The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Zero-sum church

My carpooling comrade recounted an article he’d recently read comparing popular games like Settlers and Ticket to Ride with games like Monopoly and Risk.

“Monopoly is essentially a zero-sum game,” he said.

I kept my mouth shut, hoping to gather from context what zero-sum meant. I had an idea, but it wasn’t entirely clear.

“Sure, you get a bit of cash for passing 'Go,' but essentially if I want $1000, I have to take it from you or the other players. Risk is the same way; it’s all about global domination—totally obliterating your opponent. My gain is your loss.”

Zero-sum, got it.

We were talking about this because we were discussing the ways in which we could solicit the help of friends. Where we might spend money to have it done by a service industry or just have some generic product provided, we could also solicit friends to do something instead.

While that wouldn’t cost money, I argued, it would cost social capital, or what my comrade called “interpersonal equity.” In sum, it would cost something.

But it wasn’t a zero-sum scenario my comrade replied. Not like Risk or Monopoly. I agreed with him: My gain wasn’t necessarily my friend’s loss. In some cases, soliciting the help of a friend could create a shared experience and indeed grow the friendship, adding to both individuals. A synergy could be created, not just a gain/loss scenario. It wasn’t a zero-sum game.

As we discussed zero-sum mindsets, my thoughts turned to serving in the church. I know for myself and I sense from others, there’s a feeling that serving in church is a zero-sum scenario. Serving in the church is my loss and the church’s gain. Or when the church serves me, it’s their loss and my gain. For every benefit there’s an equal and opposite cost. So we end up going to church looking for the “bennies” and afraid of the costs of serving.

Does it have to be this way? Is serving others a zero-sum game? Is the person who takes going to be better off than the person who gives?