Tuesday, May 16, 2006

All I Ever Needed to Know About Church, I Learned From an Investment Firm

For all that I complain about the tedium, working at this investment firm as a temp has been a really great experience for me.

Except for the foul-mouthed old guy that I spoke of previously (and even him except for when he's cursing up a storm (very loudly) on the phone), the people here are probably the nicest group of people I've ever met.

What's so striking about them, I think, is that they genuinely care for one another. When one is having a bad day, they take them outside for a gripe session. When one undergoes surgery or illness, they visit them in the hospital and chide them if they don't report on their progress while they're out. They celebrate each others' birthdays. They hang out with each other outside of the office. They're professional without losing their humanity, and they're extremely welcoming.

I came into this, my first temp assignment, with the expectation that I'd be ignored and/or looked down upon (mostly because that's how I feel/felt about temps). Instead, they immediately treated me like one of their own. It's only been as the weeks progressed that I even realized that they hadn't all been here forever, but there were actually others who were almost as new as me.

I've been trying to figure out what it is that causes this familial attitude among them, and I can only assume that it's the lunches together. That 30 minutes a day when most of the company sits down together to eat gives everyone an opportunity to know everyone, and for everyone to be equal. At lunch, it's not the executive assistants vs. the accountants vs. the partners.....it's just a bunch of hungry people. We talk about our families, about movies, about our travel experiences.....about whatever comes up. And it seems that everyone recognizes the necessity of each of the others. The partners realize that they couldn't do their jobs effectively without the EAs to take care of them, etc. The bottom line of the lunch table is that we're all just hungry people.

And more and more, my thoughts come back to "this is how the church should be." The church should be this polite to one another. The church should care this much about each other. The church should take care of each other when someone's sick or hurting, and we should understand the usefulness of those who have different skill sets or giftings than our own.

So what can we do to the church to make it more like this investment firm?

  • Size: Well....one advantage that the firm has is that it's relatively small. Instead of a mega-church, maybe we should look into "mini-churches." For all that I disliked the "church planting movement" methodology that I was taught (maximum of 12 people!!!! 13 people is way too many!!!! (among other things)), the more my church trys to become "Saddleback East" (i.e., BIG!!!!!!), the less I want to be there, and the more I long for a small church. That's partly because I feel lost in the crowd in terms of serving at my church (they have so much musical depth that I'm almost unnecessary, albeit nice to have around, while a small church could not only use my talents more frequently, they would also thereby give me far more opportunities to grow and improve), partly because I naturally recoil from "fads" like "Purpose-Driven, the flame thrower," but partly because it's become a logistical nightmare and I long for a simpler time.
  • Breaking of bread: One of the tenets of the early church was that they "had all things in common" and that they "broke bread together." I think that much of this sense of community and family that I feel here is due to the daily ritual of eating together. So, I think that, as a church, we should eat together more. Not just the weekly Wednesday night dinner or the annual Labor Day picnic, but frequently, and with the same general group of people each time.
  • Professionalism: One advantage that the investment firm has over the church is that people are expected to act "professionally." That's not to say that there's not the occasional cheery old guy with a foul mouth when he's on the phone.....but even he is a professional, attending all meetings he needs to attend, preparing for things, getting his job done. At the church, people seem to fit into one of two categories at most times they're either hiding everything from everyone else via "church face," or they're being "honest" and being some of the meanest, most spiteful people on the face of the earth. I guess sometimes, they're doing both. But there are very few who see Christianity in terms of something which should be practiced moment by moment - all of it, not just the parts that suit us at that particular time, but all of it - bearing one anothers' burdens means not only listening as others share theirs, but also sharing your own! As Christians, our "job" is to become more like Christ. Unless we are constantly striving to do this to the best of our ability, then we're not being "professional" about it.
  • Respect: Probably the most important aspect of this firm that is sadly lacking in many churches is a respect for others' worth. Far too often we see only what is important to us. If we're Trustees, then we only see how people are destroying the building. If we're in the music ministry, then we only care about how to make that better. Often, we focus on our own thing to the neglect of others. Musicians complain about the rules the trustees lay down, and trustees complain about how much damage musical sets cause, etc., etc. (that's a fairly common example in most churches, I'm sure, but it could definitely be expanded to other examples). If, instead of seeing the other person or group as our enemy or as someone who's needlessly trying to curtail our fun/ministry, if we respect their opinions and them, if we recognize their value as people and as members of the community, we will not only save ourselves a great deal of angst, but we will often foster greater communication and understanding.
I'm sure there are other ways that the church could be better (barring removing the people from it). But now comes the hard part. How do we effect these kinds of changes?

Our new Sunday School class is trying, although they may not all be aware of it. We're a relatively small group (4-ish couples right now). We try to get together for dinner/games once a week in addition to our Sunday morning time. As far as I can judge (which isn't really my place), all of the people in the group are, for the most part, actively seeking to become more Christ-like, and they all seem to value and respect each other.

Hopefully we can continue those trends and find a way to expand our model to other classes or groups. We'll see.

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