Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Taking Care of Business

Many have tried to liken a church to a business. However, the New Testament does not use this picture. But may I suggest, while this is not the best analogy, the real problem is we misunderstand the implications.

We tend to see the people on the outside or marginal individuals as customers, the regular attenders as employees. Our product is spiritual enlightenment (salvation and spiritual growth), in return for which we receive money and services. Our competitors are other churches, often including other Christian churches, even those of the same denomination.

However, our real customer is God. The product is a people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:14) to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29,30; 1 John 3:2). This could be criticized for being too impersonal, a weakness of the business analogy (a better one is that of a bride prepared for her groom; see 2 Corinthians 11:2,3; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7,8), but it makes a point. If we look at people as customers we can take the attitude that our main goal is to try to please them and adapt things to fit their tastes. But we can also feel that if we do not please a particular customer, another one will come along. Employees can be worse, as we may see them as useful if they help meet our goals, but dispensable if they do not. But if what we are trying to produce is disciples who do all Christ commands them (Matthew 28:18-20), then we must treat them in a way that brings them closer to being the people Christ wants them to be. Now people have wills, and we cannot always influence them in the right direction. But we must deal with them in light of what God wants to do in their lives. Our real Customer expects no less (and will reward us not in this world, but the next; see Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:10-14).

Also, we have only one competitor, Satan and his minions (Ephesians 6:10-12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Peter 5:8,9). Now all churches and similar organizations are franchises of one of these firms (though the franchises can switch firms). The franchises have a high degree of independence and can (without necessarily switching firms) make bad decisions. We should do whatever we can to help the franchises of God's firm to succeed. Sometimes that may mean trying to correct them. Sometimes it may mean trying to work around them. Sometimes it may even be a good idea if a particular franchise closes down so others can carry on the work. But they are not our competitors (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9).

But on the whole, I do not think a business is the best analogy for the church. It has, however you take it, a tendency to depersonalize people and view them as cogs in the machine to make our system work. Let us return to better analogies.

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