By Jesse Sumpter
In December, I was part of a Local Summit. Actually, it was just a group of men having a casual conversation. But as we were talking I realized that it was basically a Local Summit. Each man worked in a different field: one was a weed scientist, another was a wood floor finisher, another was in marketing and sales, another was a project manager for computer boards, and some of the others were teachers. We covered a number of important issues: college education, digital technology, electric chain saws, national politics, and farming policies. The conversation lasted about an hour but in that time we covered several key issues. Each man represented his line of work and the state of things in that part of the world.
We didn’t plan this conversation. It just happened. We were there and we were talking. And it was valuable and it gave us all an important perspective on society.
So what brought us together? Family. We were family. One was a great-grandfather, another was a grandfather, several were fathers, all were husbands, all of us were sons.
This is a small picture of the corporate family.
The Wealth of Family
While this kind of conversation in my family might seem strange to some, this is not really unique for me. I regularly see this on both sides of my family. We talk about politics, education, theology, economics, family, business, etc. This is the air I breathe in my family. And it is rich air. This is not to say that me and my family are perfect. Far from that. The reality is that this kind of network is only possible because of God’s grace to my family. Apart from God’s work, none of this would have happened.
I am pointing to this thing I called the Local Summit because it reveals the value of the corporate family. This kind of value is unthinkably rich. You can’t place a price on it. To be part of a network like the corporate family is to be part of a force that is resilient and that extends over time and geography.
The Weakness of the Nuclear Family
David Brooks recently wrote a helpful piece on the weaknesses of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is the smallest unit of the family: the married couple and the kids. This is the one that moves when the husband gets a new job.
But the key is to realize that the nuclear family is weakened when isolated from the extended corporate family. A single family unit can survive and grow but it is not natural. It is more healthy for the family unit to be surrounded by a network of other family units: parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins.
In the article, Brooks writes, “According to Ruggles, in 1800, 90 percent of American families were corporate families. Until 1850, roughly three-quarters of Americans older than 65 lived with their kids and grandkids. Nuclear families existed, but they were surrounded by extended or corporate families.”
Brooks says that the extended family makes the family unit resilient: “Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents—a complex web of relationships among, say, seven, 10, or 20 people. If a mother dies, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are there to step in…Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens—when a kid gets sick in the middle of the day or when an adult unexpectedly loses a job.”
Brooks rightly sees the support system that the corporate family gives to a family unit. There are also lots of other blessings that come with the corporate family.
J.D. Vance in his book Hillbilly Elegy writes about his experience trying to get a job with a law firm after attending Yale Law School. Vance did not grow up in a law family so he didn’t really know how to get a job with a law firm. He writes, “I had always thought that when you need a job, you look online for job postings. And then you submit a dozen resumes…The problem is, virtually everyone who plays by those rules fails” (p 214). Vance went through a week of interviews looking for a job. As he went through that, he realized that he was an outsider trying to get into a game where he didn’t know the rules. He ended up getting some help from a recommender that he knew at Yale. At the end of that experience, he realized that successful people play a different game. Successful people use networks.
He explains, “The networks of people and institutions around us have real economic value. They connect us to the right people, ensure that we have opportunities, and impart valuable information. Without them, we’re going it alone” (p 214).
While Vance is talking about a network of friends and institutions, the most basic network that everyone has is the family. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience in the family. It is one that people harness regularly. This is where many job opportunities come from. This is where important skills are learned: education, life lessons, business acumen, etc.
Recently I tried to add up how many people are in my extended family. There are six kids in my family and there are six kids in my wife’s family. Adding up parents, siblings and their spouses, and their kids, I counted forty-nine people. If I add in-laws that siblings have, I counted sixty-nine. If I add aunts and uncles on both sides of my family, I counted over a hundred people. That is not a lot but that is still pretty big.
I am a teacher and I am in the middle of my fifteenth year of teaching. I have had various sized classes over the years but adding up all the students I have taught over those years, I counted about a thousand students. Most people won’t work with lots of people so let’s say each person in my family has met and has a solid connection with one hundred people. That is a pretty conservative estimate. That means, if there are one hundred people in my extended family, I have connections to about 10,000 people. Many of those connections are dormant possibilities that I will never use but that is a pretty large network. If I really wanted to hunt down a job, I could make a lot of phone calls and see what is out there. I have never done that but I know I have a network built in.
How do you Build a Corporate Family?
The first answer is: you can’t. The corporate family is a gift that you receive from God. You might already be in the middle of a robust extended family. If so, then be thankful for what God has given you. It is wonderfully humbling and exhilarating to realize that God was planning to bless you long before you ever came on the scene. He plotted out the family and extended family you would have. He had blessings piled high like a pile of Christmas presents and you were not even big enough to open them yet.
The second answer is: start with yourself. While God saves families, he saves families one person at a time. He often does this work in a single swoop transforming a whole family but it is still one heart at a time. Start where you are. Get right with God. Confess your sins. Love your neighbors (family neighbors first). Be thankful for what you have. Maybe God has placed you in a broken family. Be thankful for that and get to work. God had a plan for you in that broken family and the gospel is big enough for any brokenness.
Love your wife. Love your children. Build for the future. Honor your parents and grandparents as much as you can. Realize that even the negative examples in your family can be helpful lessons in teaching your children about the future. Maybe not all of the extended family is a good role model, but find some that are good and wise. Give your children the gift of knowing their grandparents. The natural wisdom that grandparents have is something that our children need.
Get started where you are and be patient. You can’t build a corporate family overnight. It is a long slow process. Start small and be faithful there. Start praying about it now. In order to build, you need a strong foundation. The family can only be built well when it is built on the gospel. Anything else is quicksand. Love what God has given you right now and be faithful there.
Trust God to bless the work. He is faithful. He loves to bless families. That is how he planned it with Abraham. He used one family to bless all the nations of the earth. God is in the business of redeeming and building corporate families. So follow him.