20
May
23

Fuel vs. Friction

I begin today with a thank you to whoever invented podcasts.

So, “Thanks, podcast inventor.” (Actually, Google tells me podcasts were invented in 2004 by Adam Curry and Dave Winer. Thanks Adam and Dave.). 

I like podcasts because they are the things that keep my mind off what is happening to my body while I toil and sweat at the gym.

Sometimes I pick a podcast for its fun and entertainment value. Mostly though I try to find one that is enlightening or edifying. And sometimes these of the latter variety stick with me and keep my wheels turning long after I’ve gone home, showered, and changed clothes.

Last year (June 9, 2022 to be exact), I told you about one of my favorite podcasts, called Hidden Brain. (Found here). Why it is called that I really don’t know. What I do know is that it is almost always a source of surprising insight and revelation. 

Yesterday’s installment featured an interview with Prof. Loran Nordgren who is an author and organizational psychologist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. You may find him here

I was most captivated when Prof. Nordgren began talking about the way organizations seek to influence people’s behavior. He said that when a company wants you to take an action (such as buying a product), they develop their U.S.P. (also called the “Unique Selling Proposition”), and then FUEL it with slick packaging, clever advertising, strategic distribution, and attractive pricing. If you and I don’t bite at first, the company usually responds by adding additional FUEL to the marketing machine. 

It’s like pressing the accelerator in your car to make it go faster.

Far less often, he went on to say, do those organizations ever consider the question of FRICTION. Nordgren defined friction as any force that provides resistance to the person taking the desired action. He gave the example of a furniture store in suburban Chicago that invited customers to design their own custom couches. People stayed involved in the design process right up to the point of actually making the purchase. When it came time to buy, most people stepped away and declined.

When the store turned its attention from FUEL to FRICTION, they discovered that a lot of people backed out of the sale because of FRICTION. In this case, they did not have a plan for what to do with their old couch once they bought the new one. When the store changed its marketing message to say, “AND we will pick up your old couch for FREE!” they found that sales SOARED.

“Very interesting,” I hear you say. “But what does all this have to do with the Christian life?”

Glad you asked. As a Christ follower, I am aware of three distinct commandments I received from Jesus: 1.) Love God (with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength), 2.) Love my neighbor as myself, and 3.) Make disciples. 

All three bring their own special challenges. But I have to admit I am most regularly challenged by that third one; making disciples. I continuously ask myself: how do I do that? Regularly, consistently, effectively, and compassionately?

And no, making disciples has nothing to do with the process of SELLING in any way, shape, or form. But the podcast made me ask myself: do I think more about adding FUEL to my discipleship message? Or am I willing to do the hard work of examining the points of FRICTION that keep that message from connecting to its audience?

Because adding FUEL is easy. You just step on the gas! 

Examining the sources and causes of FRICTION is a whole lot harder. It means asking hard questions. It means LISTENING. It means taking stock of one’s comfortable, habitual behaviors and daring to make changes. It means putting oneself into the shoes of the people you are trying to communicate with and thinking about what matters most to THEM.

And so, in this era of rapid decline in church membership and religious affiliation, we might be tempted to modify Christ’s message so we can reduce friction and “smooth the way” on the path to discipleship. Pastors and members alike feel the pressure to fill those empty buildings and attain new relevance. 

And I must admit, the idea holds some appeal on the surface. These days there seems to be a whole lot of friction when it comes to making disciples for Jesus Christ.

But Jesus himself didn’t seem to care much about the whole concept of friction when it comes to discipleship. He sounds unequivocal about the difficulties of the path when, in three of the four Gospels, he offers some version of this guidance: “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23. Luke then doubles down and repeats essentially the same command in chapter 14, verse 27.) 

In another part of Matthew’s gospel, we hear him say, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14, NRSVU). 

So… what do you think? Add fuel? Decrease friction? Or stay on the sidelines and leave this to the professionals? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Abundant blessings;


3 Responses to “Fuel vs. Friction”


  1. May 22, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    My personal feeling is that a lot of churches do not preach or follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very clear about certain things, like marriage between a man and a woman, and not corrupting children. The churches that vacillate and compromise are not following Jesus Christ. My advice is to be true to Jesus Christ and his teachings. Jesus did not shy away from controversy or death.

    • May 22, 2023 at 5:00 pm

      Thank you for commenting, Dawn. While I could not agree more with you on your advice for Christians to, “… be true to Jesus Christ and his teachings,” I need to correct one teaching you attribute to him. While Jesus talked about marriage and weddings in many of his parables, he is absolutely silent on who should marry whom. He does, however, advise all of his followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). That continues to be the teaching that too many people – for some reason – find impossible to follow.

      • May 22, 2023 at 7:15 pm

        Jesus affirmed and re-affirmed that marriage was between a man and a woman. Jesus accepted everyone, regardless of their circumstances and behavior. He loved everyone. But he also expected people to behave appropriately and love one another spiritually. This is where people get confused between carnal love and spiritual love. It’s difficult to love difficult people, and people are so caught up in being better than others and acquiring more and having more status than others. It takes a lot of energy and self-sacrifice to behave and love like Jesus. Most people can’t do it, which is why the way is so narrow. I’ve also talked to too many Christians who believe that Jesus already saved them, so they can do whatever they want, and they will be forgiven and go to Heaven. Jesus expected people to repent and reform and to “sin no more.” That’s the part that gets left out. People nowadays want to do what they want to do, and they will use Jesus, the Bible, and every other messenger to pervert the message and justify what they want to do. How this changes, I don’t know. I believe God will have to intervene at some point to bring humans back to their senses, and I truly dread that day. God bless you, Russ!


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