Reflections: Chapter 8, “TOV Churches Nurture A People-First Culture”
When first I read the title of Chapter 8, I was admittedly overtaken with a sarcastic attitude. I thought, “Of course, the church is to be people first! Jesus came to save people! Jesus teaches us to love and care for people! What else are we supposed to be?” Then I remembered how the Pharisees twisted the intent of the Sabbath, such a foundational thing in the life of Israel, to the point that Jesus found it necessary to remind them that the sabbath is meant to support us, not the other way around.
So, there is that. Realistically, when I am not being idealistic or naïve, I know that it is easy for us to slip into a role of servants of the church rather than being served by the church. Of course, realistically, we need to serve the church at least some of the time; not all the church’s needs and requests are inappropriate. Still, we must do what we can to avoid seeing people chewed up and spit out by the “machine of church.” We want to be participants in its life and practice of giving life.
But institutions have a life of their own, and they try to survive and grow, often at our expense. This is what the authors of “A Church Called Tov” refer to as “institutional creep” and it is to be resisted strenuously. Institutional creep tends to dehumanize and de-prioritize people. There is a tipping point after which the institution is more important than people. We can pass it without ever noticing it. Not until there is a conflict between the needs of people and the needs of the organization and we are tempted to sacrifice people to preserve the organization.
The authors suggest a five-fold test for ensuring that we do not pass the pivot point into dehumanizing in favor of the institution. Perhaps the number is meant to ensure important points do not get missed. But the essence of them is for us to remember that all people matter, that no person is to be treated as an instrument, that no one should be isolated by an organizational decision, that everyone matters and matters more than any institution.
People are real. Their feelings are real. Their relationships are real. Organizations, no matter how great, are just abstractions, existing only as inanimate objects. They may be populated by people, guided by people and they may even serve people. It is nevertheless true that we can lose sight of the fact that they are but a means to some end. That end, especially in church, must always be people. If we are going to shine the light of God’s love for people in this world, declaring the sufficiency of Jesus sacrifice on the Cross, we cannot do it while simultaneously sacrificing people to the organizational machine of the church.
Reflection from Brent Easey, Lead Pastor of St. Ann’s Community Church