always inevitably blurts the Old Statement: "The church is not a
When a lay person uses a metaphor from the business world in a
church meeting, you can count on someone chiding the person with
the Old Statement. "The church is not a business."
When someone suggests the church employ sound--and
legal--employment practices, someone eventually resists, announcing
that "the church is not a business."
When people (like me) suggest that the church might learn some
helpful leadership lessons from the business world (as I did
last week's article about the demise of the Eastman Kodak
Company), someone predictably drags out the Old Statement. "The
church is not a business."
Well, the Old Statement has become a tired, unhelpful, harmful
saying. And the closed-minded thinking behind the Old Statement is
part of the reason the American church is stuck. I'm afraid the
dismissive utterance of "the church is not a business" has become a
lazy excuse for mediocrity. Let me explain.
Of course the church is not a business. Neither is it a farmer's
field. Or a fishing hole. Or a medical office. But that does not
mean that the church cannot learn something from those non-church
settings. In fact, Jesus used those very settings--and many
more--to help people learn about how to be the church. "The
kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in
his field." "I will send you out to fish for people." "It is not
the healthy who need a doctor."
Jesus used parables and metaphors from another setting to help
people see things in a new way. He did not cheapen his message by
using these metaphors and parables. He did not imply that his
church should actually become an agribusiness, a fishery, or a
medical clinic. He simply helped people identify with what they
knew outside the church--to learn what they might apply inside the
But, not everyone appreciated Jesus' teaching methodology. His
detractors found his challenges too uncomfortable and
Those detractors live on today, attempting to squash discussions
with snide dismissals such as, "The church is not a business." Too
often the Old Statement is used as door-slamming defense of the
slothful status quo. "We've never done it that way before."
And, repeating this Old Statement often comes off as a
contemptuous slam at those in the congregation who work in the
business world. "The church is not a business" sometimes drips with
disdain for business people. They infer, "The church should never
stoop to the cesspool of the farmer, or the fisherman, or the
doctor." That subtle inference is driving away some of our best lay
people, who happen to earn their living in the marketplace. And
that is a serious loss. D. Michael Lindsay, Gordon College
president and author of Faith in the Halls of Power,
has documented that legions of our country's accomplished leaders
with strong Christian faith have fled the church because they feel
their real world experience is dismissed and despised by church
Of course some farmers, fishermen and doctors conduct their
businesses in dishonest ways. So do some church leaders. But that's
no reason to categorically throw out everything that a profession
may teach us, simply because of some "bad apples."
And, not everything in one profession transfers to another. Of
course the church's "bottom line" should not be a financial figure.
But the church can learn useful lessons about pursuing its true
mission from other settings, such as the farm, the fishery, and the
A FRUSTRATED BUSINESS GUY
Recently I received an email from a life-long churchman who read
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. He wrote: "I decided
to visit other churches of all denominations to verify the validity
of all I had heard about the demise of Christianity. I found what I
was hearing was true.
"I am finding most churches are not willing to consider changes
that would bring people to Christ and save their churches from
dying soon. I am finding most ministers theologically qualified but
resistant to anyone from outside their church suggesting any
change. I have 50 years experience in entrepreneurial companies and
find it crazy for ministers in dying churches so tied to doctrine
and ego that they refuse to explore ways to turn their church
around and become a refuge for believers and unbelievers
It's literally true. The church is not a business. But that's no
excuse for lazy resistance to ideas that can help the church
fulfill its mission. I close with another of Jesus' business
examples: "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So
you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I
have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on
deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have
received it back with interest."