Let’s pick up the thread from part 1 by repeating something I wrote at the end of it…
This leads us to the most painful truth about church being structured as business…Because what is the bottom line in any business?
The bottom line is that when church is structured as a business, money naturally becomes the primary factor in the decisions that are made. And that can often create a huge conflict of interest between the interests of the organization, the best interests of the people, and the interests of the kingdom of God in general.
Now, for clarity, let me make known what I’m NOT saying by this:
- I am not saying I’m opposed to people who gain their living from the gospel; in fact, Scripture supports and encourages it (see 1 Cor. 9:14), and I myself have lived that way. I think we’ve abused, misinterpreted and institutionalized this principle, but I don’t think the proper reaction is to ignore Scripture and refuse to see to the needs of those who are giving most of their work hours to active ministry work. There are right and honorable ways to fulfill this principle.
- I am not saying that every institutional church is a money machine designed to line the pockets of its pastors, nor do I support the presupposition that all full-time pastors and ministers are greedy and exploitative (if you knew the levels of poverty I have experienced as a pastor, you would not be quick to make such judgments).
- I am not saying greed is the primary factor in all these things; I’m saying money is. There is a difference.
- I am not saying business is a bad thing, or that Christians shouldn’t be involved in business. Christians should definitely be in the marketplace.
- I am not saying God does not work in churches that are structured this way. He shows up wherever people are calling on His name with sincerity of heart, and He is within the institutions because so many of His people are there.
So what am I saying, exactly?
I’m saying specifically that when church is structured as a business–no matter how pure of heart the leadership might be, or how noble the intentions–the church’s bottom line, by necessity, must be financial. That is the nature of business in general–even non-profit organizations. No church structured as a business can last long if money is not the bottom line in its decisions. And that means that sometimes choices must be made that restrict ministry, or even hurt people, for the sake of preserving the business that we call “church.”
Some examples? We can’t support missions as much as we’d like, because the mortgage has to be paid. We can’t challenge people in our messages or deal with legitimate sin issues because we have to make payroll, and we don’t want people to get mad and leave. Pastors feel compelled to browbeat the flock about their offerings (even if they hate doing so) because the church is one week away from bankruptcy–and if the church closes, how could we help people? Even if we choose willfully to hurt the church’s bottom line by doing the right thing–at some point the church’s balance sheet will have to weigh back into our decisions, or the church-business will fail.
Do you see what I mean by “conflict of interest”? It’s like the church so often is held hostage by its own organizational structure. There’s nothing morally wrong with business in general–it’s just that we, the Church, weren’t meant to be one. It’s a suit that does not fit us, and it’s one that constrains us and stops us from being all we are meant to be. And frankly, when we wear this suit, there’s a bit of dishonesty that naturally comes into it, because we know deep inside we should be positioning ourselves in the world as a benevolent entity, seeking only to model Christ to the world, seeking the good of people and the interests of the kingdom of God–but because of the way we’re structured, the truth is, cash flow governs our choices more than kingdom or benevolence, just like any other business.
And the world knows it. And largely, the world disrespects us for it–not because it considers business evil, but because we’re being dishonest about who and what we are, and what our priorities are.
You see, business IS about making money. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you are in business, your true intentions are right out there where people can see them; you are what you are. And people who do business fairly and honestly–especially those who give back to the community from their profits–these people are highly respected in our culture, and rightly so. But when an entity like the church acts like a business but poses as something else, it immediately sends a subtle signal that we have a hidden motive. Whether we like it or not, it sows a little seed of distrust as to our true intentions when we encourage people to get involved with us. What are those Christians really after–my heart, or my money? Don’t think this doesn’t cross people’s minds on a regular basis.
I guess the reason I’m going after this so strongly is that I see so much potential wasted by these business-like structures we function under. I’ve touched on this from another direction when I wrote about how the church suffers from mistaken identity, thinking it is an institution when it is an organism. The same idea applies here. I can feel the frustration in the hearts of many well-meaning pastors and leaders–how they want to see the kingdom of God furthered, but find the church itself is limited by…itself. Because we are set up under a conflict of interest. The stakes are just too high sometimes to do what we really could do if our balance sheets weren’t holding us hostage.
Jesus summed this conflict of interest up in one sentence: “You cannot serve God and money.” I’ve always read that line from the standpoint of an individual’s heart motive; but I think it applies to the church collective as well. When money has to be the determining factor in our choices, the church cannot fully serve God. And because money IS the determining factor in business…this is why the suit does not fit us.
So…if we’re not meant to be a business, what are we meant to be?
Well…this was only going to be two posts long, but I guess it’s going to be three. 🙂 Stay tuned for the answer…