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One of my greatest worries for our church is that the living God will be removed from the equation of their thinking.

 

This is perhaps one of the most subtle and yet most devastating transitions a church and it's members can go through... or any ministry for that matter and it happens often. Dig into the history of various good works based non-profit organizations around you and you'll find many..many of them started out by those with zeal to follow and serve God utmost that now are ruled by a board of directors instead. Founders who took steps of faith without knowing what those steps would mean..and they didn't need to. They trusted God and were content not knowing because they knew Him. They didn't concern themselves with where the wind came from, or where the wind was going, but found courage knowing that God was with them (John 3:8). Then, for various and usually subtle reasons, they have shifted to resemble any other non-profit organization or business with nothing more than a few by-laws showing remnants of that zeal to follow God.

 

Jesus has a strong aversion to the church being run like a business.

 

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And within the temple grounds He found those who were selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away from here; stop making My Father’s house a place of business!” - John 2:13-16

 

After making a whip of cords, driving the offenders out of the temple and flipping over their money changers thus dumping their money all over the ground Jesus said to them "Take these things away from here; stop making My Father’s house a place of business!" (John 2:16) In Matthew 21:13, and Luke 19:46 He charged them with turning what should be a house of prayer into a den of robbers. God's intent of this place was that it would be "a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isa. 56:7) but instead had become a den of robbers. This term den of robbers is used in Jeremiah 7:11 and the fault of these people is they falsely trusted in the temple to protect them in spite of their sins.

 

They had become so entrenched in their rituals, in their systematic ways, in their traditions, that they begin to trust in the process instead of God. Out of this came a misplaced confidence in many various things for salvation and not in the living Redeemer. They trusted in their lineage, their circumcision, their works, and even scripture (John 5:39), and had removed God from the equation of their thinking. They had gone through the motions so many times they begin to trust in the motions. They traded faith in the personable Lord, Righteous King, and Holy Redeemer, to faith in the ways He had previously operated in their lives.

 

The Jews don't have the corner on this market however, we Christians succumb to it often; so easy this happens and so subtle it enters. As I mentioned, investigate the foundations of various good works based non-profit organizations and you'll often find they once were a zealous Christian organism. But this trap is not limited to just organizations, we do it individually all the time. For example, we arise early and pray to God our Father and God answers. So we arise the next day eager to pray again. By the third time (if not sooner) we begin to stress to ourselves (and perhaps others) the importance of rising early and praying as if that was what brought about change. We begin then to trust in our prayer, we even boast about the power of prayer to others instead of the power of the One whom we pray to. But take another look at this progression. The very 2nd day, when we arise early and are eager to pray, already at this point we are at risk of putting at least a measure of trust in the event instead of the Person on the other end of the call as denoted by the eagerness of morning time in order to pray, as if that played a part in provoking God to answer. So easily our eyes shift from God to the system... the system of church, the system of various ministries, and even our own self-imposed systems of living a Godly life.

 

This was at the heart of the very rebuke Paul gave to the Galatians when he wrote:

 

 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? - Galatians 3:3

 

Men often feel their way into things, they walk by sight rather than faith (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7). Their experience speaks louder to them than their faith and they alter course depending on what they feel and experience instead of what God has said. So often I cringe at the statement "let peace be your guide". If Jesus had done this He would have never left the Garden of Gethsemane and endured the cross, fortunate for us Jesus walked by faith through this (Phil. 2:8, 1 Pet. 2:23) and not according to His feelings (Matt. 26:38-39, Luke 22:44).

 

So how do you know if your church is becoming a business? Well here are some symptoms I've gleaned from my own experience and other sources.

 

When the church becomes a business:

 

  • The fear of man is regarded more than the fear of God.
  • Staff and volunteers are told to stay in their lane (sticking to only jobs assigned to them).
  • Pastors function more like CEOs and are more comfortable imposing on the congregation if they can compensate them in some way.
  • "Healthy boundaries" is over emphasized.
  • Decisions are based on what is financially advantageous.
  • Surveys, evaluations, popular vote, and peer pressure govern direction.
  • Anointed staff and volunteers are not trusted in their gifting and their ministries are subject to the leadership/senior pastor's plan for them often resulting in them being micromanaged to the same extent.
  • Churches compare themselves to other churches and other churches may be seen as competition.
  • Success is measured in numbers, i.e. attendance, giving, etc.
  • There is an excessive devotion to schedules; ministries, meetings, etc are governed by what the schedule allows. I.e. serving is confined to a 9 to 5 window, meetings are in subjection first to the schedule no matter the importance of content.
  • Members are turned into customers.
  • Empathy within the congregation is M.I.A.
  • Evangelism and outreach is reduced to advertising and marketing.
  • Ministries suffocate under the prerequisite of having proper insurance coverage, background checks, government entity approval (L&I, IRS, etc).
  • Prayer and fasting are significantly reduced and programs and formulas are promoted.
  • Members act more like stockholders, demanding return on their investments, and treat the staff like employees.
  • Members are passive instead of being active participants in the ministry of the church.
  • Preaching sounds more like motivational speaking.
  • Worship is critiqued as a performance.
  • The preservation of the church takes precedence over the advancement of the kingdom of God.
  • The church/ministry is the focus instead of holding fast to the Head of it (Col. 2:19).
  • People identify with the church or it's leaders instead of with God.
  • Fear of what could go wrong is over emphasized, insurance companies become the authority on what a church can do.
  • The zealous are governed for fear of burnout.
  • Grace driven is replaced by guilt driven.
  • And finally, a living organism becomes a lifeless organization.

