The middle-aged man stood before our group of mostly thirty-something congregational lay leaders and announced with the kind of certainty that comes from being a paid, invited consultant, “80% of most congregations are comprised of people with the spiritual gift of helps.”
Our pastoral team had invited him to come to our church in the early 1980’s to help us come up with a way to move forward after the resignation of the leader who’d launched the church during the Jesus Movement during the early 1970’s. The leadership team was wrestling with how to take a church that had formed organically out of a home Bible study and was currently renting space in a nearby school to a place of stability and maturity in the community. Leadership and organization questions drove our conversations and prayer meetings – as did the specter of an upcoming building program.
No one questioned our paid expert’s bold statistical claim. (I’ll confess: it was at this point that I stopped listening to him as if he were bringing the solution to our church struggles, folded my arms, and turned up the volume on my B.S. detector.) His statistic was the basis for the easy fix for our congregation, which was to leverage all these
peons helpers into our workforce. We leaders – the ones with the important gifts! – were the command and control people. The helpless helpers were the grunts in our ecclesiological army.
OK. Maybe he didn’t phrase it exactly that way. His business-style solutions, which had a lot to do with “helping” those 80% use their gift so they’d become our energized volunteer workforce, were growing in ascendancy in the Church as the flames of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960′s simmered into the Evangelicalism of the 1970’s and 80’s. A whole lot of us were busy trying to figure out how to “do” church better and make ourselves seem less weird and more appealing to others. Was the emPHAsis off of this good-hearted desire of ours?
I’ll be looking at seeker evangelism and worship in upcoming posts in this ongoing series, but today, I’d like to reflect on the particular business-principle-driven church organization and management that grew like ragweed among Evangelical and Charismatic congregations filled with post-Jesus Movement boomers. Not many then questioned the syncretistic impulses that drove a leadership culture bent on marrying modern Western business principles with the way approached ecclesiology.
Certainly, organizing God’s followers isn’t new. Scripture is full of organizers from Moses to Nehemiah to the apostles choosing deacons to ensure poor widows were being cared for. The Apostle Paul took his friends in Corinth to school on the way in which the body of Christ was supposed to be organized and function.
Organizing wasn’t the problem. The challenge came in the way in which authority was expressed and power used. We see it in operation in Scripture from the fall all the way through the beautiful images of complete surrender to King Jesus in the final movements of the book of Revelation. Certainly, every generation of church leaders has had their own costly battles with the temptation to be their own little king or queen of the their corner of the church. In the wake of the Jesus Movement, Evangelicals sometimes relied on slogan-y notions of servant leadership that led many in church offices and board rooms to slap business-style organization charts onto their wall. The many who had the gift of helps (which sometimes included 80% of all church members and 100% of all new people until they proved themselves otherwise) were funneled into a corporate-ladder road to spiritual maturity. Serve on the bottom rung and work your way up.
Serving isn’t the problem. Jesus himself chose the bottom rung and became a servant to and for us. But emphasizing systems, organization and business leadership culture has sown some curious seed among us.
A generation after the Jesus Movement flooded the Evangelical and Charismatic world with young, committed Christ-followers, this world is having an identity crisis. Our children aren’t sticking around in our churches – and neither are many of us. We are known in caricature for our culture warring and mean-girl ways. The Church is in a state of transition in the West, though in the global South and East, she is growing like fruit-bearing kudzu. This transition here is an opportunity for a bit of spiritual housecleaning that might create some space for reflection on the unintended consequences of some of our choices and desires. Truly, we reap what we sow.
What we sowed a generation ago when we sought to marry business principles with church leadership and organization:
- Order that would mirror the model with which we’re most familiar with in American culture – business
- A way to help everyone feel they had a role in the mission of the local church
- A means of quantifying growth
- A way to manage and control the unpredictable people factor in ways that seemed to guarantee “success”
What we’ve reaped a generation later:
- Greater-than-ever sacred versus secular vocational divide
- Congregations filled with spectators instead of participants
- Spiritual immaturity: people who’ve been told they need to focus on helping/serving instead of a more fully-formed model of whole-life discipleship
What do you think? Has the emphasis on business leadership principles when it comes to church organization had some positive aspects? What would you add to either list?