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The Subtle Appeal of Church as Corporation

I have long been fascinated by the structural model endorsed by Dwell Community Church, specifically in its aspects that mirror corporate America and the capitalistic drive for growth, progress, and accomplishment. Perhaps it is this very structure that meets the needs of Xenos-Dwell converts more than any purely religious or spiritual ideal. Indeed, the model of spiritual life promoted by Xenos-Dwell is merely a subtly Christianized twist on professional success as represented by climbing the corporate ladder in America today.

Our culture is obsessed with growth, progress, and accomplishment. Why?

We live in an increasingly capitalistic society which endorses and praises education, productivity, and regular accomplishment as evidence of a life well-lived. Culturally, we abhor the idea of regression and conversely idolize an attitude of better today than yesterday, in a march of relentless forward progress to know more, be more, and do more. This is an attitude which suffuses our cultural values at a foundational level, but is particularly evident in the modern corporate world - with its regularly-timed promotions to increasing responsibility, fixation on achieving various levels of leadership or certification, and reward system for obvious metrics of success.

The structural model of Xenos-Dwell is not biblical or New Testament-style as church leadership would have it, but rather a reflection of the capitalistic value system which is nearly impossible to avoid today - a value system positively obsessed with accomplishment and growth. Adherents are expected to treat their spiritual life as the ultimate career choice, and the church structure is marked by all the necessary, corporate systems for such an endeavor. The entire model appears strikingly like a major corporation including promotions to leadership, sales metrics through evangelism, required face-time and commitment at a slew of weekly meetings, performance reviews by mentors and leaders, and even the ability to rise through the ranks of leadership to sit at the top of the corporate ladder on a board of directors. Xenos-Dwell offers its own internal training programs and will pay for members to attend seminary, a model already well developed in the business world with reimbursement for advanced degrees paid by many major corporations. Moreover, because following God within Xenos-Dwell is an actual full-time job, the church necessarily has numerous paid positions for its most committed and senior members, whether as pastors, counselors, support staff, or teachers in its school system. (Just check out the annual reports.)

It is this model of validation that forms one of the most attractive features of the church and keeps senior members within the organization. It can not be understated that this has absolutely nothing to do with religion or biblical Christianity, but is a direct appeal to satisfy some of the deepest held needs formed by American cultural values: the need for steady accomplishment throughout life, metrics by which to measure success, and the recognition of members of a group to validate and endorse progress. It is interesting to consider that Xenos-Dwell was founded by two individuals whose career prospects were essentially non-existent, as prior to founding and running a mega-church, they were painting houses at minimum wage. Compare the intrinsic validation of the latter with the immense internal validation and accomplishment associated with being a leader of an organization with thousands of devoted followers. Indeed, senior members of the church can no more leave their Xenos-Dwell career, than a lawyer who has made partner can leave her firm, the downside is far too great. In this light, it is easier to understand why Xenos-Dwell is so little interested in members pursuing difficult careers outside of the church or choosing to move away from the organization to follow God elsewhere. Xenos-Dwell is a Christianized corporation with a strict non-compete policy.

The American obsession with growth and progress provides a clear opportunity for a lifetime of personal validation but also necessarily results in feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and inadequacy as individuals compare themselves to idealized standards and struggle to strike a balance between validation and anxiety. This is the all important work-life balance, which may appear simple at first glance but, at its core, is a balance between a drive for validation of one's life pursuits and the fundamental need for rest, pleasure, and transcendence. We may think of the ultimate conception of this balance as not merely between "work" as corporation and "life" as home, but rather as the religious concept of Sabbath. Sabbath is the dissolution of the tension resulting from being better today than yesterday, it is resting in the confidence of being complete, with no need to progress or regress but only to be. This is the power that religion and spirituality has long held in human history, the power to answer and provide a respite from the external world of human life, to refocus on the internal - to recalibrate the work-life balance. It is a recovery of the transcendent elements of human experience to see beyond the daily mire of relentless occupation.

The appeal of Xenos-Dwell appears less of a religious nature, than an answer to individual pressures fomented by modern-day cultural norms of validation through growth and accomplishment. Despite claims of biblical foundations, the church has endorsed a structural model that looks a lot more like a corporation than any religious institution in history. It is no surprise then that there is a subtle appeal for many adherents who might otherwise struggle to gain significant validation in the outside world, validation which is so necessary to a sense of a productive and well-lived life today. Xenos-Dwell provides a domineering structure with opportunity for commitment, advancement, education, recognition, and even monetary compensation that is deeply attractive to a culture that reveres all of these things.

Does Xenos-Dwell strike an appropriate work-life balance between spiritual respite and religious career?

Does Xenos-Dwell model itself off of the surrounding culture's desire for advancement and accomplishment? Are these structures biblical? Are these structures cultural? Is there a balance that should be achieved?

Should we separate cultural influences such as the drive for productivity and performance metrics from religion and spirituality? Should religion and spirituality somehow transcend cultural influences? Is that possible?

Is the numerical focus of Xenos-Dwell on evangelism in line with biblical teaching or is it a reflection of American cultural values?

What is focus of religion and spirituality? To provide validation? To provide respite? How do we think about spirituality as it is informed by and fits into the surrounding culture?

Should a church look like a corporation or should it look like something else? What are important features of a church?


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