In the 1920s there was a considerable amount of labor unrest in the United States following WWI. The workload production of the nation softened as the demands for wartime goods declined. The cost for food and clothing skyrocketed, and patriotic motivations for labor waned. It was in this climate of unrest that the term “company man” was coined.
The idiom “company man” describes unwavering loyalty to an organization. It derived as a pejorative term portraying the man who was unwilling to break rank with a company or provide a contrarian voice in an establishment. In some aspects, a company man is loyal to a fault. Interestingly enough, many churches today indirectly perpetuate company man values within their staff.
Loyalty is a biblical virtue based on the character of God. The Scriptures are replete with examples of God’s steadfast love, which can be translated loyal-love. He is loyal to His people and His promises. And the expectation is that God’s people would be loyal to Him, but it is not uncommon to see a church culture misplace the virtue of loyalty.
This misplacement often begins with church leadership. As the primary architects of a church culture, leaders influence the ranks of the staff as well as the congregation. So what does misplaced loyalty look like? You can see it when church members move their membership. Though people leave for self-centered or selfish reasons or because they are unhappy or disgruntled, some people leave because it is better for their family, and they sense the Lord’s leading in a new direction. Is this celebrated in your congregation? Is this celebrated in staff meetings or hallways? How is this person or family viewed? Isn’t following the leading of the Spirit something we want to encourage? If this family finds a healthy church, why would we not rejoice? Perhaps we have misplaced loyalty. Perhaps we are indirectly perpetuating company man values.
What about staff members who sense the Lord calling them to another church or vocation? Can this be discussed openly and candidly? Will the pastor and staff encourage and pray through these desires? Or because of company man values, is there silence and secrecy?
Unfortunately, company man cultures are far too common in the church. Staff members don’t have the liberty to walk in community within the staff, creating a dichotomy between what is preached and what is practiced. Moving to another healthy church or following the calling of the Lord is not celebrated as an evidence of grace, but is often characterized as a display of disloyalty. Missed opportunities abound.
Ironically, the driving factor for a company man culture is misplaced loyalty. Our primary loyalty should be to Christ and His kingdom, not any church or leader. In no way does this diminish the importance of church membership, horizontal-based loyalty to one another or a dependable work ethic. In fact, a healthy vertical-based loyalty to God first enhances our horizontal-based relationships and interactions. Also, a church with a healthy understanding of loyalty is oftentimes more attractive to the lay member and staff member.
The pastor who cloaks his insecurities under the guise of loyalty must honestly evaluate the impact of his leadership and deal with the issues of his heart. At the very core of a company man culture is a misapplication and misunderstanding of the gospel personally and corporately. We cannot afford to allow these currents to flow into our churches.
Does the company man culture exist within your staff or church? Take some time to consider how loyalty is understood in your congregation. Is there a culture of misplaced loyalty? The best antidote for this issue is a long, hard look at the loyal-love of God and His expectation for His people. He is eager for our allegiance to Him and His kingdom first and foremost. And any time someone demonstrates this allegiance, the people of God everywhere should celebrate.
A friend shared with me an adage from his church staff: “We don’t hire company men; we hire kingdom men.” Yes and amen.