The language of business is replacing biblical and theological vocabulary in many churches and ministries across the world. Terms like market share, marketing, public relations, needs analysis, customer satisfaction, environmental scanning, strategic plan, change management, efficiency, and so forth, are replacing evangelism, discipleship, compassion, Christian education, faith promise, caring, and the like, in many places. A similar change in church vocabulary took place a generation ago when psychology made its way into the churches and provided an additional model of pastoral ministry and a new image of pastor as therapist.
Business concepts are important and can certainly contribute to the efficient operation of the organizational aspects of the community of faith. The problem is that the border between business and businesslike is disappearing in a fast pace. No, some unscrupulous people are not responsible for this. It is actually the result of good people with very good intentions applying excellent business concepts to the body of Christ without adequate biblical and theological reflection. They are simply adapting good business principles and practices without “baptizing them.”
Here’s the problem: The church is not simply an organization; it is primarily a living organism. The Bible does not dwell on the organizational aspects of the church; instead, it uses familial language to describe the church. The church is the family of God, the community of faith, the body of Christ, and the household of faith. A family is not about bottom line. It is about relationships and stewardship. It is a place of sacrifices and nurturing, not profit, profit-sharing, customer satisfaction, and normal concepts of return on investment.
No doubt, the church has always been involved with the marketplace. Marketplace must be a context of ministry and a contributor to missions. However, the church is not simply a business. The difference between business and businesslike must be preserved in the context of the church and its ministries. Three business concepts have contributed to the confusion in this regard—leadership, change, and efficiency. These are the troublesome assumptions behind these concepts: everyone must be a leader, all changes are good and needed, and efficiency is the highest value in all situations. Let's briefly examine these.
Leadership: The Bible says very little about leadership as this concept is understood in today's society. The scripture talks much more about followership! “Leader” is not a frequent word in the Bible. We are advised to remember our leaders and to imitate their faith, but we are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus. God calls certain people to lead others, but the spirit in which they lead is not arrogance; it is service. In the kingdom of God, leaders are not CEOs; they are servants and followers at the same time. Biblical leaders are to invite others to follow them only as they follow Christ. Not everyone should be a leader in the body of Christ. It is okay to be a follower in the family of God.
Change: Although institutions must be flexible enough to adapt to changes around them, the idea that constant change is what is needed in all situations is not true. Some changes are unnecessary and damaging. Some things should be left alone. There is no need to repair unbroken things.
Efficiency: Efficiency is a good thing, but there are higher values than efficiency in some situations. A grandmother may not be the most efficient member of the family, but do you want to replace her? Tithing may not be the most efficient financial management by some measures, but do you want to stop giving to God? Raising children is not the most efficient way to spend money, but do you want to disown your children? No, certainly not. Efficiency is important, but sometimes there are other values that are more important. Relationships matter. Compassion matters. Here’s the truth: Sometimes ministry is inefficient.
So here I stand. The church is not a business, but its organizational aspects must be operated like a business. Many churches and ministries are guilty of sloppy and sometimes illegal operations and business practices. Applying excellent business practices to the organizational dimension of the church is good Christian stewardship, but great caution must be taken not to blur the lines between the life and mission of the body of Christ and its operational responsibilities. The church of Jesus Christ in the world today is both an organism and an organization at the same time. The organization must serve the organism. It should never be the other way.