September 9, 2009 by

Church as Business (part 1–A Rose By Any Other Name)


Categories: church, food for thought

Looking back at the deconstruction I’ve gone through over the past 10 years or so, I smile just a little at how progressive I used to think I was early on. 🙂

If you’ve known anything of my story, you know that we began the church in Tulsa after the institutional pattern, which was all we knew–and it morphed into a house church. That entire process was such a learning experience, and it showed me so many inconsistencies as we continually struggled with the tension between what we wanted the church to be, and what we had to do to keep it afloat.

It was years into it before I was able to verbalize what I’m about to say now…but I can see that so much of my struggle in this process was that church as we know it is a business–and it was never meant to fit that mold. When church is structured as a business, then the very survival of the church depends on good business decisions being made–and sometimes those decisions must be made at people’s expense, because the interests of business often come before the interests of people. And so there was this constant tug-of-war in my soul, spurred on by this conflict of interest. I was put in the awful situation of having to make choices that hurt people in order to keep afloat the very thing that was supposed to help them.

But what makes me sort of chuckle is the part of the process where I became aware that something wasn’t fitting right, but I wasn’t quite ready to change the suit. So instead, I started calling things by different names to sort of make myself feel better about it. And don’t we see this all the time in churches?
  • When someone joins the staff of a church, he/she is “joining the ministry team”; we like to avoid calling him/her an “employee” or “hireling”–even though that person has a set salary, a job description, and can be fired for not fulfilling the expectations placed upon him/her.
  • When it snows or ices, certain churches refuse to cancel services, saying that “we will be available for people no matter the weather”–when in reality, church meetings equal income, and (for some, not all), this is a subtle way to guilt people to come to church in the snow and ice, because the church needs the offering.
  • When someone creates a stir by asking honest questions, the leaders may label that person “divisive” and take steps to marginalize or even disfellowship that person–not because they are actually being divisive or committing a sin, but because of fear that this person’s influence might cause other people (and their wallets) to leave the church. We call it “discipline”, when actually it’s damage control.
  • We plan special events and call them “outreaches” intended to win people to Christ (and there might be a sincere motive there); but we measure the success of the event by how many new faces (and wallets) join our church as a result. Organizational growth renamed “evangelism.”

Not every leader does it just this way, and my own “renamings” took a slightly different form (I had no other paid staff, for example). But how did Shakespeare put it? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Only this doesn’t smell very much like a rose. But maybe you get the point. 🙂 We can call it anything we want, but when it looks, acts, and functions as a business–that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t change unless we change how we do it, not what we call it.

Can you see a common thread in the examples of re-naming I gave? This leads us to the most painful truth about church being structured as business (and the teaser for part 2). Because what is the bottom line in any business?


More on that soon…

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

5 Responses to Church as Business (part 1–A Rose By Any Other Name)

  1. Randi Jo :)

    wow that was telling it like it is. Thank you for this. You basically just put into words what I have been feeling/dealing with the past 6 months of helping with the new church plant — the tensions and strain and confusion I am feeling truly is so strong much of the time that I wake up depressed under attack daily. I know that God brought me here I have grace for these hearts I am working with, I love what good I have seen, I love the people — yet there's a tugging, nagging, discontent tension that is just 'hard' – if that's the word. I almost feel though that God isn't calling me 'out' – I truly feel I am supposed to continue to stay in this box (this box was what God used to help get me out of the other worse box I was in) to serve my time I told them I'd give and then move on if God chooses….. what a hard stage though. Yet I get so much encouragement for the voice & tension I'm feeling from all the people and I know we all desire the same thing – God is just giving me a vision of a completely different path that I'm not sure there is a 'middle ground' to reach amongst us all.

    Anyway I'm sorry for my rambling. I am so thankful for blogs like this… Amy had a good one on busines today too that was very helpful. I'm in a 'stuck' phase… but I know that it's just part of the process. I know this box was important – it was the box that got me out of point A. I couldn't have gone from point A to point C – point c was WAY too different/radical — but from point B – point C seems possible.

    *sigh* am I making sense?

    my point is… THANK YOU!!! 🙂

  2. J. R. Miller

    I have experienced those things, so I have no real disagreement with the specifics, but I do have a couple questions on the presentation.

    First, You kind of use the term business as a pejorative.. like church = good vs. business = bad.

    Is that the impression you want to leave?

    Second, just going from the examples you give, if it is wrong for the church (the collection of individual Christians) to operate like a business, is it equally wrong for Christians to participate in business? Why? Why not?

    Again, just a few thoughts that come to mind and would love to read your thoughts.

  3. Jeff McQ

    I regret it, too. 🙂

    Randi Jo,
    Thanks for your thoughts. It's worth saying here that church in the "box" is no less "church", because the church is the *people*, regardless of the box. 🙂 And I believe God still sends people to work in those environments, and meets people there, too. It seems your frustrations, though, reflect what I'm basically saying–that this is a suit that doesn't really fit us.

    Your questions tell me I've done my job well. Both of these will be answered in part 2. 🙂

  4. Kansas Bob

    A lot to chew one Jeff. I have been on the wrong end of this one in three different churches:

    "When someone creates a stir by asking honest questions, the leaders may label that person "divisive" and take steps to marginalize or even disfellowship that person–not because they are actually being divisive or committing a sin, but because of fear that this person's influence might cause other people (and their wallets) to leave the church. We call it "discipline", when actually it's damage control."

    It was really frustrating being an elder in a Vineyard church.. the defensiveness of the senior pastor was off the charts.. he went in orbit when he was challenged about money.

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