When the Church looks like Downton Abbey!

Any Downton Abbey fans out there?  DowntonAbbey1

The hit show from Great Britain chronicling the lives of an aristocratic family as it collides with the 20th century has become the addiction d’ jour for my wife and I.  In fact this week I had to fly to Shanghai on business for a couple days  and we made a pact to only watch the next 2 episodes while I was away so we could watch the rest of series 3 together when I returned.  (Tammy says she’s honored the pact but I’ll be scanning her face when we watch the next episode for signs of foreknowledge. ;))

Another reason I enjoy the show is noticing how the challenges faced by the colorful characters of Downton Abbey parallel in many ways the same challenges Christianity and the church face today.

I mean is it just me, or does anyone else see how Downton Abbey is just a microcosm of the typical evangelical church?

Downton Abbey is governed by a deeply entrenched aristocratic culture that developed over centuries.  There are very rigid rules for interaction within the household and there is an understanding that all the occupants within Downton Abbey, from the patriarch Lord Grantham all the way down to the lowliest footman, are expected to conform to an agreed form of orthodoxy and behavior.


Can’t we have some “law”? Just a little…

It’s the challenges to that conformity that has made the show a hit.  Poor Lord Grantham, he’s an 18th century man caught in a 20th century world…and he doesn’t like it.  Modern society keeps infiltrating into his carefully cultivated world and it destabilizes him.  What even freaks him out more is that his children, and others around him, seem to share in the idea that things need to change.

Sound familiar?

There are many within Christianity that feel there needs to be a change in the way we position and express ourselves as the Body of Christ.  And yet, there is still a vast sea of Christians who receive their identity, stability, and to be even more frank, their paycheck, from the current structures and feverishly depend on there not being change!

Lord Grantham!  I like him…I really do.  He’s a good man and wants to do the right thing but he is constantly battling his own insecurities and a decaying culture that stifles real life!  Likewise I meet so many wonderful Christian leaders who I genuinely like and know want to share the love of God through Jesus Christ…but are often stuck doing it in ways that are increasingly being viewed as being outdated, judgmental, and lifeless.


Downton Abbey depends on order.  A hierarchy where there is a place for every man…and every man knows his place.  (And a woman certainly knows her place).  Likewise there is a hierarchy in church as well so I thought it might be fun to look at the positions in Downton Abbey and their real world church equivalents:

Downton Abbey                                                                   The Church

Violet Crawley, Dowager  of Grantham                      Founding Pastor

(or Senior Pastor’s mother)

(Violet does not lead Downton Abbey but as Lord Grantham’s mother exerts a lot of influence into the life of the household…sometimes good, sometimes not)

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham                              Senior Pastor

(Lord Grantham has to balance all of the aspects of life at Downton Abbey and often faces criticism for it…sometimes fairly but often not so.)

Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham                          Senior Pastor’s wife

(Lord Grantham’s wife holds a very powerful position in the household.  People will often try to influence Lord Grantham and the direction of Downton Abbey through her)

Matthew Crawley, Heir to Downton Abbey                 Associate Pastor

(Downton Abbey has an heir in waiting.  Often a family member ready to take the reins in the fullness of time)

Isobel Crawley, Matthew’s mother                                 Worship Leader

(Matthew’s mother is always leading the household of Downton Abbey into ways of expressing themselves charitably.  Whether opening the house to wounded servicemen, or hosting a lunch with food provided by a rehabilitated prostitute, she challenges everyone to think beyond themselves.  She also thinks she’s pretty great herself making her a perfect worship leader)

Tom Branson, Lord Grantham’s son-in-law                      Youth Pastor

( Tom Branson is a young guy who everyone loves…it’s just that he tends to say and do really crazy stuff that not one else seems to understand…just like youth pastors)

Charles Carson, Butler                                                           Head of Deacons

(Charles Carson lives and breathes in the service of Downton Abbey.  People may come and go, but the institution must continue)

Elsie Hughes, Housekeeper                                                Hospitality Ministry

(People in Downton Abbey LOVE their tea.  And people in church LOVE their coffee.  Elsie is there to direct the staff to make sure all the drinks and snacks are ready at the appointed times.

This is just a fun example but it demonstrates how people have very vested interests in maintaining a culture in a certain way… and how upset they get at suggestions that there is a change brewing in the air.

At Downton Abbey there is a lot of drama occurring as the family grapples with a changing world.  There is yelling, crying, and misunderstanding and yet there is often forgiveness, realizing that they are family and, in the end, they must make it work together.

My hope is that the church can do the same!


  • Interesting comparison and applys to a few congregations I’ve been at and others I’ve visited in several capacities. Not too much to the one I’m at now, but we’re just a year old on Easter and we purposely try to avoid these pitfalls.

    • Steve

      Yes, there are many church structures it doesn’t apply to. But many evangelicals will see the comparison. This post was a little less theological and a little more “fun” 🙂

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