Christian organisations can make or break people's faith

I wonder if you have ever worked for a Christian organisation?

I have. I have worked for several, in fact.

The experience has not always been a positive one. On the one hand, it is great to be working somewhere where you are employed because of your faith, and where you can be open about what you believe. I used to marvel that I was effectively paid to do spiritual disciplines! It is wonderful to be able to be 100 per cent enthusiastic about the purpose and mission of the organisation.

However, frequently there is a mismatch between our expectations of such organisations and our experience. Our unrealistic expectation is that Christian organisations will be perfect and working with them will be a touch of heaven on earth. After all, sin impacts on organisations and structures – as much as it works within individuals in those organisations – to distort and corrupt.

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Our often unmet but more realistic expectation is that there will be a consistency between an organisation’s biblical approach to the mission and a biblical approach to caring for those who contribute to fulfilling that mission.

Therein lies the problem. Most Christian organisations focus on the front end of mission – a Christian approach to education, providing overseas aid, caring for the most vulnerable in society – and neglect the back end of the organisation – human resources, marketing, fundraising and so on. There can also be an unhelpful avoidance of conflict, which allows harm and resentment to grow. And there can be an authoritarian approach to power, reminiscent of some denominational structures, which may not suit a not-for-profit or school context.

How does a theology of sin, judgement, grace, faith, hope, forgiveness and redemption impact on the way an organisation functions?

Studies demonstrate that many Christian organisations lose their Christian identity within 100 years of operation. Sometimes it is a slow drift. Sometimes it is the desire to chase the donor dollar or government money that means the mission is compromised. Sometimes it is because the Christian roots of the organisation have been forgotten.

While Hope International CEO Peter Greer and others have written about “mission drift”, a new book released this week contends that the real problem is theological drift.

I have collaborated with Stephen Judd, who was CEO of independent Christian charity HammondCare for more than 20 years, and John Swinton, a professor of practical theology, to write Keeping Faith: How Christian Organisations Can Stay True to the Way of Jesus, which is available this week. In it, we address the need for organisational faithfulness, dependent on thinking through a robust and contextual organisational theology.

The failure of organisations and their leaders to remain biblically true and faithful to Jesus is impacting our ability to attract people to the faith. Worse than that, it is driving believers away from the way of Jesus.

In other words, how does a theology of sin, judgment, grace, faith, hope, forgiveness and redemption impact on the way an organisation functions? What are the possibilities of a sound theology of risk, stewardship and radical hospitality?

To find out more about how organisations can keep faithful, I encourage you to read the book.

However, I want to highlight the impact of Christian organisations not having a sound organisational theology. The reality is that organisations have the potential to positively spiritually form their employees, clients, students, residents, congregation members and other stakeholders. They also have the potential to deform those same stakeholders, which can have spiritually catastrophic effects.

The failure of organisations and their leaders to remain biblically true and faithful to Jesus is impacting our ability to attract people to the faith. Worse than that, it is driving believers away from the way of Jesus.

So, while I hope that our book will help Christian organisations stay true to the way of Jesus, I am also hoping that it will enable those who work for such organisations to keep their faith.

To hear more about Keeping Faith, listen to this extended interview.

NEXT TIME: A story of a faithful worker.

Kara Martin is an Adjunct Professor at Mary Andrews College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, author of the Workship books and Keeping Faith, and co-host of the Worship on the Way to Work podcast.