Malcolm Gladwell started an educational firestorm when he compared two universities in his popular Revisionist History podcast. Gladwell compared the food offered in the cafeteria at Bowdoin College with the food offered at Vassar College, along with which school is able to help lower-income students attend their college.
Both are liberal arts colleges, and Bowdoin, according to Gladwell, has invested in perks that attract students—perks such as the gourmet food offered in the cafeteria. Vassar, according to Gladwell, has put resources in helping lower-income students instead of providing amazing food. He concludes that going to Bowdoin is a moral issue:
If you’re looking at liberal arts colleges, don’t go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin. Don’t give money to Bowdoin or any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall.
He declares it is a moral issue because saying yes to the value of gourmet food means saying no to the value of helping lower-income kids. His conclusions are debated, but he is right about how values shape behavior in any context. Here are three implications for ministry leaders.
1. A church’s collective behavior reveals what is valued.
You can have value statements hanging on a wall or plastered on a website, but you can tell what is really valued by how decisions are made. In ministry, behavior reveals what is really valued. If community is really valued, then leaders are in groups. If local missions is valued, then stories of how people are being served are commonly shared.
2. Values often collide.
Leadership would be easy if values never collided, but they often do. People want both great food and an economically diverse student population. But if you can’t have both, which do you choose? In ministry, values often collide. It takes wise leadership to decide and declare what is most important.
3. Where you put your resources is what you really value.
If Gladwell is correct, the school that values food more than helping lower-income kids proves it with their resource allocation. In ministry, your budget is a great indication of what you really value. For example, if you really value kids and student ministry, your budget will show it. If you value leadership development and discipleship, your budget will show it.