Learning What a Congregation Values

When I was teaching Organizational Behavior, I used a scheme that focused on how a worker learns expectations for his or her role contributes to the work of that organization.  A role is the set of expectations for what the worker will say and do while on the job, like what an actor says and does while on the stage of a play.  The original word for the three persons of the Trinity meant “mask,” what an actor in a Greek play put on to identify who he was representing

Role theory is what Martin Luther had in mind when he described the different ways the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit contribute to our lives today.  The Father is the creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Spirit is present today empowering God’s people.

What are the different role expectations in a congregation and how are they learned?  Consider what happens in a work organization.

Imagine showing up for your first day on a new job.  How do you figure out what you are supposed to do? Someone will give you written statements about what the company values and a description of your specific job.  Chances are you will not pay much attention.  Those formal expectations usually become part of the background wallpaper.  You will find other ways to figure out what you should do.

Very important will be the techniques for getting the job done.  On an assembly line, the techniques are clear, as the line moves on and you have a short time to add your part to the automobile.  In an office, the telephone and computer systems determine much of what gets done.  Techniques shape action

Another very important source of role expectations is the comments and attitudes of fellow workers.  These informal messages help you sort out what is important.

Now think about role messages you get when participating in a Christian congregation.  Usually many written statements describe what leaders of that congregation believe and value.  This is more so now than several generations ago when most mainline congregations just carried on with what they knew how to do.  Such statements are now helpful for planning purposes.  But most participants don’t pay much attention.

Rather they learn by what they find themselves doing and what they see others saying and doing.  Is the congregation mainly about showing up on Sundays for an hour of worship performed by a professional according to a script?  Or are many ordinary members also involved, perhaps in singing or praying?

Thinking of a congregation as a fellowship of the Spirit increases the emphasis on the many relationships involved among believers gathered as a congregation.  Focusing on the Spirit moving among believers also highlights the changes that are happening in their lives, what they are doing and saying.  More so than any written statements, their lives demonstrate what that congregation values.

Paul’s original word for fellowship was koinonia—sharing something with somebody.  A congregation’s fellowship can be shallow or deep.  It is shallow when the sense of community is mostly symbolic.  The church life I know has lots of symbols in building, gowns and the “communion” of the Lord’s Supper.  It is much easier to talk about symbols.   More effective, though, is to talk about and show actual sharing going on between and by participants

To the Ephesians Paul laid out the purpose for what church leaders should try to accomplish:  “They are to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up to become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 12-13).    The key verb “to prepare.” It is used in other New Testament passages to mean to align, or to get organized.  The task of church leaders is to organize the fellowship for action.  Actions speak louder than words.

That passage also highlights that the purpose is for all to become more Christ-like.  To be changed by the Spirit is to become more like Christ, to be drawn closer to God, to be sanctified.  This happens best when such lives are modeled by others, as they share what the Spirit has done in their lives.

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