September 12, 2009 by

Church as Business (part 3–The Alternative)


Categories: church, food for thought, Rantings

Part 1, Part 2

“So…if we’re not meant to be a business, what are we meant to be?”

How about a community?

How about a family?

How about a living organism?

You see, with all this businesslike structure we’ve shoved the church into, we have forgotten that the church is not a business–it never was. The church is people. When we make it about the other, we are trying to be something we are not. And the suit doesn’t fit.

By the last couple of years that we were leading the house church in Tulsa, I began to notice something very interesting. The less I leaned personally upon the “success” of the ministry, the more relaxed I became, and the more I enjoyment I gained from the community that had gathered. The less I focused on drilling the “vision” into the hearts and minds of our people, the more I saw the people themselves, and the stronger my relationships became.

And at some point it began to dawn on me why things were different. When church functions as a business–the stakes are just too high. Nothing can suck the joy out of ministry faster than having to worry about how much money the ministry produces. When church is business–especially for its leadership–the survival of the church entity hinges directly on cash flow, and this becomes an overarching priority, a pressure, a stress we just don’t need. We are held hostage by our need for the stuff. This is why I think there needs to be a huge re-thinking of the whole established system, the “way we do things” as the church. It isn’t that I am against people gaining their living from the gospel, as Paul stated; it’s that I think we need to lighten the burden, remove the excess baggage. Find a way to restructure things so that our balance sheet is not the determining factor of our survival, or our success. If money is holding us hostage, blackmailing us this way–than there has to be a way to remove that blackmail from the equation. There has to be a better way.

I’ve had a taste now of what it feels like to be actively engaged in ministering to people without worrying about the money. And I’ve realized that we’ve made even “ministry” a business, when ministry is so much simpler than that. Ministry is a conversation, a hug, a listening ear, a prayer. Time spent with one another. You don’t need money to do any of that, at least not a lot of it. Some kinds of ministry do require some money–especially humanitarian efforts that meet tangible needs for people. And I’ll remind us all that even Paul raised money from the church from time to time.

But what if we simplified things and made church about people loving Jesus, and sharing His love with others, and doing it in the simplest ways possible?

What if we didn’t have to pay a mortgage? What if we didn’t have to advertise to get people to come so we’d have more money to build bigger buildings and buy more TV time and get more people to come and…?

What if we just decided the rat race wasn’t for us anymore? What if we just got off this train?

What if we stopped being a business and started just being people again, Christ-followers coming together in community, and working alongside one another in the mission of Christ? What if we made things so it didn’t matter how much money we had at any given moment?

I hope I’m communicating this okay. I’m not ranting against pastor’s salaries or greedy televangelists; we all know about the abuses that exist. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t have money. I’m saying money shouldn’t have the Christians. And it seems to me that when church is a business, where (by definition) money is the determining factor–that’s exactly what happens. It’s not about the church having money; it’s that right now, the way things are structured, money has the church.

By the throat.

(There’s another anatomical feature I could have said money has us by–but this blog is PG.)

The stakes are too high. We just don’t need the pressure. And having lived this from both sides now…I contend that, contrary to what many pastors think–the business aspect of church is not a “necessary evil,” something we must just tolerate in order to function. We don’t have to tolerate it. We just need to think outside this box, outside this way we look at church, to realize that we don’t have to be a business in order to be the body of Christ. It really can be much simpler than it is. There are ways for the church (meaning the people) to function, and even to have money and do things collectively with money, without it being about money.

It takes a complete overhaul of priorities. It takes a re-thinking of what’s important. And it takes a willingness to lay down some things and challenge some mindsets we’ve taken for granted. For me, it actually took a sort of financial collapse to show me what church was really about.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But it can be done.

Think about it.

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.

6 Responses to Church as Business (part 3–The Alternative)

  1. Kansas Bob

    More great thoughts Jeff. I wonder what it would like for the church to be known for our philanthropy instead of our edifices?

    Don't remember Paul taking an offering for a building campaign.. of course I do think that anyone willing to live the life of Paul (beatings and all) should be supported.. cushy "minister" positions.. not so much.

  2. Randi Jo :)

    aaahhhh I loved and hated this! 🙂 Like everything else I'm going through I'm just torn.

    I loved it because that's where I am. I believe it – I see GOd leading me there….

    I hated it because I don't get it – HOW, WHAT does it look like. We have such a tight community of friends in our church in the same life cycle of us (young children or having babieS) and I just don't know HOW to gather, BE the church without the structure. How does it look. What to do with all these babies who need space and something to do while mommies meet. How to incorporate children into it so we be the church as a family and not separating adults form children.

    I just have so many questions….. it isn't what is stopping me from GOing — I don't need to know it all before I GO – I don't need all the lights to be green – but I do want to have some hope it's possible…. that there is a differnet way without a lot of money tied up in uselss things that don't impact the kingdom.

    I beleive it's possible – I just wish I could see it. I wish I could see some church ahead of us on the path that we could follow that has blazed the trail and we could see their example – specific how to logistic examples of how to BE…..

  3. Randi Jo :)

    I am sorry if that didn't make sense. I just get so excited commenting and don't take time to proofread or go back and re read it.

    point is: thank you. I am challenged and encouraged once again.

    I need to remind myself that people aren't the enemy ever and I shouldn't resent or be irritated with people who don't see what God is showing me…. He clearly isn't showing them and I can't have negative feelings at them just because He isn't opening their eyes to the path He has been leading me down….

  4. Jeff McQ

    You're right; as far as I can tell, Paul didn't take an offering for a building, probably because back then buildings weren't figured into the equation at all. 🙂 He did collect for humanitarian efforts–if memory serves, to help the church in a famine area.

    So…ministers can get support if they get beat up?… 🙂 (Just kidding…got your point.)

    Randi Jo,
    I, too, appreciate the way you're processing this; it reflects the way I hope lots of people will respond in grappling with these things. As to how it ought to look, I think there may be something of the Divine in the fact that we can't just currently follow a church model…I think we're going to have to follow the Holy Spirit, rather than the church itself. (It only begs the question what we might have looked like had we been doing that all along.) 🙂

    Um, gee, thanks. :p

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