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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Church is Like A ...

“This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor
Welcome and entertain them all!
Be grateful for whoever comes
Because each has been sent as a guide.”

These words by the Persian poet Rumi were recorded by the band Coldplay. The poem compares his life to a guesthouse where different experiences come to stay for a while. All need to be welcomed, because all have something to teach. 

This is an excellent example of an analogy. 

Analogies are verbal or visual comparisons. 

“All the world’s a stage.” (Shakespeare)
"My love is like a red, red rose." (Burns)
“Life is like a box of chocolates.” (Forrest Gump)

Analogies are powerful tools for learning and imagining. Like this visual analogy comparing cigarettes to a shotgun.
Analogies are becoming increasingly important in the church. When things are clear and straightforward and everyone understands what they mean, you don’t need analogies so much. But in times like these, when Christian faith and the place of the church in society is becoming less clear, analogies can be really helpful.

Some common examples – “The church is a family.” “The church is a business.” In a recent blog post, I compared the church to an airport.

The important thing about analogies, however, is knowing that they have their limits. You can only push them so far. 

We can learn something about the church by comparing it to a family, or a business, or an airport. But we get into trouble if we forget that in certain important respects, the church is not like a family, a business, or an airport.

In my last two posts, I drew analogies from the world of marketing. The demise of Sam the Record Man can teach us that, while our core message stays the same, the way we deliver it needs to change. The recent success of A & W can teach us the importance of focusing on the essentials.

Analogies between the church and marketing can be helpful when it comes to the question of How? How do we communicate? How do we connect?

But those analogies can break down when it comes to another question -- Why?
Why does the church exist? 

Businesses exist to sell products to consumers. But the church exists – well, why does the church exist? To worship God? To teach people to love God and love their neighbour? To continue the work of Jesus in the world? All of the above?

Marketing analogies aren’t helpful if they make us think of people primarily as customers to be sold something. All too often, that’s how churches do think. What “product” can we come up with that will attract people to come in and part with their time and their money? How can we stop losing “market share” to the mega-church down the street, or the shopping mall?

Peter Drucker
The great management guru Peter Drucker said that the difference between a for-profit business and an organization like a church is in the nature of their product. The product of the business is a good or service that they sell to a customer. 

The church’s product is people. What churches “produce,” Drucker says, is transformed individuals. They are the people who are changed, equipped and inspired to live out the Good News in their daily lives.

Used properly, analogies can deepen our understanding and awaken our imaginations. Just remember that any analogy can only be pushed so far.  


  1. Thanks as always Paul for your great reflections​. Just a note that the quote, the Guest House comes originally from the poet Rumi - the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic.

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