Big Business and Big Churches

Biblical Scholar, Dr. Richard Halverson has said, “When the Greeks got the Gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.”


In this country, we are a part of a 200-year-old experiment in religious freedom.  The hypothesis of this experiment might have been this: given absolute freedom to grow churches of any kind with little or no interference from government and with a wide open playing field for all manner of thoughts and philosophies about how to “do church”, the church will look more and more like what WE want it to look like as opposed to what God wants it to look like.

I suspect our little experiment is proving that hypothesis pretty well so far.  The church is looking more and more like what WE want (which, in America, is a thriving, successful business) and less and less like the revolution Jesus started some 2,000 years ago.  What happens with the emerging church–if that term describes the next generation of Christianity in America–over the next couple of decades will be telling.  I suppose it remains to be seen whether this next generation of church leaders will be able to recognize the course we have been on (I believe they have) and whether they will be able to right that course.

Getting it right is not all that cut and dry.  After all, good stewardship demands that we be wise, shrewd investors of God’s resources.  Some of our best wisdom in that regard surely does come from the world of corporate America.  So, it would be a mistake (somethng like throwing the baby out with the bathwater) to simply abandon everything that bears a similarity to business.  After all, what kind of testimony would we have if the secular world were making wiser use of its resources than we do?  But still, we have clearly moved too far in our systems and processes in the church.

[Insert your favorite example of “big business churches” here]

Here are some not-so-discreet differences between corporate processes and Spiritual processes:

1. Business casts a vision of what it wants to accomplish and then sets out to gather resources to accomplish it. In the church, we should allow God to show us what He is doing by looking at the human resources he has already brought us.  Instead of creating a ministry out of the blue and then trying to find leadership for it, we should be looking at the leadership God has already brought us and asking, “what kind of ministry does this mean we should have?”  After all, it’s not our vision we are pursuing, right?

2.  Business starts with incorporating documents and then allows those documents to determine how it acts. In the church, whatever legal documents we are using to reflect our organization for government purposes (i.e., articles of incorporation, constitution, bylaws, etc.), we draft those documents to reflect the structure we have felt God already put in place.  In other words, in the church, the God-given “structure” should drive the documents, not the other way around.

3.  Business leadership has built-in followship (i.e., follow or get fired). The church, however, is a volunteer army–the only reason people follow your leadership is that they want to follow it.  When they stop wanting to follow, you’re done leading.

4.  The driving forces in successful business are vision, personality, and profitability. The driving force in God’s church is…well, God.

5.  In business, vision is cast outward at the unchartered, unconquered market. Careful with this one.  With the church, there must surely be one eye cast outward (evangelism), but real pastoral vision has more to do with looking out across the congregation and seeing what God is doing in the lives of God’s people–that is where pastoral vision is most informed, that is where God speaks to the leader.

I am cautiously encouraged as I read the thoughts and actions of our next generation of Christian leaders.  I believe that, with God’s help,  we can figure this out and get it right.  I believe we can take the best of what business systems teach us and apply it to the journey God has for us.  I believe we can get on track for making the church look less and less like big business and, rather, look more and more like the revolution it is.  What do you think?

© Blake Coffee
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