If we are to re-imagine church as a business, in the biblical sense of the ‘oikos,’ then we need to ask questions of the nature of the business itself, the role of the head of the family, and the roles of the rest of the family. Here are a few thoughts.
The nature of our business:
Providing a context for worship is not the family business. Worship is one aspect of what the family does together. In the Greco-Roman home, the family lived around the courtyard behind the shop-front; and in the Greco-Roman Christian home, worship took place in the dining-room, around the context of the shared meal. Corporate worship is not our ‘shop-front’ we draw people into. The shop-front is something else, and in the context of going about our business we build relationships, and having established a relationship with someone we might invite them to experience our family-life. But the family business is something that enables us to participate in and contribute to the wider economy in which we are set. And ideally that business, whatever it is, ought to generate income.
So we ought to ask, what business opportunity is there in the place God has set us? In a small village, it might be running the shop and Post Office; in a market-town square, a cafe; in a major city context, it might be producing courses that can be franchised (family businesses can grow to be very large: there is nothing inherently wrong with being a large church, though I would suggest that a large church built on the worship experience is unhealthy, and probably draws Christians from other churches rather than grows as a result of mission). It might be after-school homework clubs, or debt counselling, or any of a hundred and one other things (though no one church can attend to a hundred and one things well).
The role of the head of the family:
If church is a family business, then there needs to be a head of the family: family businesses do not thrive where there is a free-for-all approach.
The main roles of the head of the family are to carry the vision;
to help every member of the family to identify how they can best contribute to the family business, according to the gifts they have, and to ensure that they get the necessary training and tools to do fulfil their role;
to host the family meal (in my tradition, we call that meal Holy Communion or the Eucharist);
and to represent the family before the heads of other family businesses.
It is not the role of the head of the family to work on behalf of everyone else; and it is not the role of the head of the family to micro-manage them, either.
The roles of the rest of the family:
In a family business, everyone has a vested-interest, and everyone must pull their weight. I was struck by a passage in a novel I read a while back, in which a man recalled growing up on a farm: he had not been a physical boy, but was a gifted mathematician; and for a while his unwillingness to help caused a rift between the family, until his father confronted him: he need not work the land – other than those times, such as harvest, when everyone must pitch in – but he must contribute, nonetheless; and so he trained in order to help keep the farm accounts in order. Everyone has a role to play, appropriate to the gifts they have been given – and everyone needs to understand where they ‘fit in’ in relation to everyone else. Competition within the family will result in division and loss, and so we must attend to our relationships as well as our tasks: we must share life together.
Of course, our context has become different from that of the ‘oikos’: we don’t live and work as family units, and members of a local congregation live in several family units and work in a diversity of employment (including retirement, and volunteering). This means that our church commitment is ‘time poor’ in comparison. Nonetheless, I believe we need to re-imagine church as a family business – as opposed to a place of sustenance for individuals – and that we can do this to a considerable extent...