Saturday, December 29, 2007

Further on the unspoken model of church - church as business

Blimey - that got you thinking!! See comments section to original post. Responding to the comments...

As has been said, there is a difference between utilising good working practices around money and activities, learning from business. It is quite another to base church as a model on a business. It is the latter I am talking about and question, whilst fully supporting the first. Yes - churches need to be sustainable, which means many have to be entrepreneurial, and when thinking about mission in particular, need to consider communication and event type management, BUT these need to be based on values around the meaning of Ekklesia. Ekklesia is a greek word most common in the New Testament for Church, which playfully takes the word used for a town council which was dominated by rich usually men and excluding everyone else, and turned it on its head as a word for church as an alternative community which scandalously included slaves, children and women. It was focused on the Kingdom of God and the counter cultural teachings of Jesus that are sometimes called the 'upside down kingdom'. They were called to be radically inclusive communities of love. This is something which Moot holds very dear. Secondly, these churches were called to worship the Creator, Redeemer and Companion - the Trinity - although this was not fully understood until the Cappadocian Fathers and the Nicene Creed - so that churches should engage with worship, mission and community that enable people not only to encounter God, but to participate in the divine, and model this in the way they do community. In this way Christianity is profoundly different from other religions where worship is more about what you do for God, where the focus in Christianity is about being transformed by being brought into relationship with the Trinity in all that you do.

So unlike the other models of church which draw scripturally on the significance of Jesus, and different focii of Jesus' teachings. I am concerned that churches modelled on businesses do not know or hold to these central teachings of Christ, and are based on business which can never reflect the Kingdom of God, and therefore based on different values.

However, where churches need to be involved in business ventures, I do think they can use more creative models of how they do business learning from previous christian innovation, for example the co-operative, the not-for-profit organisation. But this doesn't define the church - it defines the churches particular business initiative. There is a subtle difference but an important one for me. Otherwise you just end up with a form of Christendom which I have already outlined in my previous post.

Responding to Andii's comment about working with business people as a form of contextual church - I would argue that the place first is to radically challenge such people with Jesus' teachings and model a way of church that challenges much of business values about economic worth, markets, and products, with the stuff about how to be fully human, to live beyond the addiction of consumption, how to find centeredness, how to give, how to live beyond individualism - and all of this has to be learnt in the context of doing and being church which is counter cultural. Contextualisation for me, is not about absorbing values that go against the Kingdom of God, but more about how we can live and do church with out being syncretetic but holding on to Christ's teachings, exploring how to be in culture but not of culture. I hope that Moot in its future can do this. Moot is considering running a prayer and anxiety group as a contextual form of mission - as many people suffer from anxiety as a result of the pressure on people in modern life - so exploring life skills and forms of contemplative prayer to bring peace, so teaching counter-cultural living skills rather than anything offered so far from within culture if you see what I mean... We are not running self management skills courses, or skills on how to be a better individual and be independent - stuff of culture - as these we believe just drive people further into consumption, addiction and the myth of independence.

To come clean about Moot, we are exploring it becoming a church plant, and the possibility of Moot and I taking on a church in London, with the desired will to set up intentional communities, alt worship services and a cafe/art centre for mission. Now clearly this art centre/cafe will need to be run as a business, it will need to cover its costs, but we are not going to start with this business defining what and who Moot is - as I state is the case for some churches in my previous blog - but take Moot and its governance and inclusive approach modelled on new monastic interpretations of Christ's teachings - a mixture of a Mystical Communion model with a Sacramental model as a basis to what it means to be church in a postmodern urban context, using our rhythm of life from this to answer 'how should we live' and from this seek to set up a form of business for the cafe and not the other way round which would completely distort what Moot is supposed to be.

So I come back to where I started - there should never be a model of church called the business model, as for me, this says that church should be what ever culture dictates and is therefore the ultimate form of syncretism - but rather, we should seek authentic models of church, and then seek how we do business where we need to, based on these Kingdom values, and not the other way round. I never want to be part of a church where it becomes a hierarchical board, with departments where I as a cleric - become the managing director - never - no matter how large a church gets, I don't think that is right - if we are truly to be an authentic body of Christ. So we need to consider how do model servant ministry as radical hospitality, particularly to and with those who are excluded from our market understandings of business.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Salvation through into the Wild

Not sure why especially this year, but I found the whole run up to Christmas to be extremely unspiritual, with the ridiculous consumption and passionless Christian Church services, and what seems the enormous stress and depression of many of my friends. In the last week I have felt more alone and disconnected from those I have loved, than I have for a long time. At the start of today I felt over-whelmed, in pain, and a tad lost.

