Thursday, December 26, 2013

Well because you see, it ISN'T a business

I saw a posting from the Resurgence, the online mouthpiece for Mars Hill (i.e. Mark Driscoll) a few days ago and wanted to wait until after Christmas to blog about it. The story caught my eye because of the title: An executive pastor calling. You might wonder what an executive pastor is (as opposed to a senior pastor, or a youth pastor, or any of the hundreds of extra-biblical offices we find in institutional churches). An executive pastor is usually someone with financial and/or business acumen who manages the money and operations of a "church". Usually a church has to be pretty big and pull in lots of money to warrant one. I actually applied for a position as an executive pastor back in the day, given my eagerness to be involved in ministry and my private sector business experience in financial services it seemed like a good fit. Alas they discovered from my questionnaire answers that I was a dreaded "Calvinist" and that my theology just wouldn't fit. I am glad in retrospect.

Anyway, the post in question is the story of Sutton Turner and includes the requisite story of how wealthy and successful he was until his conversion and calling as an executive pastor. Much to his chagrin it turns out that the church that hired him was in pretty shaky financial straits and needed someone to fix it. That is when we come to the money quote (emphasis mine):

I had to tell Pastor Joe that he would be up against a huge mess unless somebody made some changes very, very fast. I was completely shocked when Pastor Joe turned to me and said that I was the man for the job.

The financial bind that threatened my church wasn’t the result of any malicious activity or misappropriation. The guy in charge of operations simply didn’t know how to run a business.

Um. Yeah. Perhaps that is because the church was never intended to run like a business?

Whether unwittingly or not, Sutton Turner (who shockingly happens to have a new book out called Invest: You gifts for His mission, weird how that happens) reinforces what many of us have been saying for a long time, namely that the institutional church of organized religion operates more like a corporation than a family, less like a people of God than a people checking off a box on their religious checklist with as little inconvenience and discomfort as possible.

If the church treated money as it should, we wouldn't need "executive pastors" because we wouldn't be sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in our bank accounts, hundreds of thousands of staff and billions of dollars worth of real estate. We wouldn't have this racket where big name celebrity "pastors" endorse the books that they all seem to pump out on a regular basis that apparently are written by ghost writers a lot of the time or plagiarized (again note that Sutton is employed by Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll's "church" and Mark has come under some fire lately for, um, failing to properly cite the work of someone else). If we were doing the mission of Christ as His ambassadors our need for financial security in the church and ease of donation via mainly anonymous "Giving Buttons" on church websites would go away. We would not seem more concerned with perpetuating the system and keeping the lights on at our local church so that believers can "worship" in comfort than we are with seeing the lost come to know Christ.

Corporations can't operate like the church and the church can't operate like corporations. That should be self-evident. The sad reality that it is not to so many people says volumes about how far astray we have gone.


Vondo said...

I say it is a "service agency." Churches provide a service. They offer people options. To fellowship, use various gifts to minister the gospel to the poor, or in some cases, free child-care, entertainment, a place to get married. What we resent is when the business doesn't serve the widow and childless, the lost and broken but the pastors, the rich young rulers and the 3 who crossed over to the other side of the street when they saw the guy in the street. Definition of business - an organization involved in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. church is a business by this definition. Can be good or bad.

A good church can be run like a business. Just depends on what "service" is provided. Some people want the service of "checking off a box on their religious checklist with as little inconvenience and discomfort as possible." Blow up all the practices that you rightly critique and I say there is still a group providing a service to consumers.

Steve Scott said...

"...the institutional church of organized religion operates more like a corporation than a family..."

Uhmm, well, to be truthful, it ACTUALLY IS a corporation. Simply because it incorporates with the government as a "non-profit" corporation doesn't mean in the least that it doesn't operate just like a business. It is a business, just a "non-profit" one, with, of course, the loopholes in "non-profit" that makes it really not quite so non-profit.

Neil Braithwaite said...

The main purpose of the corporate church structure is CONTROL. It serves to keep the majority of members in their place and doing what they're told - to be complacent spectators and loyal givers of money. In that sense, church is a lot like a television.

People sit and watch television programming that makes them feel good while they are asked to give their money to the sponsors of that “commercial” programming. The programming is designed to get the people to come back on a weekly basis in hopes they will continue to support the sponsors. Television has become efficient at this, as it has created millions and millions of what are called: “couch potatoes.” Mindless drones who watch programming like zombies, who can’t even remember the content of the programs they watched the week before.

Churches have capitalized on the success of the television industry, using similar programming and advertising methods. Like the television industry, churches continue to adjust their programming to keep their viewers' attention and sponsors happy. Churches carefully and meticulously test and research their programming and marketing methods to help insure success in reaching a larger audience and increase financial support.

Like television, churches are also creating millions and millions of “pew potatoes,” who attend every Sunday to sit and watch the programming and pay their support. Spiritually dead people who attend church and watch the programming like zombies, most of whom can’t even remember the content of the Sunday school class or sermon they watched the week before.

Unfortunately, each church acts as an independent program on a specific channel. And they are all vying for viewers to watch their unique programs. I wrote a piece about this tragic reality on my blog: “"Church" Cannibalism: The consequence of being out of God’s will”

Arthur Sido said...

Joe I don't disagree entirely. There are plenty of super institutionalized churches with "executive pastors" that do a lot of good work. However when we start off with the business mindset rather than the community and family mindset we end up with the system we have, tiny fiefdoms competing against the church across the street for the scarce resource of attenders.

Arthur Sido said...

Neil, I have written a lot about the idea of institutional religion as a means of control, especially as it applies to closed communion. When men decide that they get to edit the guest list for the Lord's Supper they place themselves in a dangerous and borderline heretical position.