingdom of God and each bit of progress or “reformation” is a good step forward but it doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. There will always been another “correction” needed in the future.

  6. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    Your post was just the right amount of simplification. Let me say before I go any further, I am grateful that you are not living in a Christian Commune, we would likely have never met!
    You raised some wonderful questions in this post. This one in particular had me thinking, you say, “What are the limits I won’t cross in the pursuit of self-gain?” What if we all held this question on the forefront of all the decisions that we make. This is such a wonderful self-regulating question that we should know the answer to. Thank you for this, I will be using it for myself and my clients.

Leave a Reply