Airlines, churches, and the sense of ownership

Airlines, churches, and the sense of ownership

When I worked at a church plant in Barrhaven Ontario one of the greatest struggles I faced as a leader was fanning the flame of ownership amongst the leadership team. Like many such groups we didn’t feel we were the right people to make major decisions. We didn’t know if the resources were really ours to use, even as we stewarded them.

At St. Andrew’s Duncan, we sometimes struggle to take ownership of problems, we will ask someone else to resolve a problem or take care of some need we have when we could probably sort it out ourselves. There are times when this is the right course of action, but there are also times when someone could take ownership of the situation and put something to right themselves, on their own authority as a member of the community of faith gathered to worship.

WestJet, Canada’s “other” airline, has long held to an interesting model of ownership. It’s not all that special, they just advertise it. Many corporations offer special stock options to employees and thus make them “owners.” I don’t know the specifics of how WestJet employees are made into owners and this post isn’t about the technicalities involved. This post is about the question of ownership and what it means for how an individual identifies with an organization and the responsibility they feel for it.

One of the major struggles in many churches today is that no one seems to know who “owns” the church. Most can tell you Jesus is the head of the church but when it comes to day-to-day operations who owns it? Who is responsible for it? The minister? The elders (or whatever board structure your congregation has)? The denomination?

Who should take out the garbage? Who should maintain the lawn? Shovel the driveway? Who should choose the paint colors? Paint the hallway? Who should be inviting people over? Who should be welcoming them if they come? Who’s gonna buy the coffee? Make the coffee? Who decides where in the building coffee is allowed? How many crosses should we have? Where should they be? Who’s gonna clean the pews? Run the projector? The sound board? Unlock the building? Lock the building? Run the library? Make sure people are cared for? Make sure people are prayed for? Make sure people are fed spiritually? Fed physically?

I have a lot of respect for airlines and airports, I cannot imagine how complex a single hour is for them, how many moving parts, how much money is moving, how many people and goods need organizing. As we all know one plane having a mechanical difficulty creates a ripple effect and strands people.

So airlines and airports have large staffs. They have many roles to cover to ensure people have a pleasant experience. WestJet recognizes the size of the problem and the need for everyone to work in sync and see beyond their own little role. If employees all say, “that’s not my job” certain tasks will never be completed and we know the employees are not invested in the operation of the whole.

The same is true in churches. We need people to own their churches. We need them to do all the little things, not to trust that someone else will but to take pride in the community to which they belong, and to put their shoulders to the plow. We are all different and we are all called to different tasks that our skills permit, but we can (almost) all pick up the cough drop wrapper on the floor.

When people start to see the church not as a service they pay for, or an activity they do, when they see the church a community or family rather than a commodity to be consumed, progress for the kingdom is possible. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, WestJet employees are called to think that way of their company.

It would be nice if we could live up to that call better than an airline.

We have the Holy Spirit on our side, we serve a savior who said we would do greater things than he did, we live in the light and love of a faithful God.

We must take our courage and boldness from these truths, but we cannot afford to over-spiritualize the reality that someone has to set up the chairs and put them away.

This is Holy week. As a community of faith we expect visitors.

As a community each and every one of us must take ownership. We must see to it that our guests find something winsome, warm, clean, welcoming, just as though they were coming to our homes for a feast.


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