Among church board members, two complaints stand above all others? The first is that the church is not being run enough like a business. The second is that the church is being run too much like a business. Maybe there has always been this dichotomy in the church but I believe it has become pronounced due to changes in Western society.
A Family Affair
When I have done visioning work with congregations over the years, I have asked them how they would characterize themselves. Every dying congregation I’ve ever worked with gives me the same response: “We are a warm friendly family.” The Bible uses the fictive family metaphor throughout scripture so should not we applaud a congregation that envisions itself as a warm friendly family? That depends. Are we talking about a Greco-Roman family or a modern Western family?
The Greco-Roman household was a domicile and a business inseparably wrapped up in one. The members of the household were workers in the household business and the paterfamilias was in charge of the business. The idealized household was the Roman villa with slaves and servants working vast amounts of land. Households were missional enterprises where everyone was devoted to the business of the paterfamilias.
The integration of household, business, and family, all rolled up into one, has been the norm in most civilizations throughout time until the past couple of centuries. Industrialization moved work out of the household and created a division between where we work and where we live. As recently as 1885 in the United States, it is estimated that on average of 80% of everything a households consumed was produced by the household (this would include food, clothing, energy sources, building materials, tools etc.) By 1915, just thirty years later, 80% of everything consumed was purchased from outside the household. The percentage has gone far higher than that since.
The impact has been that household and family are no longer missional. Work is the place where wealth is generated and the home is where things are consumed. Home is our protection from the threats and challenges of the outside world. It is our cocoon of safety where we draw the blinds and lock the doors to keep the world out. It is a place where we expect to receive nurture and emotional support. In other words, home and household has become about “me and mine,” not a missional unit that engages the world.
As we moved into the late twentieth century, the family has become more destabilized. More people are looking for a surrogate family. For many, church has become the place where we go to “get fed” and have our needs met. It is a place of emotional support and belonging. The pastor is often seen as a parental figure nurturing the children. In other words, church has become an extension of our early twenty-first century cocoon style family. These “warm friendly families” generally do a terrible job of bringing new people into their family.
Down to Business
However, not everyone has bought into this cocoon mentality. There are churches that see themselves as being about mission. They are in the mission business. They have detailed strategic plans, large physical plants, highly trained staff, and market segmented programs. Consumers show up and order from the religiosity menu as the church does its best to meet the consumer’s needs. Yet most folks involved here feel about as much like siblings in Christ with fellow members as do people attending a major concert do with each other. They feel about as close to the staff in these churches as they do to the sales attendants at the department store. The pastor is frequently seen as the CEO. There is much going on but where is the strong sense of identity and unity with brothers and sisters? Where is the affection and support of a band of brothers and sisters? Church has simply become an extension of our early twenty-first century style of business.
The Family Business
It strikes me that we need to recover the New Testament vision of the household. It is a household that is a family business. Or maybe another way to describe it would be a “missional family.” We need to recover the idea of God as the paterfamilias and the CEO, not the pastor. The pastor and other leaders are older brothers and sisters coaching younger brothers and sisters as they learn the ropes of the family trade; the family trade being the exemplification and restoration of shalom with God, with each other, within ourselves, and with creation. Community, or koinonia, would not be an end in itself but a by-product of participating with each other in mission. It would also be a family that is ever in search of knew siblings to be adopted into the family and its work.
The issue is not that we need to run things more like a business or more like a family. We need to run it like a family business. I fear we will endlessly be spinning off into unhealthy ways of being the church until we are able to recombine family with mission.