Jamie Arpin-Ricci engendered a conversation via his blog and then via the RESONATE mailing list. Jamie wrote, “Many students, once leaving academy and entering into church ministry seem to stop thinking theologically, falling into business models of church structure and leadership.” His question: why, and what can be done about it?

A good discussion has been generated on Jamie’s blog and with another thread picked up by Brother Maynard. There are definitely two approaches to ekklesial structure, and they seem based on trends in broader culture around leadership and organizational science. Certainly the majority of influence we have seen lately came out of the Industrial Revolution. But reaching further back, and following the rabbit hole, why did we choose to embrace popular models? What is really at stake? I want to take a clue from Peggy’s comment that the Old Testament model offered a “comfort zone,” of safety and independence from the wild and unpredictable God. But why pursue such independence? Perhaps… hubris, perhaps a desire for power..

Walter Brueggemann discerns two sweeping models for ekklesial life:

The most popular, and the one closest to the that which we incarnated in the modern era, was based on the royal mode, represented by is the Jerusalem establishment of monarchy and dynasty, in the time of David roughly 1000 B.C.E. to 587 B.C.E.. Brueggemann comments that “this model dominates our thinking even as it dominates the text itself [although] in fact that convergence of “state and church” holds true for only a small part of the Old Testament.. [and] it has served well the interests of an established, culturally legitimated church.” In Cadences of Home he identifies four features of that model for the people of God:

1. There were visible, legitimated, acceptable, stable, well-financed religious structures with recognized, funded leadership. The temple and its priesthood played a legitimating role in the ordering of civil imagination, and the role of the stable temple for this model of church can hardly be overaccented.

2. There was civic leadership in the role of the kings that was at least publicly committed to the same theological discernment as was the stable religious structure of the temple. Indeed, the temple functioned as the “royal chapel.” To be sure, the kings of Jerusalem were not so zealous as to enact that theological discernment in concrete ways, except for Hezekiah and Josiah..

3. There arose in this model of the people of God an intelligentsia that was in part civic bureaucracy and in part the lobby of higher education. .. This intelligentsia exercised considerable freedom and imagination that drifted toward (a) autonomous reason and (b) support of state ideology. Established religion thus served well the stabilization of power and knowledge for some at the expense of others.

4. Exactly coterminous with stable temple leadership (priesthood) and with civic government that accepted the presuppositions of temple religion (king and sages) was the witness of the prophets who regularly voice a more passionate, more radical, and more “pure” vision of Israelite faith. It may indeed give us pause that the career of the prophets lasts only during the monarchy. That is, this voice of passion is viable only in a social circumstance where established powers are in principle committed to the same conversation.

Brueggemann continues,

“This pattern of stable religious institution, sympathetic civic leadership, secularizing intelligentsia, and passionate prophecy all come to us as a cultural package. (I dare suggest that this is, mutatis mutandis, the governing model of modern, established Christianity in the West.) This entire model in ancient Israel was swept away in a cultural-geopolitical upheaval… [because] it had defaulted in its God-given vocation and was no longer acceptable to God. I believe we are in a moment of like cultural-geopolitical upheaval [and this upheaval] may be why we now reflect on alternative “models.” It is worth noting that the collapse and failure of this model in 587 B.C.E. generated in ancient Israel enormous pluralism and vitality as the community quested about for new and viable models of life and faith.

“Happily, the temple-royal-prophetic model of the people of God is not the only model evident in the Old Testament. That mode was fitting and appropriate for a time of stable, established power. Israel as the people of God in the Old Testament, however, is not normatively a body of established power. Indeed, one can argue that such power as the Davidic monarchy had was a brief (400 years) passing episode, not to be again ever replicated in the life of this people of God.”

Bruggemann finds that prior to the time of David Israel did very well with another model of its life. During the period from Moses to David, 1250-1000 B.C.E., Israel ordered its life and its faith very differently. He identifies five characteristics for this alternative model.. which I’ll post tomorrow.

4 Comments on the politics of organizational models

  1. David Porter says:

    Good stuff… I don’t know why, but I still feel there is much to learn and understand about our organizational model’s. I’m starting to see them less as something we “use” and more as something that is apart of us.

    Creation reveals God in maybe much the same way our “structures” reveal who we are. They are not “us” but they were created by us and can’t help but declare who we are. So while they are not “us” they are very much “apart of us”.

  2. len says:

    Yes, even when they become energized by demonic action .. one extreme to be sure but it happens.. they are part of us. Perhaps the more self-critical we can remain, the less likely that is to happen. Interesting then how the macro mirrors the micro, or the structure the personal..

  3. David Porter says:

    “Interesting how the macro mirrors the micro, or the structure the personal.”

    What should cause us to stay on our knees is the fact “we become who we are”. In our attempts to re-construct new ways of life, we can’t get away from the fact, we as a people are going to reconstruct according to who we are… If pridefull then… If self-serving then… If humble then… If loving then… Transform us Lord!

  4. len says:

    In Liberating the Church Snyder reminds us that our word “ecology” is related to the Greek word “oikos” (house) and oikonomia (our word “economy.”) The whole world is God’s household, and his ordering of it is his economy. Snyder writes that, “Fundamentally, the Universe is not ordered logically,, psychologically, nor sociologically, but ecologically.” (50) Synder goes on to connect God’s rule to shalom, an embracing metaphor. He continues,

    Will we opt for technology or ecology? This is not an either-or choice, but a question of dominant models. Will we view the world essentially as a machine or as a garden? Will we see the earth as a factory or as a home? Will we opt for technology or ecology? This is not an either-or choice but a question of dominant models… If the controlling reality is technosystem, mechanistic technology takes over and life suffers from being squeezed into the “clockwork orange” habitat for which it was never meant…. (43)

    The clincher follows on the next page when Snyder writes that, “As men and women become like their gods, so they become like their models. A machine model (a technosystem) produces human robots; an organic model (an ecosystem) produces healthy persons.”