The Confusing World Of Church Business
How Diversity Of Thought Shapes Following Jesus
by Eric Elkin
The Church is a strange and complex work environment. Leaders within it spend incredible amounts of time and energy crafting a business model. They desire the business model to provide order and to reflect a particular expression of piety. Accomplishing this is no small task. Despite all their work, rarely do you find a congregation that actually follows the denominational business model.
The actual business practice of any given congregation is shaped by their unique identity as a collection of people. A congregation whose membership includes a large number of corporate executives operates more like a corporation. A small church with a core group of families operates more like a family. This kind of church has to conduct business through the lens of historical roles and relationships of related people.
Adding flavor to the management system of every congregation is the history of previous pastors. Each new pastor is viewed through the lens of the one before them. This is not always done consciously by the congregation. A beloved pastor creates a demanding standard for the next one to meet. Following a problematic situation often provides more grace than is usual. Unfortunately, once a congregation drifts into the arena of conflict, it is hard to create a new and healthy business model.
Few people ever fully understand the complexity of thought even within the most homogeneous of settings. People who find deep meaning in spiritual experiences care little about how much money is spent on creating them. Financial people cannot enjoy a religious event if they think money is not spent wisely. And, despite what people think, most congregations are split 50/50 between liberal and conservative.
Also, how people conduct themselves within a church is shaped by their frustrations outside of it. On the one hand, people want their church to operate like their work. This is a business environment they understand. On the other hand, they don’t want the church to act like work because they want it to be a spiritual place. In a spiritual home, everyone gets along, and there is harmony.
All of these factors are on full display in this small snippet of a story. Martha works, Lazarus relaxes, and Mary does something extravagant. They are doing the business of the church defined by their family role. We don’t read about their individual frustrations, but we know they are there.
Judas interrupts the celebration with the attitude of a banker. I wonder how many times bankers within a congregation have been called, “Judas’” because they have questioned an expense. I am already aware of how many great ministries have been submarined by the phrase, “We can’t afford that.”
This little story is one of the most manipulated texts in Church history. Some have used it to paint the corruption of Judas as the epitome of Jewish identity. Then subsequently abused Jews as a result. For your information, everyone in the story is Jewish. Some have used the phrase, “You will always have the poor” as a justification to neglect the poor. Again, Jesus is most likely referring to Deuteronomy 15:11 and the constant mission to serve the poor.
We need to remember everyone in this story is a follower of Jesus. They all have a different view of how the church should operate. Each character is also a sinner in need of salvation. The source of that salvation is the one being anointed. There is no one perfect way to follow the anointed. Nor does corruption diminish the power of Christ to save.
As we near the end of Lent and head towards Easter, consider a moment the business operation of the church. There is no one right to do business. Nor is there a perfect pastor or one ideal church member. In my experience, the most dynamic congregations are the ones who understand their mission and serve it according to their own identity.
It is easy to find ourselves in a place where we do not see Christ as being present. Our mission, both inside and outside the church, is to make the love of Christ visible to the world. Where this love is evident, Christ’s presence is most natural to grasp. Our mission is to serve the poor; the poor of spirit and those who do not have the basic necessities of life. When the church follows these two mission points transformation happens in both the congregation and a believer.
Click to read John 12: 1-8
When have you experienced frustration with church business?
How has this frustration negatively impacted your faith?
Who in the bible story most reflects your understanding of faith?
How are you shaping your heart to the mission of the faith?