The title of this article is ripe for the cynical picking.
I would gamble that, by even reading this article, you’ve already developed a strong opinion regarding mega-churches with regional directors and quarterly reports. You’re likely familiar with the conferences where Jesus and John Maxwell are quoted equally. Undoubtedly, you’ve been in conversations where Steve Jobs and Apple have been used as examples for trying a bold new approach in your ministry area. You may be familiar with phrases like “the franchised church” and “professional Christianity”. I bet you either hate or love Andy Stanley. And however you feel about Andy, you feel doubly that way toward Craig Groeschel.
One of the things I admire about Sunday| Mag is the concise format of each article. Instead of exhaustively debating the value/harm of CEO leadership mentalities or business models within the Church, all that’s allotted is a space for brief consideration. And to this end, I would like to suggest that at the root of all this “danger” is one underlying issue: storytelling.
The theme of “story” is very prominent in Christian creative circles right now. Lots of churches have realized the widespread worth of telling stories in their gatherings: videos of life change, expressions of generosity, cardboard testimonies, slideshows of community service, Instagram-able moments and captions, quotable examples of attendees inviting co-workers, etc. For a long time, musicians were the only employable candidates for creative arts in most churches. But now, nearly every day, I see a new job opportunity arise for a full-time videographer, storyteller, animator, photographer, designer, or creative project manager. There are even musicians being hired whose job is purely to score the stories.
This is a beautiful thing. God is not only the author of the greatest story; He’s also the author of Story itself. Art was His idea.
And yet, as many artists come to find out, there’s a point somewhere in developing these compositions in mass that the beauty gets lost. The stories of others—our task—begin to disconnect from our own stories. 5 years in… 100 videos in… 200 events in… there’s a point where the content becomes so familiar that it feels inauthentic. The writer discovers how to incite applause without meaning what he’s written. The director evokes tears from his audience while he remains unmoved. A machine is born—a good machine, creating a product that genuinely benefits its consumers—but a machine, nonetheless.
In the discussion of corporatization, I would submit that there are many other art forms that can follow this same trajectory: the art of leadership development, the art of delegation, the art of streamlining, the art of multisite expansion, the art of specialized personnel staffing, the art of financial planning, and so forth. All of these are wise, God-created concepts. In the beginning, their implementation has the potential to be pure and personal. But over time, they can befall a similar fate: ministry transforming into maintaining a machine.
And it’s this, the machine, that feels so ungodly; at the very least, inhuman.
Strangely, the cure for apathetic storytelling is possibly more storytelling… but from a different perspective. People are drawn to art that they can identify with. If the stories of lives being eternally restored are uninteresting to us, the deficiency is not in the story. The deficiency is in us.
I have witnessed this over and over again in myself and in others. When I become involved in the lives of the homeless, giving of my own time and resources, my compassion for homeless people everywhere suddenly emerges. When a lady volunteers to lead a small group of high school girls, she acquires awareness not only for them but for high school girls everywhere. When a family becomes an advocate for a disenfranchised child in another country—when they speak the child’s name at the dinner table during prayer—they knowingly or unknowingly expand their worldview every single day. Our understanding and appreciation of the grand plot overflows from the realization that we are a part of it.
Faith is a storyline that we must reinsert ourselves into everyday. Otherwise, failure to do so inevitably replaces our sincerity with systemization. The real danger of corporate Christianity is when we gain the ability to administrate the communication of our faith without administering the personal application of it. Or simply put: we’re not called to tell the story; we’re called to be in the story. And by being in it, we are henceforth compelled to tell it. Even more, we find a deeper satisfaction in hearing it over and over again.
Big buildings, staff structures, management seminars, workflow strategies, contract terms—these are just colors in a palette. In the hands of the church that talks about evangelism and purity but never bothers to serve the poor or ask the honest questions, a shallow and deceitful picture gets drawn. Yet, these same colors in the hands of a church who moves towards the mess, who inserts themselves into the plot of hurting people, reveals an image of shelter, community, and stewardship.
Dream big. Set audacious goals with thousands of people and incredible systems that work together to reach the corners of the globe. Tell beautiful stories. But let one hand grip the pen while the other one extends outward. We’re not here to make machines; we’re here to make movements.