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Pursuing Ownership in the Negative World
My new book offers ideas on living in the negative world for families, institutions and mission
On Monday, I recapped a bit about my three worlds of evangelicalism model, in which as Christianity has declined in America since the 1960s, we’ve gone through three phases or worlds. The positive world was a period of decline in which society was nevertheless still basically positive towards Christianity. The neutral world was one in which society was no longer positive but not yet negative towards it either. And the negative world, which began in 2014, is when society turned negative towards Christianity for the first time in the 400-year history of America.
I also gave two examples of this shift to the negative world, the Benham Brothers getting their HGTV show cancelled, and The Crossing church seeing partnerships it formed with a film festival and art gallery getting cancelled.
My forthcoming book with Zondervan Reflective, Life in the Negative World, will be released in January. It goes much more in depth on the three worlds model, and the ways evangelicals responded to it.
There’s a lot of great discussion on that earlier post, so I’d encourage you to check out and contribute to the comments. For example, one of my Jewish readers pointed out lessons that Christian could learn from Orthodox Jewish communities. I agree that we should be looking for lessons from other historically minority communities. In my book I use the specific example of early 20th century American Catholicism as one to study.
But it’s not just enough to understand the negative world we are in, we also have to figure out how to live in it. About three fourths of my book is dedicated to that topic.
My book talks about the need to adopt the mindset of exploration in finding a path through this new, unknown landscape. That means being comfortable with uncertainty, unknowns, and a rapidly changing environment. I draw on some of the ideas created by my friend Dwight Gibson and his firm The Exploration Group. I interviewed Dwight about exploration a couple of years ago. I’m convinced it’s a tool that we need to add to our tool chest.
The book also gives a set of suggestions on how to get started with adapting to the negative world across three dimensions: the personal, the institutional, and the missional. The personal is how we as individuals and families live. The institutional is how churches, communities, parachurch ministries, and even businesses structure and conduct themselves. The missional is about the Great Commission and engagement with the world around us.
I’ll highlight one theme from the book today. It’s about how institutionally we should be pursuing greater ownership over the things on which we depend rather than relying on mainstream institutions or other people’s platforms.
When you don’t have ownership, you are very vulnerable to getting cancelled. For example, a pressure campaign against their landlord led to The Well church in Boulder getting kicked out of the space where they met. The activists knew that the church itself would not bend to their campaigns, but that anyone providing services to the church likely would.
And even apart from evangelicals, how many people built their careers on a social media platform like Instagram or Youtbue, only to find themselves kicked off, demonetized, or made all but invisible by changes in the algorithm?
One reason that this newsletter is an email list first and foremost is so that I always have a direct relationship with you. Even if Substack kicks me off, I can at least go find somebody else to let me email you. I own my email list in a way Youtubers don’t own their subscribers.
One great example of evangelical ownership in the business world is Maddox Industrial Transformer in Battle Ground, Washington. Battle Ground is a suburb of Portland, about 20 minutes from the airport, and is a sort of red dot in a blue state.
Camden Spiller and his brother founded Maddox to disrupt the electrical transformer industry. They’ve been hugely successful, landing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the country for several years running. The company has nine figures in revenue and is well on their way to over a billion dollars in annual revenue.
This type of medium sized, privately held business is a great example of economic ownership. Maddox is a tentpole enterprise in Battle Ground and for the Presbyterian church Spiller attends. It provides very friendly, high-quality employment to many evangelicals, who are able to build strong families with confidence they couldn’t get from a traditional corporate employer. At least one bi-vocational minister works at Maddox for his “day job.”
Maddox is distinguished from many smaller businesses by its scale and profitability. Many small businesses like retail are economically marginal. They basically provide a living for their owners, but not much more. They can’t afford to pay high wages. They often don’t have the resources to survive a cancellation attempt.
But medium sized businesses like Maddox - that is, one with annual revenue between $10 million and $1 billion per year - often have great economics. They can pay good wages and provide good benefits. They need white collar middle management type employees, well compensated sales forces, etc. And they can absorb an extra employee or two if, for example, someone from the owner’s church gets fired from their job for crimethink.
Maddox also produces a lot of wealth that has enabled Spiller to buy a lot of land in Battle Ground, fund his church, support many ministries, and reinvest in other businesses in the hope of replicating his success. That is, ownership is begetting more ownership, including of strategic real estate.
As Spiller puts it, “You don’t have to just be Mom and Pop to hold true to your values.”
Oh, and Maddox is hard to cancel. As you may know, there’s been a huge shortage of transformers. It can take two years’ lead time to get one. If you are a business that needs a transformer, you can’t afford to concern yourself with the politics of the person who is willing to sell one to you right now. Maddox is strategically positioned in an essential, fabric of the economy business.
I have more to say about Maddox, and the need for ownership in general, in my book. The importance of building and retaining ownerships over these medium sized tentpole enterprises is important.
This is just one example of the kind of strategies and ideas you are going to find in the book. Some of these, like the Spiller example and The Crossing example from Monday, are completely new content I’ve never written about before. Some of them involve principles I have discussed, but as with the three worlds model itself, have been updated, organized into a bigger framework, and at an extra layer of depth.
Those of you who have already been reading me will get a lot of value of out of my book, because it contains new content, updated content, and extra depth on some subjects.
But of course, most of you already do know about my three worlds framework and such. So for you, I wanted to create a way for you to go even deeper into the material in the book, and stories like Camden Spiller’s.
On Friday, I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with, but for now please feel free to share any ideas, suggestions, thoughts, or questions in the comments, which are open to all on this post.
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