Be Wary of NFTs, Pastor

Web3 has brought with itself an exciting onslaught of possibility and energy. There are new markets of exchange, new places for community building, decentralized means of business and finance, and so much more.

And then there’s the NFT.

The non-fungible token has become a bit of a meme of itself at this point. I see two viable futures for the concept.

It disappears into obscurity and becomes another Internet phenomenon.

It re-centralizes under the powerful markets that control and have controlled everything.

But that’s not exactly the reason for this blog. Far be it from me to make bold claims about how the side hustle culture and the pastorate. The Apostle Paul was a tent-maker, after all.

I’m also far from a technologist. My two viable futures are merely guesses. I’ve been right before and I’ve been wrong before - Facebook has managed to survive a scandal I thought might surely end it. I’m not infallible with tech predictions.

However, I am in tune with the current connection between the church and the tech culture.

And, for that reason, I make the gentle statement:

If you’re in a position of leadership in the Church,

be very, very careful when it comes to NFTs.

Churches are undeniably connected to the market in some way, shape, or fashion.

Anyone claiming that churches are separate from the economy has never had to file taxes as a self-employed clergyperson. Like it or not, unless we Ron Swanson this mess, the church is connected against its better wishes.

Simply being connected, however, does not mean that we cannot strive to be holy in our finances.

To be holy is to be set apart - sounds kind of like decentralization, huh?

Maybe. I’m open to the possibility of the future of the church and the NFT. But I’m continuing to hold it off with a ten-foot-pole.

Consider for a moment one of the most popular NFT iterations currently existing: Gary Vee’s VeeFriends.

These tokens consist of crude and childlike drawings that are made available for certified purchase on the blockchain. With the purchase comes admission to a leadership summit crafted by Vaynerchuk that will feature presentations by a litany of gurus and financial leaders.

When I first learned about these drawings, I thought this was ridiculous. I thought it proof that the NFT is surely a scam. Who cares about a drawing from Gary Vee? He’s no artist. That’s not his product. It’s not profiting a creator, as NFT prophets might use as an example of the benefits to the concept.

Then I learned of the conference admission behind the NFT and it all made sense. Vee is a speaker. He is utilizing the bubble of the NFT as a means to promote and connect his audience with the event in a way that will both lead to higher profits and elevated interest. After all - I now know about the event despite not following Vee closely. And now, so do you. Boom - marketing.

So what of the NFT? Does it matter that it is decentralized? Will Vee continue to sell tickets using the blockchain? Who cares. It doesn’t matter. It worked for his purposes. He has an event (his product) and it was able to be delivered via the blockchain (the market).

Suppose that next year some new technologist begins to promote a new model of blockchain with a better (new and improved, same great flavor!) decentralized methodology.

Call it a NTC - non-transmutable coin.

Suppose that it gets media attention - both negative and positive - why wouldn’t Vee use this new certificate platform for his event then? Call it Veebuddies, this time. And this time he actually draws them with colored pencils! Truly trendsetting. A visionary, if ever there was one.

Here’s what I’m getting at: at the end of the day, Vee’s success is still his own. He has built an audience for years. He then utilized the trending market at the time to maximize the reach of an event that he had planned anyway. NFTs are simply another means by which to deliver the product to the market. Decentralized? Maybe. Regardless, it seems to still have been fairly centralized to something: multi-millionaire Gary Vaynerchuk.

While my bias is likely clear, I don’t inherently disagree with Vee’s methods or the concept of the blockchain as it were. I think there are scams in the system. But there are scams everywhere - not just the NFT exchange.

My greater concern in this is the role of the church. Our product isn’t one that is sold - it’s served. It’s offered. We’ve thrown out the church tax for a reason. It’s wrong. We’ve had indulgences, where forgiveness was bought and sold. It was wrong.

Like Vee, the church has a rather remarkable audience. We could utilize (and arguably abuse) that audience for potential Scrooge McDuck finances.

But we are called to a greater thing.

What NFTs have failed to convince me of is their greater worth beyond a financial exchange. It’s another iteration of a financial contract. It’s another PayPal. Another BitCoin. These things aren’t bad, but they also aren’t good. They just are.

The church must explore these options and discern the difference between finances and stewardship. It’s our obligation as pastors and leaders of the church to understand the importance of knowing each concept for its true purpose.

Should you allow your church to accept cryptocurrency? Sure. That’s a decision worth considering. Can you be paid in ETH? Maybe. That’s something that could be explored.

But I fear if we ever breach the wall of the church producing or selling NFTs, we will be begging for someone whose name begins with a ‘J’ to come and flip our tables.

For this reason, I am going to continue to learn and keep the thing away from my pastoral ministry like the plague. But I understand the temptation if you are a pastor and seek to explore the connection. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to hide your whips.


March 22nd, 2022