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Book Review Keeping Faith: How Christian organisations can stay true to the way of Jesus

Thursday, 4 May 2023  | Doug Hynd

Keeping Faith: How Christian organisations can stay true to the way of Jesus

By Stephen Judd, John Swinton and Kara Martin

(Sydney: Acorn Press, 2023)


Reviewed by Doug Hynd


Organisations with a Christian identity or a significant church connection make up a substantial proportion of the agencies providing social welfare, education and community services in Australia. Keeping Faith provides an accessible, theologically informed guide that will assist such agencies in sustaining their Christian identity and mission.

The authors of Keeping Faith bring an impressive range of lived experience and academic expertise to the book. Stephen Judd was formerly the CEO of Hammondcare, an aged care and healthcare agency with an impressive track record in the field of dementia care. Professor John Swinton is a theologian at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland with an extensive record of practical involvement in and writing on disability issues. Kara Martin is an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a practical theologian specialising in faith-work issues. Together, they have produced a short and practical guide to help organisations maintain faithfulness to their Christian identity and mission.  

The authors begin by expressing scepticism about some governance mechanisms that have been relied on to maintain Christian faithfulness in response to the pressures of institutional secularisation, particularly statements of faith and affirmations of church attendance by Board members. In contrast the authors direct our attention to the ways in which Christian-ness can create and inhabit the structures of organisations and their management and business practices and relationships. The outcome of the latter they describe as organisational faithfulness which, they argue, ‘emerges from the systematic and theological coherence of its various business practices and their relationship to the underlying vision that underpins the organisation as a whole’ (14).

With the concept and importance of organisational faithfulness laid out on the table, the authors provide an introduction to the main themes of the necessary underpinning theology. Their discussion covers eight themes: sin, judgement, grace, faith, hope, trust, forgiveness and redemption. These themes are illustrated with brief case studies of dilemmas faced by organisations. The organisational theology sketched out here takes familiar themes and grounds them in the reality of organisational life.

The authors then discuss the foundations for organisational practice, introducing the less familiar theological concepts of risk, stewardship and radical hospitality. They make a strong effort to illustrate how business practices may have hidden depths of meaning that need theological attention if organisations are to maintain their faithful character.

In the final section they move to discuss how these theological insights can be developed and embedded within organisations. They conclude with a checklist of signs that an organisation may be losing its Christian orientation and identity and a list of questions that can help an organisation undertake the necessary assessment. While there is an implicit assumption of Protestant Christianity in the way the theological framework is articulated, I suggest that the process could be used by Christians of other traditions drawing on their own distinctive theological resources, e.g., Catholic agencies could use Catholic Social Teaching to inform their assessment of their faithfulness.

The book is brief, just over 130 pages, clearly written and should be accessible to its intended audience. I would recommend this book to CEOs, senior management and board members of church-related agencies as an important resource for assessing the faithfulness of their organisations to their mission and identity. That said, I have some suggestions for issues that might usefully receive further discussion in a second edition:

  • The current neo-liberal policy context in which everything is turned into a market relationship and the need for care in the language agencies use in describing their purposes and mission.
  • How reporting requirements can lead to mission drift through an undue focus on measurement and reporting.
  • How the transition from Christendom, which provides the background to the discussion of organisational faithfulness, can be viewed as an opportunity for mission rather than a matter for nostalgia.

Two interesting though quite different questions arose for me as I reflected on the book. The first question is probably the hardest for an agency to ask. If an agency is losing its Christian orientation and identity, should we wind it up and release its resources to enable other Christian organisations to meet emerging needs and respond to new opportunities for faithfulness?

The second question ventures into the territory of theologians. Should this analysis of organisational faithfulness be used not only by church agencies but by denominations or congregations? In asking this question I have in mind the egregious failure of churches at an institutional level to deal with child sexual abuse in a manner that is faithful to the Gospel. The Church, we are told, is always in need of reformation. Keeping Faith might just be a helpful tool for that purpose.


Douglas Hynd is Adjunct Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, and former Zadok staff and board member.

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