The Business of Doing Church
There are two words that I really have a problem with in my title: business and doing. You see, lately it seems that many institutions have decided that they’d rather be businesses than real churches. They look more like 21st century corporate America than 1st century churches. Their resources are poured into efficiently pulling off “doing” church well. The problem is, the Church was never supposed to be something that we do…it is something that we are.
In today’s post I want to point out a few warnings signs that a church has become more of a business and a “doing” institution than a church.
The Pastor is a CEO
The office of the “pastor” seems to have really changed its meaning over the years. In some churches it is nearly deified, while in others it is “slave labor” under the control of the board. In others, it has become a corporate American position of power. It’s this position that I am writing about today.
Right now, it would seem that the primary focus of many bestsellers and conferences is leadership practices. This is not necessarily a terrible thing. Quality leadership is important in any ministry. However, I think it has lead to a misconception that it is the leaders that change lives. Sorry pastors, you are not the ones who save people…I’m pretty sure Jesus did that for everyone…including pastors.
I recently read a tweet from a prominent pastor that said that he was giving away to other pastors his sermons that “built” his church to the mega church it is today. That really rubbed me the wrong way. Sermons don’t build churches (or shouldn’t). Don’t Jesus and the Holy Spirit do that? Now, yes I know that the Holy Spirit inspired those sermons (at least I hope He did), but humans tend to take way to much credit for what God does.
Another sign that a pastor is a CEO is incredibly disproportionate salaries. How is it that a “senior” or “lead” pastor is making 3-4 times what anyone else on staff is making? How is it that a “pastor” should collect a 6+ figure salary, housing allowance, and travel expenses while the church is cutting staff for “budgetary” reasons? Take a moment to think about this…why is a youth pastor almost always the lowest paid staff position in the church? The typical youth pastor preaches, counsels, leads worship, runs the media department, teaches Sunday school, leads a staff, recruits and trains volunteers, and the list goes on and on. In most cases the youth pastor does as much as any person on the staff yet nationally it is the lowest paid staff position. Is a youth pastor really worth half or a fourth of what a senior pastor is worth?
Yet another sign that a pastor has become a CEO is that he/she has become more famous than Jesus (to quote the Beatles). In all seriousness, there are churches that are more famous for their CEO’s than they are for what Jesus is doing and has done in and through their church. CEO’s are celebrities. I’m not sure that the “celebrity” model works in the “last shall be first model.”
If We Build It They Will Come
Many churches in America view their buildings as their chief evangelistic tool. Really? Explain to me how a building can save people. Buildings are not a community of believers. Buildings don’t minister. And buildings have certainly never died on the cross for anyone’s sins. Yet, this doesn’t stop churches from using a lion’s share of their budgets for buildings (and what goes in them).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naive to believe that buildings cannot be an effective tool for being the Church. They can help to foster community. They can keep us from being rained on while we worship corporately. They can even help to draw in the consumer-driven seekers. However, we have to be very careful to make sure we know why we are dumping our resources into our buildings.
Recently, I saw a church build a 3.5+ million dollar facility that was primarily built for youth. Less than two years later they had to let their youth leader go because they couldn’t afford his salary. Um…anyone else see something strange with this picture?
Students need mentors who are invested in them, care about them, and pray for and with them. They don’t need empty gymnasiums. They already have those (at school). On a similar note, hurting and lost people need more than just flashy screens, high-def TVs in the foyer, and really good coffee. They need Jesus. And last I checked, the Church (i.e. the people) is supposed to be the one who is spreading the love of Christ, not a cool building.
The Way Our Mascot
There are two corporate mascots that I love: the AFLAC duck and the Geico gecko. They are fun to watch, cute, and make me somewhat happy; however, both of these mascots have little to nothing to do with these companies’ success. They are marketing tools.
Has Jesus become a marketing tool for many churches in America? I’m not sure that I would say He even has that much prominence. Seriously, if an alien were to come down from Mars and go church hopping for a few weeks, who (or what) do you think it would say is the most important part of our faith? Being “good” or “right”? Having purpose? Joining a Christian club (i.e. church membership)? Tithing or prosperity? The face on a screen or the building housing the screen?
You might be wondering why I would write this post. I am not bitter or angry at the church. I am not trying to sound like an elitist, nor am I using my ideas about the church to sell books and be controversial for the fun of it. I write this because I am genuinely concerned for the health and future of the church in America. Students see these hypocrisies. They are rejecting the institution because they see the same corruption that they see in corporate America. The empty cathedrals in Europe stand as a testament to what happens when the Church confuses itself with a political institution. What will happen in America if the Church continues to confuse itself with corporate America? Are the “numbers” still good in American churches? Yes, people still fill the seats. But I often wonder, are we measuring the wrong numbers?