The other night, my wife and I watched “The Founder”, a biopic about Ray Kroc, the ‘founder’ of McDonald’s. As someone largely unfamiliar with the history of the ‘Golden Arches’, through the film I was introduced to culinary geniuses Maurice and Richard McDonald and the ‘speedee system’ they developed (the source of the great success the restaurants that bore their name enjoyed). They designed a kitchen and business model that provided good food with no plates, no carhops and (most importantly) no waiting – it was revolutionary. Kroc, who sold milkshake blenders at the time, made a sales call at the walk-up ‘diner’ and was immediately smitten.
The McDonald brothers had a great product and a great process, and they wanted to share them with people beyond those living in San Bernadino, California. That was where the genius of Ray Kroc came in, as a franchise specialist. In the span of six years, Kroc expertly established franchises in dozens of locations across America and grew tired of the need to gain the McDonald brothers’ approval for every franchise and any systemic changes. Kroc broke his contract with the brothers and forced them to consider the expense of a lawsuit. They eventually settled on a price ($1 million to each brother, after taxes) and Kroc moved on with everything – the product, the process and the name “MacDonald’s”. It is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a wolf gets into the henhouse.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. James 4:4
As I watched the movie, I thought of the connections that this account of the rise of McDonald’s had with the church (i.e. the people of God, not the buildings).
First, there is an emphasis on the part of the brothers to focus on what is important. Part of their success was offering what people wanted and eliminating everything that was not needed. Early in the film, Dick McDonald tells Ray Kroc that they offered all sorts of items on the menu and were struggling, causing them to reevaluate. They discovered that 87% of their sales were three items – burgers, fries and soft drinks. They decided that this (and milkshakes) was all that would be on the menu. As the church, we would do well to remember what we are here to offer – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then, there was an emphasis on the part of the brothers with putting people first. Much of the disagreements between the McDonalds and Kroc was the purpose of the restaurants – was it to be a commercial enterprise intent of making money or a service intent on enabling families a night out at a reasonable price? I think we all know how that turned out. The church is likewise tempted to choose prosperity over people.
Finally, there is an emphasis on the part of the brothers to refuse any form of compromise. Toward the end of their contractual relationship, Kroc wanted to save costs with a new product, powdered milkshakes that needed no refrigeration. The brothers refused the idea because milkshakes are made with, like, milk. Likewise, the church must steer clear of compromise if we seek to make a difference for Christ.
The church – the people of God co-laboring in Christ – has something wonderful to offer the world. Let us pray that no one robs us of our joy in serving Him.
There is a spirit of competition everywhere you look. Certainly, there is a spirit of competition in sporting events and reality television. My concern is that this spirit of competition has infiltrated other areas of life: as examples, there are some who will do or say anything so that one side of the political aisle wins and the other loses or one stratum of society rises while all other strata fall. Standardized test scores by students at primary and secondary schools are scrutinized as aggressively as baseball box scores and commercial enterprises are often engaged in a “winner-take-all” economic game of chicken.
Most troubling is the ecclesial capitulation to the culture, for we can see, more than just occasionally, the church as engaged in competition. The family of God is regularly engaged in sibling rivalry, arguing amongst ourselves that our programs are better or bigger, our fervor is purer or stronger and our worship is more spiritual or more relevant than the church down the street. The church, while competing with itself, can also be engaged in competing with the culture in a “scorched earth” war of ideas, taking no prisoners in debates on topics as varied as reproductive rights and social justice. There are times, it seems, that the spirit of competition is superseding the Spirit of God.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18 (NIV)
As an alternative to competition, allow me to suggest there are two divergent courses Christians, and the churches they represent, can take. The directions that this Frostian fork in the road creates is the path leading to compromise and the path leading to cooperation. Followers of Christ who refuse to engage in competition against anything but sin may be tempted to compromise their beliefs and practices and wrongly seek to find some middle ground. Personally, I find this unworkable in light of the biblical witness (which unwaveringly upholds absolute truth and the consequences to weakening God’s commands for cultural acceptance). It is not wise to compromise simply to reduce conflict.
Cooperation, without competitiveness or compromise, seems to be the preferred way to engage with those inside and outside the church. This would require the body of Christ to find the common ground instead of the middle ground. It means that the family of God recognizes the universal need for compassion and civility as well as truth and faith. As we embrace cooperation (literally the working together of two or more forces) among the churches, I feel God wants us to work together for the heavenly kingdom. As we embrace cooperation with those outside of the biblical faith, I feel God wants us to work together for the human race.
For me, these thoughts are not abstract but extremely practical. They inform how I see the bigger and better church down the street from me, the real estate agent who wants us to move before we are ready and my choice in November between the diplomat and the developer. Lord, help me, without a spirit of competition or compromise and with a spirit of compassion and civility, engage all those in my life for the benefit of the heavenly kingdom and the human race.