Lecture 10: Metaphors for the Church

Course: Leading Healthy Church Culture

Lecture 10: Metaphors for the Church

A. Organization

Let’s talk more about assumptions because it is important to understand what they are. If you see your church as a football team; your mental construct of your church is a football team. What would that communicate? What would you value and what would it look like? Well, you would value the quarterback as he is the highest paid person on the team usually. There would be people playing different positions. There would have to be an agreement on the play that you were going to run. So, what is the goal of a football team? It is to win against the opponent. There is even a win-lose within the team itself. What is the role of the coach? His rule would include inspiration, training and encouragement. He doesn’t actually play the game. A lot of leaders have an athletic view of their ministry. This mental image is going to create for us what we perceive as appropriate in terms of our view. It is not about whether it is right or wrong, but a mental construct that is affecting what we believe and how we function. If we change the image to a symphony then what would the characters be like? It would include harmony, blending and sound and performance. The goal isn’t to win but it is of excellence. There is no competition in a symphony as such, especially during a performance. What is the role of the conductor in a symphony? It is to keep everybody in time mostly and also in balance with one another. So, if our mental construct of a church is a symphony as opposed to a football team, our image would change. How is a leader different in a jazz band compared to a symphony? The leader in a jazz band would play an instrument. So the person is a participant. What is the different in their functions?

B. Machine Metaphor

Your mental construct impacts how you perceive what you perceive as being real and appropriate. So, if I say the word, machine; what are the characteristics of a machine? Words like efficiency will apply to this word and also it is impersonal. There are no feelings attached to it; you just want it to work, however, it does require maintenance and tuning. The goal of a machine is productivity. Its purpose is to produce. When a person is talking about running a machine or being responsible for the machine, they are the operator; they keep it running and if a part goes bad, they replace it. There are characteristics of life in a machine, in that it works, but there is not inherent life as such. It has to have electricity or petrol or energy to keep it going. The reason why this mental construct is important is because the machine was the dominant organizational metaphor of the 20th century. So that when people talked about organizational life, whether IBM or Ford or whatever they were talking about in the 20th century, the dominant metaphor of all organizational studies was that of a machine. They talked about system’s theory and span of control and people as human resources. It is all about machinery. In the 1960’s and 70’s the church fundamentally adopted that language and that mental image and it became the construct of what the church is. One such pastor described his church as a well-oiled machine. Even though we don’t think about it, this creates our value system and also our products and practices. So, what are the characteristics of the machine within the church of the 20th century? Well, the goal is productivity or fruitfulness. It is about the end game and that is to produce. It is to win souls, to build bigger churches; that is the end game.

What happens when a part of the body no longer works properly? There is conflict and thus it no longer works according to our way of thinking and the person gets sidelined with someone to replace the person in order to the keep the machine running. This is dominant is terms of the model of the church in the 20th century. But the generation that is following is resisting that machine metaphor, that machine assumption because they want to be valued as people instead of a machine metaphor. It is about the people, not about the production. They are reacting to this and that is why in so many places there is an exodus; people who have become exiled from the culture of the church, finding themselves outside the church as such because of this reaction to the assumption of that machine world view that so dominates church culture. People often become the machine and unfortunately we see this in the church as well. Unfortunately, there is little life in a machine and it eventually wears out. There has been a lot of conversation in recent years about how tired people are in the church because they have been functioning as a machine for so long. The machine metaphor is simply not working anymore. And so, in the end, we see that our assumptions do impact our beliefs and they impact how we function and behave.

C. The Church as a Garden

If we began to see the church as a garden, how would all this change? There would be a time of fruitfulness and idleness. There are seasons and cycles within a garden. It would take a lot of work and thus perhaps the goal of the gardener would not be productivity. The goal would instead be of tending and cultivating. Gardeners do care about how many tomatoes they get off their plants. They do care that the corn is healthy and grows properly, but they know that they can’t control things that could destroy their garden. So the fundamental role of a gardener is cultivation, not production. That is a huge difference. What else is characteristic of a garden? There is inherent life within a garden and this is a powerful metaphor as opposed to a machine. There is a bias toward survival in life; sometimes, if you leave a garden by itself, it will still grow. But a machine needs attention seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. If there isn’t enough gas and oil in a machine, it will either stop running or even blow up. But with a garden, there is a bias for survival and life within it. So, if we change our mental construct from a machine to a garden, how might it affect our belief system in the church? Personally, I believe that the garden metaphor is much more consistent with Biblical imagery than a machine. It is not efficiency but instead recognizing and respecting life and how life develops. Paul, himself, said that one planted and another watered, but God gives the increase. God is responsible for production; we are responsible for cultivation. This is a completely different imagery and mental construct of what the church is about. This requires a fundamental shift in our thinking and in the church. This needs to happen, now. We need to move from a mental model of a machine to a mental model of a garden. This is not against well-run businesses as such because there needs to be accountability in regards to certain elements within a business, but this is about the fundamental imagery of the church. It is about the mental imagery of our collective? This will affect what we believe about the church and affect how we practice church. I do want to repeat, every gardener that I know is concerned about the fruit that the garden produces. But, it is about how we go about getting those tomatoes and who is ultimately responsible for getting those tomatoes. It has to do with where we put our energy and our priority and how we frame our responsibility. This mental construct will affect what we believe about people and about our roles as leaders and our practices and products.