When I first started at my present church, around 24 years ago, there was a real sense that you never quite knew what was going to happen on a Sunday. If you just take this phrase on its own you might think its a positive. It isn’t. One Sunday you might find yourself singing a four hymn sandwich from ‘Sankeys’ Hymn Book. The next week the ‘Brown Book’ would come out. For those who don’t know the ‘Brown Book’ refers to the first of three ‘chorus’ books that David and Dale Garret produced. These were charismatic flavoured books full of songs which almost universally Churches across Australia embraced.
As our church transitioned to a blended and then fully contemporary flavour of service I remarked to people that while McDonalds food was not particularly of good quality it was successful due to its consistency. There is a knowledge and understanding of what human beings respond to and appreciate that McDonalds uses for its own purposes. That basic principle, of having church as something which is at least consistent is a value I have worked hard at to instil in my local church community. Of course music style is but one aspect of church life.
There is an aspect of even the Sunday experience which needs to go beyond consistency. What are the most precious moments of Church life? Where God shows up with conviction, power, encouragement. These are not moments you can plan or schedule. Perhaps they are moments where the most important aspect of church leadership comes into play. Moments of repentance, prayer, solitude, fasting, spiritual discipline. Unbridled praise and exuberance. These are moments of real joy.
Having had a son who worked at McDonalds I have first hand insight into their training and recruitment methods. How is it that they can get a group of teenagers to produce a consistent product across not just a nation, but the world? Cultural differences swept aside a Big Mac tastes like a Big Mac in Perth, Bunbury and Launceston. Some may say this is unfortunate, but it has worked for them. The reason McDonalds has training like this is because it wants customers to have the same experience wherever they go. If your organisation wants to serve increasing numbers of people you need good systems in place. What you are delivering needs to be regular. God created us to live in cycles and seasons. Sunday comes around ever week.
At my church we have implemented a number of systems around welcoming people to church, Life Group integration, Baptism, Youth Group and of course children’s ministries. We understand that as an organisation grows you need systems. In a Church context you might say we have grown beyond one person. It is because we care about people we need a business like system.
There are moments when God has worked in someones life that you just cant explain. Recently at my church we have had 12 baptisms in a month. I couldn’t plan this, I couldn’t make this happen. God has worked supernaturally in peoples lives. In ways I could not orchestrate. You sit back in wonder as you see the Spirit of God at work. People receiving words that have little to do with well crafted sermons or well performed music.
Is the church meant to operate like a business system? Is it a business? These are two different questions. A business has as its intent the desire for profit. To make money. A church has as its intent a desire to fulfil the Great Commission. To see people say yes to Jesus, to believe in Him and be baptised and discipled. Those in Church organisations would say this purpose is higher than business. So a Church is not a business. Yet it has purpose. I don’t believe we should be careless about this purpose but strategic, business like. Its too important.
In Church we are in the people business, what matters most to us is people. In Acts 4 we read that 5000 men were now part of the church. Someone had counted those people because they counted what mattered. My own belief is that the gospel, seeing people say yes to Jesus, is more important than any other human endeavour. In Churches we should use human knowledge and understanding combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and Christian community, to see as many people say yes to Jesus as possible. In fact the church should be at the forefront of how to run an organisation well. This includes welcome, integration, discipleship and community. A Church also leaves space for God to work, moments when He speaks and you have the flexibility to listen and change your plans.
There is evidence that Jesus Himself directly argues for children of the light to be shrewd, to use good money principles to help advance the kingdom. Consider this section of scripture from Luke 16.8-9, “8 “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9 Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
There are a number of metaphors for the church in the New Testament. Body, family, temple. Some may suggest that these imply little organisation. I suppose it depends on how big your family, body and temple is going to be. I imagine the structure of the early church with its explosive growth, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout much of the known world, needed structure and indeed good organisational principles to thrive. Members, were added (Acts 2:41), job descriptions were present (1 Tim. 3), votes were conducted to expel immoral members (1 Cor. 5:4), and votes were taken to elect church officers (Acts 6:5; 14:23). We also read that he church organized a missionary team and sent them out (Acts 13:27). Paul advised, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). To accomplish this task, the Holy Spirit empowered people with supernatural gifting that went beyond what could be expected in a normal organisation. Government, leadership and stewardship.(Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor 12:28). The church is organized and ~ equipped to carry out its purpose, which is the Great Commission.
Are we in the hamburger business? No. Our operation is of far more eternal consequence than that. Is our primary identity that of a business? No of course not. But we should not dismiss human wisdom in growing and organising church. The book of Proverbs is full of it! What thrills me is seeing many churches become all they can be as the Spirit of God works, and human creativity and knowledge is used. What a potent force.
Is it possible we dismiss good business principles because we don’t understand them, or they might cause us to be confronted with truths about our churches effectiveness? At my Church in the last two years we have implemented rigorous feedback procedures. We has also started to measure those things that are important to the Kingdom. Just as we see the early church do.
(For another discussion on this topic and what prompted my contribution to this discussion please see my friend Andrew Hamiltons Blog)