The Art of Asking
It's time to stop treating "our people" like tools.

Punk-cabaret musician and incorrigible creative Amanda Palmer shared a powerful talk at this year's TED conference on "The Art of Asking." In her speech, Palmer talks about how simply asking fans for things that she needs has revolutionized her creative life. It's overhauled how she makes and profits from her music.

By replacing a hard transactional model of exchange (I give you an album, you give me 14.99) with a soft, participatory one (I give you all my albums, you give me whatever it's worth to you), she's recaptured the old, community-oriented dynamic of music. Like a street busker, a pub performer, a local act at open mike night, you give Amanda what her music is worth to you.

Though she's certainly not the first to implement a pay-what-you-want model (I think that was Radiohead's In Rainbows, and heck, now it's the entire point of Noisetrade), Palmer takes the strategy way farther than the checkout page. She asks for a piano to practice on while she's touring, and a Twitter follower opens up her house in London. Homemade food, opening bands, couches to sleep on, you name it, she's probably asked for it, taken someone up on it, shared and enjoyed it.

By doing this, she's brought her audience up onto the stage, humanized them by allowing them to assign value to her work. And in this relational exchange, she sees them. Like the eight-foot bride in the beginning of her talk, she looks them in the eyes, hands them a flower, and (even in the abstraction of digitized commerce) gives them the chance to choose her.

As a musician, Palmer's model threatens the foundation of the traditional record industry, which is built on outdated ways to create and distribute music. But it also cuts left, striking at the root of illegal downloading culture, by reorienting the relationship between artist and audience, between the "creators" and "consumers" of recordings. You don't need to lurk around on some Swedish filesharing site to get her back catalog. You can go to her website. And download all of it. For free, if you want, free and theft-free. Or for $10, $40, or whatever it's worth to you. She asks the central question—"how does a musician make a living?"—differently, and it is getting a powerful response.

"Ask and you shall…"

Of course, she's not alone in asking for things. At the first glance, ministry culture frequently faces the opposite problem to that faced by the record industry. Rather than demanding our 14.99 for the "album," we give our product away for free. But are we really that different?

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March 06, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments

sheerahkahn

March 14, 2013  11:31am

"Maturity is a learned attribute, and deeply related to the process of seeing and asking that prompted my post in the first place." I always thought Maturity was a nurtured attribute, one, if ignored, wilts, and lays wasted, though, as I think about it now, I can see how it can be learned. Fair enough on the tangents. Perhaps we can explore those in a later posts. I look forward to more of your thoughts.

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Paul Pastor

March 12, 2013  11:47am

sheerahkahn- No worries. Your questions relating to definition are important, but well outside my original post. In short, a leader's role is to truly "see" their congregation. This involves communication regarding vision and mission. I agree wholeheartedly with your second and third points. When I figure out how to fix our celebrity ministry culture, I'll let everyone know. :) I suspect that it all comes down to maturity. Maturity is a learned attribute, and deeply related to the process of seeing and asking that prompted my post in the first place.

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sheerahkahn

March 12, 2013  11:25am

Paul, I do apologize if I seem to be grilling you...since you seem new to the staff of OoU, and my familiarity with your writing/thinking is vague I am trying to understand your viewpoint, hence, the many questions I am asking. "As a leader, we need to ask people to join us closely in living out our common calling, advancing in our contemplation and spiritual maturity, and working for the good of the church and the neighborhood." I see your position here in this quote, and overall I see nothing wrong with it; but, alas, it is in the details where the weaknesses of the initial statement are revealed. How do we know if each of us on board with the common calling? And by good of the church, and the neighborhood, how do we define, and by what measure to do we consider what is good? And by "good" what are we defining as good...material, spiritual, social? "The vision of Paul's theology is for a community of Chris(t) that is vibrant in its diversity. Practically, we avoid that by being accountable, open leaders." I agree, and yet how often do we read in our newsletters what are little less than "cult of personalities" of articulate pastors who say the right things at the right moment, that we often elevate as a model to imitate for ourselves...who liberates the liberators from being willing followers/drones themselves? How do we dissolve the bonds of "me too!" that has entrapped the spirit of freedom of diversity in the Church? "To your valid concern of "mini-mes," I can only say that "imitating me as I imitate Christ" is not a call to uniformity." I would like to think this too, and yet I see so much of "I want to be like that, too!" Sometimes, mini-me's are not coerced product but rather a voluntary subjugation of the individual to become like the person teaching them...how do we prevent that?

