"The Church is a Business?"

by Jim Heap, a layman of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

February 27, 1996

Take note those who think we should "run the Church like a business". This is the world view of many who subscribe to this "new" paradigm. Our's is not a doctrine formed by competition and our glory is not in the number of new congregants. We are not in a competition for members. Those in the Spirit are safe, those outside the Spirit need the Gospel of forgiveness - wherever it comes from.

Are we denigrating the efforts of the Spirit by trying to "woo" people into the Church? Do we dilute the teachings of only half a generation past just so we don't "scare" first time attenders? Are we becoming the Church of Jesus Lite, the place where doctrine is just a matter of semantics, personal interpretation or philosophy? The place where beliefs are absolute until they become too difficult to reconcile to our world-view? Or, just make us realize that we actually are guilty of the death of Christ?

The attached article (Dr. Becker - Chicago University; Newsweek, January 1996) says that the Church operates in a free market where she is forced to learn (actually meaning "change"?) to satisfy the needs of their members. We are said to be in a "competition" for members. The children of God are reduced to "ordinary commodities" in this new "church management" philosophy. 'Commodity' is defined as (Webster) "a property that has use or value to the owner". The new paradigm of the 'church as a business' teaches that the church is the owner of the commodity, not God.

Businesses exist to make profit through the trading of commodities. If the members are the commodities, what then is the profit? Many have said that the profit is the number of souls won (another competitive term). This equates the increase in profit with the increase in the commodity, a business impossibility because equity cannot be profit. Some say that the profit is the changes effected in the lives of the member. While this could be a valid definition it has two religious flaws. One, that the emphasis is on the performance of good works by the "convert" toward salvation and two, that the members who "converted" the newcomer are using their works to elevate themselves in the church or to God.

What, too, do we "spend" or trade to obtain the commodity? Some would think that we spend effort and works to bring in new members. Others feel that the outward change of the belief system to make it more appealing is the item to barter with. They feel that if we would only "loosen-up a bit" and change the doctrine some, we could bring in any number of sinners. We know, though, that the Blood of Christ spent in His death is the payment. It has already been expended for us. The outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit, in the life of the sought after member, brings that person to the Cross and the Altar of the Church.

Next, if we are to act like a business, who are the customers? Some would say that the unchurched are the customers. If this is so, then , as a "business" we must determine what the customer wants and modify our product to accommodate those needs. Our product, to the unchurched, is initially our worship service and fellowship. The new paradigm tells us we must change our worship to make the new-comers feel good, to not scare them away. This idea re-directs the focus of the worship service to the people attending and away from the presence of the Holy Spirit and God. This violates the very heart of LCMS doctrine. We gather in worship to God, not new-comers.

In any scenario, the driving force behind the "church as a business" thought is directed at the doers, the members on Earth "competing" to get new members. It is believed by this group that (read this carefully) what they do for non-members to get them to join the congregation is the important effort. There is no mention here of the workings of the Holy Spirit in bringing them to the door. Ultimately, the power of the Holy Spirit is ignored or even denied by the glory of winning the competition!

To draw another parallel from the secular world of business, I ask, 'What happens when profits fall off? In the business world, management cuts back. In this day and age, that means lay-offs. Does that mean we excommunicate members by seniority? We could cut back on commodity inventory but that is removing those all-important new-comers from the congregation. Another way to "increase the bottom line" is to reduce middle-management. Fire the pastor? Yet another way is to go right to the top and relieve the Chairman of the Board (Jesus Christ) of his duties for a new face and new direction. Seems that many "churches" have already done this.

We can draw no workable equalities from the business world into the church. The language can sound the same but is very different in practice. Everyone working for God is employed for life, has one job description and no known production goals. No management person can be removed because he or she is also a commodity and a customer. The Chairman of the Board's ideas have been around since the beginning of time and He refuses to modify them to fit a culture. Besides that, he has little regard for numbers as profit. To Him, one more is as good as a thousand.

Dr. Becker, in his paper points out that "One reason for the separation of Church and state is to force religions to remain on their toes as they compete for congregants." My response? "Phooey!" Thomas Jefferson wanted the separation so that no Governmental entity could create, support and force attendance to any single church (doctrinal belief set). He cared not at all whether any denomination metamorphosed into a "dynamic modern religion" or digressed into a stuffy sin-punishing institution. Jefferson had experienced that, by making the Church a political entity, the damage done to the members' confidence in the clergy was devastating. The only way to avoid that in the United States was to ensure the separation of Church and State. There was no "competition for congregants" in Jefferson's time and there should not be today.

To conclude, Churches cannot be run like a business and be effective. The lessons and paradigms of the business world are inapplicable to the Church of God. The business world thrives on outward success and competition. The church lives only because of belief. Belief in the unearned and forgiving love (grace) of God through His Son Jesus Christ.

(This article is used by permission of Mr. Heap and is protected by copywrite. Please contact Mr. Heap at confessthorn@hotmail.com for permission to use his article or to comment.

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