Stakeholders – Part I

Stakeholders – Part I

Many of you have already seen this happen in your churches. A divisive issue arises…something like who can and can’t be a “member”, what kind of music your church is going to play on Sunday morning, etc…and all of the sudden, everyone who is on your membership roles shows up to cast a vote even if they haven’t darkened your doors in years save the occasional Christmas and Easter service.  If they split the church, or even outright kill the church, they really have nothing to lose.  The closing wouldn’t affect their lives in the least bit.  The only thing that even makes them a member is that their name is still on the roles because no one has had the heart or the character to take them off.  The most divisive in your midst even go so far as to fill up several vans with angry and half-informed relatives who grew up in the church and don’t even live in the area any more so that they can swing a vote their way.  Those folks, God bless them, have no stake if your church ceases to be.  It won’t affect their lives or calendars or hearts in even close to the same way it will those who labor every week in your missions and take food off their children’s tables to financially support the community and what it does to further the Kingdom.  They do nothing.  Risk nothing. They take and give nothing…or give just enough of a pittance to keep their names on the list.  And they lose nothing if your community disappears from the earth.  They will throw bricks and behave without restraint because they care nothing about how fragile the threads are that hold your community together. They have no context for understanding how one issue or another fits into the fabric of your community, vision, or mission. They have no idea who their vote will affect because they have no idea who actually is invested in, or impacted by, your mission. For them, it’s about pure political power or family loyalty…getting their way, no matter the cost…to someone else.  They cast their vote and walk away smug and self-righteous, and you don’t see them again until the next divisive vote…if your community and its mission are lucky enough to survive that long.

That is no way to live out the Kingdom of God.  Membership in the Church writ large is one thing.  I have no doubt that those van loads of relatives are going to heaven one day. That Church – Christ’s Church – is not a democracy.  That is a Kingdom, and the King can handle people’s nonsense. But very often, your church cannot.  Belonging to a fragile community of faith has to mean having something at stake in the accomplishment of its mission.  A community of faith has to be driven by those who are invested in it, who pray daily for its participants, who give to it until it hurts, and sweat and tremble in its mission. They study Scripture together and live life together. They laugh together, and they cry together. Their kids play together and serve in the mission together. They know the events of each others’ lives and share each others’ burdens and sorrows and hardships.  Those who have a vote have to be risking something.  Having a vote must have something to do with investment and behavior.  People have to know what is at stake.

People who are invested do not throw bricks because they know how fragile the community is.  They know that if they do damage, the damage they do will be to their lives and will be paid for with their own investment.  People who are invested have to look into their children’s eyes every day and know that they did everything in their power to ensure that the time and treasure that they invested in the mission at the expense of those children is serving a greater goodness and is not wasted on unimportant things. People who are invested are not playing games with their community.  In short, they have to know that if their words or behavior cuts someone else, it will also cut them in an equally devastating way.  They know they can’t just behave any old way.  There is far too much at stake for that.  In our community, people who have a vote are no longer even called “members”.  We call them stakeholders because the name alone helps us to remember that these are people who are deeply invested and have a lot at stake in the community.  The name shapes how we make decisions and gives us a sense of accountability that gets lost when our roles are made up of people who have nothing on the table. It isn’t that we have it all figured out. We don’t. We still fight over stuff.  We just don’t fight the same way anymore.

Churches that pad their membership roles with the names of people who are not invested in their mission in order to make themselves look/feel big and important end up undoing themselves.  That falseness comes back to haunt them. A couple hundred on the roles and twenty-five or thirty in worship? Really? Nobody even knows each other or cares about anyone else’s feelings.  A couple hundred on the roles, and five or six who sweat and toil in the mission outside the walls striving to reach the lost, and hungry and afflicted? Really?  No one even knows who gets hurt if the mission fails. That’s crazy!!  That’s like the aging debutante trying to dress herself up to look pretty for people who aren’t going to come to her party or come to her aid anyway.  It’s like sticking a BMW hood ornament on a broken down jalopy as if the hood ornament will make the car run better.  Who in the world are we trying to impress?

Whoever is impressed by that kind of foolishness has nothing at stake in your community either.  If that impresses your denomination, then your denomination doesn’t really care about your community.  You can bank on that.  They are living the same aging debutante illusion, except that their cotillion is bigger than yours and your community isn’t even invited to it.  We need to come to terms with that. That kind of falseness always comes with a price tag.  In the end, the delusion takes us far away from what we are really called to do and be.  And in the end, that kind of  community splits and dwindles and dies alone and forgotten and wondering what happened to their family and friends. They wonder why the car no longer runs when it has such a nice hood ornament on it.  Jesus said, “My brothers and sisters are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”  What kills those churches is misunderstanding who their “family” is.  The church family is that group of people who sweat the same, and suffer the same, and invest the same.  The church family – the real one -prays for and cares about one another deeply while they actually DO what the Word of God calls them do.

Before we talk about how stakeholding works in the context of a missional community, the reality and importance of investment must be deeply understood.  Ask yourself: “If my faith community ceased to be and its mission disappeared from the earth, in what tangible ways would it affect my life and my family? What is at stake for me?”

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