Well, my own salvation happened when I went to see the film tonight with mates, 'into the wild'. I have so gained from seeing it, to touch the things that matter. It is an extremely good film, and most of it resonated with a lot of my own life, other than the absence of God other than that expressed by an old bloke who talked of God as Love who lived in a communion in the desert. It has a very sad end, one that reminds me with gratitude for God's presence and expression of love to me at times of my own liminality and pain. No, this film has reminded me gratefully of how rich my life has been, where grace and the love of God has drawn me to become more human, I laughed and cried in the film. So this Christmas time, I seek to recommit to questing in life to be who I am and to seek God in all that I experience, so that stuff, things, possessions and the rest do not get in the way of my walk with God.

I am left feeling sad, that for so many, the Christian faith is so distorted so that some never know or hear that it is about Love and acceptance, and a God who comes as a helpless baby to seek the salvation of everything.

It has reminded me how sick I feel at the decadence and lack of humanity I feel at this time of year. Why is it we do less Christian things at this time? Yes family are important, but why is it we separate rather than celebrate? I don't really know.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The new unspoken model of church: church as business

On a recent visit to St Paul's theological Centre in London, I completed a recent lecture on Models of Church using Avery Dulles' models of church as a starting place. In the session we explored the seven different forms of church reflecting different emphases of the significance of Jesus, and looked for examples of local churches that reflected these differing models. These are traditionally 'God as King - Church as political society', 'God as Trinity - Church as mysticial communion', 'God as Sacramental - Church as Sacrament', 'God as Servant - Church as servant', 'God as Proclaimer - Church as Herald' and finally 'God as teacher - Church as discipler'. These are pretty well known, and I cover the Church as mystical communion model & sacrament as the emerging church in my book.

But what I did not say, and something that has increasingly troubled me, is the unspoken model that seems to have seeped in with little questioning due to the financial pressures of the modern world - is the model of 'Church as business'.

What has increasingly astounded me, is that there is so little written about this model, which has been absorbed by many churches, particularly those that are large. Clearly this model is not based on the significance of Christ, but purely on business cultural import.

For me, there is something deeply dangerous about churches going this way without thinking through the consequences. Firstly, because it can distort a high view of the 'Body of Christ' as an alternative community reflecting the Kingdom of God, that seeks to include those who are excluded - with a vision of human community at its best. As soon as church becomes a business this has to change to become something of a process model. From my experience of a church like this, your PCC quickly becomes a Board meeting, your congregants become share holders, and the church becomes divided into departments sustaining business activity. In such a church - where is the place of the poor? for those of little economic or work value? for those with out middle class business skills? For me this is far more of a challenge to the church than the issues it seems more vocal about such as issues concerning sexuality and gender. So why is the church so silent on this issue? Where is it being counter-cultural regarding models of church?

In some ways I can trace the development of alternative worship and the emerging church as a reaction to churches that increasingly became task orientated and dehumanised - as the focus became orientated around the business vision of the organisation. And yes, it shifted from being a fluid community to an organisation. I would argue that many of the successful Charismatic evangelical churches in London are built on a model of 'Church as Business', and demonstrate the weaknesses of this as a model. The question needs to be raised - how are these churches being IN but not OF business culture if they are to be contextualised forms of authentic church. I think many of us who have been part of these forms of church, have experienced the downside of these forms of church. Where Vicars operate as powerful managing directors with significant financial and political power. The danger of such forms to distort the function of the 'body of Christ' is substantial.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against business innovation or the need for creative entrepreneurialism where it is considered and used wisely. However, I am concerned that many do not seem to be aware or have considered the consequences of taking on very capitalist and business models of the church. For me, the greatest downsides - has to be that such churches are not really enabled to take on mission activities that are counter to business values, particularly those that might be counter cultural. They again target the powerful, the rich and successful and avoid the poor, the disdvantaged.... And again have a very Christendom focused approach to Church and mission.

This could be an interesting area for research