I have been thinking a lot recently about keeping Christ at the centre of our organisations. Sometimes this is called Christian distinctiveness or identity but it is all about maintaining a vibrant Christian ethos within the organisation.
And it matters because so many organisations find that they are ‘less Christian’ than they used to be. The find that it is really hard to maintain the sense of passion for Jesus, dependency on him and working for his glory that birthed the organisation. What started as an act of worship to the living God ends up being a set of activities in which God is at best marginalised and at worst a distant memory. The are many organisations that started off with Christ at the centre and have ended up with Christ sidelined to being important only in the history of the organisation, or for the senior staff or for the trustees or for a sparsely attended prayer meeting. Christ ends up being outsourced.
And this happens initially not because people in the organisation want to marginalise Christ but because of five forces that come against Christ at the centre.
Force 1: Familiarity
What was fundamental and vital to the founders of an organisation becomes familiar and assumed to the next generation which leads to it being forgotten and misunderstood by the next.
Force 2: Professionalism
For many activities ‘being professional’ has replaced being faithful to Christ. Now I do not think that we should have to choose between being professional and being Christian. I want to combine professional excellence and spiritual passion. But in some settings being professional is defined as the ultimate value and there is little room for profoundly Christian values such as love, discernment and prayer.
Force 3: Growth
What started out as the passion and shared life of a group of friends grows and develops into an organisation and suddenly not everyone is part of the original group of friends. Not everyone understands the history and values. There are differing opinions and approaches. To keep Christ at the centre (and indeed maintain organisational unity) requires a different set of skills and approaches. Often it is the founding group that struggles to make these changes in how they communicate and include new people in their culture
Force 4: Public accountability
In many countries Christianity is viewed with suspicion in the public square. They are OK with our faith being our private motivation but do not want it to be visible in our work. They like our work but not the reason why we work. To comply and fit in we are under pressure to hide Christ.
Force 5: Our donors
When we rely for money on those who do not know Christ we are vulnerable to pressures to hide Christ.
I want to suggest four commitments to help us resist these pressures:
1: Commitment to Jesus
Christianity is not an idea or a philosophy it is a person and that person has a name and a face- Jesus of Nazareth. One of the first signs of secularisation in an organisation is when we grow embarrassed or awkward about the name of Jesus and hide behind more ambiguous or acceptable words or phrases- God, Church, faith communities. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus, dependent on Jesus and living for the glory of Jesus.
The are two icons that help make visible this commitment to Jesus- prayer and the Bible. In prayer we express our desire to grow in intimacy with Jesus, confess our dependency on Jesus and declare that the most powerful intervention we can make in any situation is to go to our Father in the name of Jesus. An organisation with a commitment to Christ will have a living and visible relationship with the Bible where we find the story of Christ.
2: Commitment to character
An organisation with a commitment to Christ will have a commitment to prioritising character over skill or ability. It’s not that the question ‘what can you do?’ is not important, it is just that the question of ‘who are you?’ is more important. An organisation with Christ at the centre will place high value on integrity and calling among it’s staff. Integrity- growing in intimacy with Jesus and growing in the fruit of the spirit. Calling- placing high value on the question: ‘What is God saying to you to do?’ We need to move beyond a work commitment to a vocational commitment.
3: Commitment to service
Jesus turned power and hierarchy on it’s head. Too often we mimic the power structures and approaches of the non-Christian world. In Philippians 2 Jesus entered into voluntary slavery so that he could win freedom for others. He calls us to do the same. We should be agonising over how we create freedom for others and incredibly sensitive to when we grasp for position and status. For Christians empowerment and service are essential Christian living not trendy management terms.
4: Commitment to church
Churches are local gatherings of those who love Jesus and want to follow Him. While there are other manifestations of Church these local groups of believers are an essential part of God’s plan for personal and social transformation. There is no Plan B. Sadly many Christian organisations get semi-detached from local Church, seeing it as difficult or obstructive or irrelevant. These might all be true and there might be lots of pain but we have to persevere. A withdrawal from real connection with local church is often the first sign of a withdrawal from Christ.