 

I'm not opposed to having healthy models in the church, what concerns me is when those models hardly include God at their foundation in order to be effective.  The presence and power of God is traded for proven systems known to be "successful" according to some of the symptoms I listed above. I'm willing to bet the Jews running those money tables had streamlined the temple "system" well. So easy they made it for people who didn't have a sacrifice to purchase one right there in the outer courts, they even made sure to cover families of various incomes.

 

I have witnessed the leadership of a pregnancy center state how important protecting themselves from lawsuits was.. that actually sounded pretty good to me until I saw them remove God and His will from the equation of their thinking to the detriment of their staff, volunteers, and clients. Thankfully the Apostles primary focus wasn't self preservation. Likewise I've taken part in a soup kitchen which removed the gospel from being shared because of the government grant that entity would lose had they continued. Another time I've heard ambitious church leadership focus on the importance of increasing numbers instead of trusting God with the growth. I would actually argue that a focus on growth will often diminish the growth as the time spent on it starves the plant from what it really needs.. Jesus, from whom all real growth comes from (Col. 2:19, 1 Cor. 3:6).

 

Businesses have owners, bosses, supervisors, etc, the military has it's monarchy system of ranks, but the church is a body and a family. If anyone in the church is acting like a boss or a general then they are at risk of crowding out the place where Jesus should be, head of His church, His body (Col. 2:19, 1 Cor. 3:6). While businesses and military have their hierarchy, within the body there is only the Head (Christ) and many members of the body (us) and not one person is over another. The problem is we default to these worldly structures because they fit the fleshly weaknesses. They make sense to us. The body makes sense not to the members of it, but to the head of it. The elbow isn't over the eye, nor the hand more important than the lung. But the worldly system of ranking we understand, but being part of a body requires us to trust that God knows what He's doing, because as an elbow I don't report to the lungs, and the fingers do not have nerves that run back and stop at the elbow for instruction. God's model was always designed as us being one body, but with Him as the head (Col. 2:19).

 

Does your church look like a business? How does your church differ than other non-profits? Does your church bear the fruit of being God-centered? It's interesting that in America church growth is almost the slowest in the world (according to this recent article it's on the decline). Yet in highly persecuted areas of the world the church is growing exponentially. Fascinating it is that where persecution increases, church growth abounds... why? Why is it that where the soil is most hostile the plant thrives the most? Is it perhaps because where persecution increases people are more reliant and clinging to God? I think so.

 

It takes faith to step out of a boat to walk on water (Matt. 14:28-29). Peter had every logical reason to not try and walk on water and no earthly person would have ever argued with Peter as he explained the laws of physics to them and why he shouldn't get out and try and walk on water. Perhaps you feel you have a solid reason for doing what you do in your church. There's a common saying that "seminaries are cemeteries" in that they reduce the success of ministry to that of formulas. While this isn't always the case, yet often there is a tendency of these educational institutes to teach more academically on the basics of logic and reasoning instead of a reliance on God. Now I'm all for good sound logic and reasoning, but remember, if you're governed by what is in your realm of understanding (sight) you'll never get out of the boat (faith) (2 Cor. 5:7).

 

God is not restrained by your faith, but there is evidence in the bible where amazing things happened by the presence of it, and amazing things that didn't happen by the lack thereof (Matt. 13:58). Would you rather your church be exalted by your efforts or by God's mighty hand? I would think it would be better to trust God with the church and/or ministry, even if that means it fails, than prop it up by the efforts of our flesh.

 

If you've examined your own personal walk or that of your church and found much of this resonates with you don't be surprised when God brings a storm in your life or even to your church if that's what it takes for you to rely on Him.

 

or we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction which occurred in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead," - 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 

And if God brings a storm, know you're not alone. There's hardly a church at the beginning of the book of Revelations who was doing everything right. If the Apostles who walked with Christ and were eyewitnesses of Jesus had to be brought to a breaking point in order to relinquish trusting in themselves to begin trusting in God, then give yourself a little grace and praise God not because He is punishing you or your church, but because He is refining you, loving you as His bride. When Jesus drove out those who turned His Father's house into a place of business, the disciples remembered what was written "Zeal for Your house will consume me." - John 2:17. God's heart is heavily invested in His bride and you. (Eph. 1:18, 5:25).

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Have some feedback, insight, questions, comments, prayer requests, etc? Maybe you just want to share what God is doing in your life (I love praise reports), or maybe you can relate to some of the things here and need an ear. I'd love to hear from you!