Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Matriarchs and Patriarchs

When we talk about the structure of the church - the family of God - what we often see is what we talked about yesterday - that desperation to hold onto nostalgia, to hold onto the way we've always done things. This is nowhere more reflected than in our patriarchs and matriarchs. 

Our patriarchs and matriarchs are the men and women who are well-established in our churches and around whom (or through whom) all things seem to go. Because of the way most churches are structured, at least in America, the patriarchy is fairly easy to follow - men come into the church, establish themselves, become formal elders in leadership positions, then are replaced by other men who have come into the church and established themselves once these original leaders age out. The church is a revolving door of patriarchs, always trying to ensure it has a new generation of men to step up and sit in the same chairs as those who are aging out.

The goal of this is to maintain smooth operations of the church. We have a board (or a group) of elders. These elders are essential to the organizational operations of what we do. Thus, it only makes sense that no matter who occupies those seats, the relative structure remains the same over generations. 

The matriarchs are a little more complicated. Kind of.

The matriarchs are the women who have established themselves in the church, but these are usually more relation-oriented establishings. These are the women to whom others in the church turn for wisdom. For counsel. She may or may not lead a formal ministry, but make no mistake - everyone in the church knows who she is. She seems to know everything about everything...and everyone. She is the authority on all things that we're doing, even if she doesn't hold an official leadership position. She usually teaches a Bible class (at least one), and she's always, it seems, trying to instill the model of her own journey into others.

When a matriarch ages out or passes on, the church feels the void immediately. Members tend to feel lost. No one knows any more who to introduce guests and visitors to because, well, we always introduced them to the matriarch. If you ever needed to get to know anyone in this church, it was her. And as a result of her relationships and relational authority, everyone feels a little lost without her.

This is the equivalent of that moment we were talking about yesterday when everyone used to gather at grandma's house, but not any more. 

Now, here's how it's different in the church: in the church, when our matriarch passes away or moves on, what we often try to do is just move someone else into her house. We make an agreement with the new owner of the house, after the estate sale, that our family is just going to keep coming for Christmas here and they have to be willing to accept that. We leave all the furniture in place, refuse to repaint the walls. We try to keep things just as they have always been. It's just that now, our matriarch has a new name. It's someone new, but the "office" is still the same. 

And then, churches wonder why they aren't growing so much any more. 

They blame it on the fact that their matriarch is gone. Shaking their heads, they say, "Without her, we just can't keep going on." But that's not it at all. What's really happening is that the church is determined to just replace Janet with Mary and to go on pretending that nothing's ever changed when, in fact, everyone knows that everything has changed. 

When you shift the family gathering from grandma's house to your aunt's place, it's not the same. It can't be. Something of the fundamental essence of it has changed. And if you don't allow for that change, you're going to stifle everything. It's going to become stagnant. It's not going to take long before everyone realizes it's not the same. It's not as life-giving as it used to be.

This is why our churches need to look more like our families and less like our corporations. See, our corporations try to do this same thing - create offices and structures so that when one person pulls out, you can just replace them with someone else and keep going. But churches aren't corporations; they're families. And they're meant to grow like them. 

Churches have to understand that when grandma can't do it any more, it's time to start branching out and growing the tree.  

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