This is the second part in my series of posts on the Business of Church. In this post, I continue to till the soil of our understanding—to dig up the roots underneath our thinking and our philosophies of ministry. We will plant some seeds, but for now we are still plowing.
In part one, I question our thinking process itself. Why do we think the way we do? The scientific method lurking behind our western processing of facts pushes us to drive towards efficiency with the unintended consequence of dehumanization. That represents one row in this field.
Part two continues this questioning, but in a different row of the field.
To keep us on the same page, let’s define business:
A. A business is an organization involved in the trade of goods and/or services to customers in exchange for money.
B. The efficient and effective operation of business is accomplished through the management of financial, capital, and human resources.
That’s a mouthful, but this seems obvious: you can’t talk about business without talking about money. Let’s dig at that root.
The Church does not seek financial profit
I hope we would all agree, we are advancing God’s Kingdom not exchanging goods or services for money. To frame the discussion, consider Paul’s approach to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians chapter 9.
If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.
1 Corinthians 9:11-15
Paul is very clear that ministers deserve financial support. He, interestingly, chose not to accept it. The context suggests that they would have misunderstood and thought they were buying him (as a patron supports an artist).
There’s much more to be said about this example, I’ll condense it to this—the people with means, who wanted to use that means in exchange for influence, were forbidden to do so. In fact, they ultimately lost out. They didn’t get to participate in God’s work because their money was a stumbling block for them. Paul recognized this and put their spiritual well-being ahead of his own needs (and, of course, he could do that because he knew God supplied his needs). This is why discernment is so important for church leadership.
Wherever you find money buying influence, that’s not the Kingdom of God in operation.
Money is a central issue in the debate regarding the church and business.
The motives of profit or greed are rightly chastised in the church, but we often ignore the sin of money influence. We should strongly object when money, or a prioritization of financial concerns (which is very similar at its root), is attempting to buy influence in the Kingdom of God.
A person with means is not automatically disqualified from leadership in the church, but they should not be automatically qualified either. Money never earns a seat at the table in God’s Kingdom.
Money talks, but not for Paul. Paul prioritized the Spirit and wanted Spirit-leadership, Spirit-decisions, Spirit-service, Spirit-gifts, and so forth.
The Spirit is the real currency; the real influencer. Anything else is outside the Kingdom paradigm.
But what about stewardship?
Much has been written about stewardship and I don’t want to rehash it all. The Church should be above reproach. This includes our handling of money. Paul concurs:
… we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.
2 Corinthians 8:19-21
Stewardship recognizes that we are caring for God’s property when we are engaged in church affairs. But what if our stewardship presupposes a false standard? Or said another way, if you misunderstand the goals of the owner, you will steward with the wrong set of values. Stewardship requires righteousness. Righteousness includes being God’s agents in making right what’s wrong with the world. This is an entirely different set of values than those prized by institutions and individuals seeking profit.
Consider this passage, again by Paul, that precedes the one above:
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
2 Corinthians 8:12-15
The Kingdom way is not the America way. This is a very different dream than the American dream. The Kingdom’s principles turn the world’s principles upside down.
Godly stewardship must operate according to the standard of God’s righteousness not according to the standard of best financial practices. Godly stewardship may make individuals trained in financial excellence nervous, unless they trade that education for Godly values.
This is not about wastefulness or risky behavior that would be the antithesis of stewardship.
What I am contending for is a Kingdom mindset that values people in an extravagant way; in a way that mirrors leaving the splendor of heaven for the humility of a stable.
What I am contending for is a Kingdom mindset that trades the idolatry of financial security for generosity and faith in God’s ability to make all grace abound to us in all things at all times for all our needs (2 Cor. 9:6-10).
If we are going to properly understand the way the Church conducts her affairs, we must get this piece right, too. Without going deeper into stewardship specifics (which is the usual focus), I challenge you to adapt a Kingdom mindset undergirding stewardship that releases righteousness in and to the world.
In part one, we learned that the scientific method was the root thinking behind our drive towards efficiency and effectiveness. And I introduced some cautions with that mode of thinking.
In part two, I have highlighted that the Holy Spirit is the influencer in the Kingdom, not money. Stewardship principles are right and valid, but we must steward to the owner’s intent.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Perhaps we still have not gotten to the core issue of business principles in the church. After all, it is not the fact that there is organizational work to do, but the way we do our work, and how or where business principles would apply to it, that is at issue.
All this tilling of the soil is leading us somewhere.
On to part three.