How to Treat the Church’s Problem Children

If you've had any exposure to the business and/or marketing world, then you are likely familiar with the Boston Consulting Group Matrix (also known as the Growth-Share Matrix). It is designed to help business leaders do long-term strategic planning and consider growth opportunities by reviewing their portfolio of businesses to decide where to invest, to discontinue, or develop.

Here's what it looks like.

Here's the way the quadrants work in the matrix (and I promise this has something to do with Jesus).

Stars: The businesses that have the best market share and generate the most cash are considered stars. Because of their high growth rate, stars consume large amounts of cash. This generally results in the same amount of money coming in that is going out. Stars can eventually become cash cows if they sustain their success until a time when the market growth rate declines. Companies are advised to invest in stars.

Cash cows: Cash cows are the leaders in the marketplace and generate more cash than they consume. These are businesses that have a high market share but low growth prospects. One of the great things about cash cows is that they provide the cash required to help deal with the next two. Companies love cash cows.

Dogs: Dogs are businesses that have both a low market share and a low growth rate. They frequently break even, neither earning nor consuming a great deal of cash. Dogs are generally considered cash traps because businesses have money tied up in them, even though they are bringing back basically nothing in return. Dogs are prime candidates for being laid to rest.

Problem Children: Problem children are businesses that have high growth prospects but a low market share. They consume a lot of cash but bring little in return. In the end, they lose money. However, since these business units are growing rapidly, they do have the potential to turn into stars. Companies invest in problem children if the business has potential for growth. Otherwise, they treat it as a dog.

Take a look at them in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, a passage that is all about problem children in the church.

14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

As you can see, there are three particular groups whom the brothers are to care for.

  1. They must warn those who are idle (that is, people playing hooky from work).
  2. They must encourage the timid (that is, those anxious either about their friends who had died or about their own salvation)
  3. They must help the weak (those finding sexual self-control difficult, who were addressed in 4:3–8). As a side note, the verb for "help" means "Hold on to them" or "put your arm around them." It tells you a lot about the kind of accountability people struggling with sexual sin need.

It's important to personalize this because Paul’s not talking about these things in a vacuum. Paul knew church. He knew that life in the church was messy because people are jacked up. So personalize this. Without prejudice or judgment, you will soon be able to identify someone in your sphere of life in your church who are idle in their work, anxious about their lives, or weak in their self-control with regard to sexual sin. They are, in a sense, problem children. And not unlike businesses that are problem children, these people suck the life out of you even as you know they have all the potential in the world to be healthy contributors to the church and the world at large for the glory of God.

And it’s in part because you know that they do have all that potential that we respond to their issues with patience ("Be patient with everyone"). These are people plagued with problems of understanding, faith and lifestyle. Every church has members of this kind. We have no excuse for becoming impatient with them on the grounds that they are difficult, demanding, disappointing, argumentative or rude. On the contrary, we are to be patient with all of them.

You see, the gospel won't allow members of the church to treat one another like the gospel isn't true. Before God, we are all problem children. God was long-suffering toward us, investing everything ... the death of His own Son ... to restore us and make us new. If that's true, then we have a mandate to treat one another the same way, which we can do to the extent that we preach the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis.

Are you treating problem children in the church the way God treated you in Christ, or are you seriously considering treating problem children like dogs that need to be laid to rest?