Business or Family?

Mike Charleston

Recently, I had a friend ask me to help him with things that were going on in his church.  The pastor wasn’t “hip” enough, and didn’t have a good enough “vision.”  So, the people wanted him out to put a younger, more relevant person in his place.  My friend asked if I had any information on whether or not the church should be run like a business.  Of course, I had some information on the subject and would be glad to pass it on to him.  I grew up when the internet was pretty new, so I downloaded and saved everything I found in the early 2000’s.  I hadn’t actually looked up anything on the subject in a while.  I was shocked that I had a hard time finding anything that would reject the business model for church.  As a matter of fact, I found just the opposite.  People praised the business model for its effectiveness and practicality.  I even read articles saying that Jesus would want you to run a church like a business because that is what He does.  Could I have been wrong for the last 20 years?  Around the year 2000, I rejected the whole church model, specifically the business model, for a more biblical model.  However, I am open to correction, and it could be that there was something I missed.  Is the Church of Jesus Christ to run like a business?  So, here are some points that people will make for running a church like a business.

  • 1. Businesses reach new clients/markets
    • (Matthew 28- go ye into all the world)
  • 2. Businesses hold employees and management accountable
    • (Luke 12:47- The servant that doesn’t do the will of his lord, will be beaten)
  • 3. Businesses organize and plan projects/activities
    • (Luke 14:28- count the cost before building)
  • 4. Businesses examine and eliminate all things that don’t yield results 
    • (John 15:2- every branch that does not bare fruit will be taken away)
  • 5. Businesses expect a return of investment
    • (Luke 12:48- He that is trusted more, more will be demanded)
  • *verses paraphrased for brevity

Now, a lot of people will agree with these things because they have been raised in a church that is run like a business.  They will argue that we need to reach out to people with the gospel.  Are you suggesting that we not plan, or hold people accountable?  Well, let us look at a few more things.

Church business in America is a $1.2 trillion dollar industry.  In comparison, the NFL had over $15 billion in revenue in 2019. What does the church offer with all that revenue?  A worship service?  A sermon?  A church building? Are we getting a good return on investment?  We are surely entertaining the people with our concerts, conferences, counseling sessions, and, oh yeah even some outreach, usually having to do with meeting rent payments or help with groceries.  With all that revenue, we have built the biggest churches we have ever had.  We have more books on any kind of subject than ever before.  Yet, we are less prepared to face any sort of trials or persecution.  Christians don’t know their Bible, when most have a few laying around their house.  We are seeing a decline in church attendance, and that’s not because everyone is now house churching.  So is the business model working?  Maybe.  I say it may because there are places that it may very well be working quite well.  However there is one thing missing in all this, JESUS!  What does the Bible say about how to run the church?  In all the articles I read, Jesus was an after thought.  They add a Bible verse to their point just so people can see that it is Christian.  

The Bible does not talk about us as potential clients or employees.  It does refer to us as being a part of a family, however.  A family may have some “business” things they have to do, like paying bills, creating a budget, planning for the future, etc.  But the family is never confused for a business. In a business model, there is a person in charge, like a CEO or a “pastor” in this case.  The pastor has a vision for his church.  The people get behind his vision and even put money toward his vision. Then the people become customers and sit back and enjoy the show. We then start a professional class of people who do the work of the ministry, instead of having the priesthood of all believers.  Sound familiar?  The big problem here is that the church does not belong to the pastor.  It belongs to Jesus Christ.  In a business, creating, casting, and holding employees to the owner’s vision not only makes sense, but is good business.  Who said it is up to the pastor to decide what the church does or doesn’t do?  It surely isn’t in the Bible, and that would scare me if I were a pastor in one of these churches.  Jesus has the right to direct His church.  No man, church group,  or organization has the right to direct the church of Jesus.  Jesus and Jesus alone tells us how he wants His church.  I know this may sound foreign to most reading this, but hang in there.  

I know this might sound over simplistic, but let us look at the terms the Bible uses when referring to His people.  Let us start with our Father, as in our Father which art in heaven.  Does Jesus have a relationship with his boss? The CEO? No, he points to our Father.  In 1 John 3:1, it says “…that we should be called the sons of God:”.  The next verse goes on to say that we are now the sons of God.  He is our Father, and we are His sons.  Romans 8:16 states that “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”  Just do a word search in the Bible for brother and sister, and you will find that is how we refer to each other.  Even in church leadership, we have terms like elder.  When you rebuke an elder, you should entreat them as a father.  Notice there is no board or committee for the church.  The terms of the New Testament are quite clear.  We are family and are to treat each other as family.  The business model might be an efficient way of organizing and putting on events, but our God is a God of relationships.  So, when we gather together, should it look more like a family reunion or a concert with a Ted talk?      

We have so far removed ourselves from what the Bible teaches in regard to church practices that we have a hard time even considering another way.  So how did we get here in the first place?  We will tackle that one in the next article.