September 9, 2009 by

Church as Business (part 2–The Bottom Line)


Categories: church, food for thought

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…

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.

7 Responses to Church as Business (part 2–The Bottom Line)

  1. Anonymous

    really great explanations & descriptions!

    like u say – it's not about "getting rich" /being greedy… but it IS about money and serving it….

    another example I thought of while reading was I can't even tell you how many times we've had to really go against some thing/way I believe in my heart is the right path in the name of "being a good steward of our money" — protecting our money more than listening to the Spirit.

    sometimes I think I shouldn't even speak up anymore to other leaders where I am – because they've gone such a different route that I'm not even in the same ball stadium anymore so the only way to move forward with things I bring up – would be to trash the whole thing and start over because it's a totally different foundation….voice no longer fits

    You're right though – we're up against ourselves – I believe that all of us in my circle do want to do things differently, seek God… but we by default go into certain routines… not realizing that we are hindering ourselves and the default won't let us to the new goal we're trying to reach. To do something never done before – you have to do things different then they've been done before.

    This post really helped me understand on a new level – there is no box to break down — WE are allowing OURSELVES to be THE box – the way we're operating, our mindset….

    you really have some great points of wisdom in here though. Great explanations…. I love this because most of the time I just discern we're doing something off track from what the Spirit wants but I can't describe it, back it up…. but you have gone through such a wonderful process through your different struggles & seasons and I see you as having so much more clarity than me. Gives me lots of hope! 🙂


  2. Kansas Bob

    Hard to know what came first.. the business of the church or the business of church leaders. The system we have now seems to be so much different than the days when "men of the cloth" lived simple lives.

    You are definitely right about money Jeff.. I wonder if the rise of the TV and radio megastar teachers contributed to the rise of the no so simple lives of their imitators?

    Sorry for the cynicism.. guess the topic just brings it out in me.

  3. Jeff McQ

    Thanks for the response. It's one of my biggest frustrations at this point, too.

    Randi Jo,
    Loved what you said: "we are allowing ourselves to be the box." That's a really good way of putting it.

    What you have said actually brings up a point worth mentioning, and that is that the IC hasn't *always* been a business. It's been some other things it shouldn't have been, but we didn't really take the business aspect until the church migrated to America. It's kind of like this structure evolved into it. It would be intriguing to delve into the history and find the nuances of *how* we became this way. And at some point, if Jesus tarries, we probably should do that–so that if/when we do shed this mantle of business, history will teach us not to take it up again.

  4. Kansas Bob

    Yeah.. these examples show us that ministry is a pretty lucrative business for some. I know of pastors in our area who are making a quarter of a million dollars. Then again.. what else does the seminary prepare these folks for.. they have to protect their 4-day-work-week "jobs" at all costs.. just look at Ted Haggard.. he couldn't make it selling insurance.. his training only prepared him for "ministry".

  5. Steve Scott

    I was a deacon for a number of years and had to count the offering and assign checks to different budget categories. And the well-meaning, but mis-informed, people who tried to use the church as a tax write-off for personal charity toward other church members… or worse yet, those who gave for a tax deduction in stead of helping others they promised to help. Church as business affects many things.

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