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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.

2 comments:

Rob said...

As I said on an early comment, there is a strong trend in Australia and New Zealand to see the pastor as the CEO under a Board of Governance. This achieves efficiency and can be quite effective in working towards growth. But my experience is that helping a group of Jesus' followers to grow to be more like Him is not necessarily something that can be achieved efficiently. True growth requires prayer, the work of the Holy Spirit, personal care, and time, none of which is necessarily an efficient use of a church's resources.

Andii said...

This is something that's been churning round the back of my mind since you wrote it Ian. I'm still finding that I both want to affirm what you say and yet also affirm the possibility that a model of church as business might be possible.

Here's where I'm up to with it: I think that Dulles's "church as instiution" is actually the umbrella for a legitimate model of 'church as business'. However I'm with you in thinking that the monetary profit motive is not an appropriate driver or value-basis for church. However, please note what you wrote above:-
"... 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."

'Ekklesia' was a model drawn from secular culture, with some bad stuff centre-stage (male plutocracy, primarily). As you say, it is a subverted model that becomes a primary means to understand Christian corporateness. I rather suspect that some early Christians might have been concerned about the model of Ekklesia for similar reasons that you are putting church as business at arms-length.

In that 'ekklesia' kind of way, then, I think that it is possible to redeem 'church as business'.

That said, you are right that the most easy to identify exemplars of that model do seem to have fallen into the connotative traps of unreflectingly adopting that model. As I say: I think that it is actually a version of Church as Institution.

My questions are not so much whether it is/could be an appropriate model (all of them come with potential baggage we don't want) but whether in our cultural context it is more or less likely to foreground the bad or the good stuff in the model.I think that church as family business might work in our culture, whereas church as TNC is probably a bad idea.

You are right to worry about syncretism. But then, that's always one of the dangers to avoid in any acculturation. The opposite is, of course, that of irrelevance or non-communication.

Instead of monetary profit Jesus enjoined us to work for food that endures to eternal life. I would say we are, in fact, in that business. 1 Cor 3:10ff has us in the building business where the profit is heavenly, for further example.