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Tim

March 11, 2013  10:51pm

Some of our experience in "being asked" is merely to fill an institutional slot. Little else. As we showed ourselves responsible in "filling slots" and many of them, we were asked to go on a retreat to share any vision or ideas we had for ministry in the future. We shared many ideas and vision, but nothing was followed up on them. They were dead on arrival with zero response. Being written on the whiteboard was as far as it went. We were merely assists. The leadership was merely posturing so we would "feel" like we were people. There is really an art to this flesh driven posturing that is actually called leadership.

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Paul Pastor

March 11, 2013  8:52am

Steve - thanks for the reminder of Keith Green. Even braver of him, as he had hard overstock instead of a digital medium. Tim - Yes, the "economics" of hired expert/crowd power are pervasive. But I'm also glad that you point out that even in those contexts, ministry (and even intimate ministry) can take place... albeit against the grain. sheerahkahn - We all need to be invited to join more mature believers in the common cause and community of the church. As a leader, we need to ask people to join us closely in living out our common calling, advancing in our contemplation and spiritual maturity, and working for the good of the church and the neighborhood. To your valid concern of "mini-mes," I can only say that "imitating me as I imitate Christ" is not a call to uniformity. The vision of Paul's theology is for a community of Chris that is vibrant in its diversity. Practically, we avoid that by being accountable, open leaders.

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sheerahkahn

March 10, 2013  4:22pm

"Practically, this will likely look like changing our strategy of asking in order to invite individual people to participate in specific ministries in ways that allow them to shape their own involvement." It is well to ask, and it is quite proper to allow individuals to respond to the invitation, but now we must question the expectation that comes with that invitation. What exactly are you inviting people too, and what precisely should their role be...and more to the point, what conditions/restrictions, if any, are placed on the individual who wishes to participate in the invitation...or should they be turned them loose on to the field? and to further this train of thought of invitation, and if training is involved, how do you keep the freshness of individual perspective, while avoiding the possible misfortune of turning out mini-me's that promulgate the condition you wish to change?

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Tim

March 08, 2013  6:39pm

Anytime power ministry is seen as that which is purchased, costs money, requires expensive tools (toys), requires hired experts, involves crowds of people, rather than that which is deeply personal, intimate, and mutual, face to face, then the people around us will be assets rather than simply people. Warm intentions will not change this at all. The two are polar opposite systems of behavior. God's amazing grace has used the old expert-crowd-expensive system to accomplish some of His purposes, but that is no reason to "throw off the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles so we can run the race marked out for us..." Both Jesus and Paul both modeled deeply intimate ministry. It's all been set aside in favor of the crowd/power/perpetual dependency routines. Walk into 99.9% of churches for "worship" and you get the crowd power/hired expert routine.

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Steve

March 08, 2013  5:17pm

Actually, it was Keith Green that pioneered the pay-what-you-can music industry model when he released his album "So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt". Sparrow Records released him from his contract so he could give it away on his own label, PGR Records. Kieth's stated motivation was that since he felt God had put those songs on his heart, he didn't want to let the cost of the record prevent someone from having access to the message.

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Paul Pastor

March 08, 2013  8:38am

Gary - thanks for your comment. Glad that the piece connected. sheerahkahn - You're right in saying that this is a systemic problem that exists because it "works." We evangelicals are the ultimate pragmatists, but "working" at the expense of developing our community isn't really working at all. I'd argue that the system has never been the ideal, and is quickly becoming less practical as cultural church engagement retreats. What exactly are you saying Pastor's/Elders/Leadership-of-the-Church should do that they aren't doing now? I'm saying that we should work to truly see the people in our congregations, and reject categorizing people as either assets or liabilities to church mission. Practically, this will likely look like changing our strategy of asking in order to invite individual people to participate in specific ministries in ways that allow them to shape their own involvement.

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sheerahkahn

March 07, 2013  10:08pm

" Functionally, we reduce the people who join us in our church communities either to assets to use or liabilities to limit or fix." Historically, this is the trend, and I would dare to say that though the intention is not to imply a deep disregard of the laity, I would say that it is a willing collusion with historical precedent that keeps the methodology alive and well...because it works. by the way...this is how the Church has always operated regardless.of.denomination. So...when you say... "We will release more gifts, empower more people for discipleship, and invite people into far deeper growth than shallow, asset-based asking. People can do so much more than things, if we will only ask them." What exactly are you saying Pastor's/Elders/Leadership-of-the-Church should do that they aren't doing now?

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