Is the Church a Business?
May 28, 2019 by Minner Serovy
Late last year, I participated in a panel for an adult education class the opening question was just that. The other panelists were members of that church, and also business people. They explained their reasons for thinking of the church as business. With some discomfort, I could not find my way to agreement.
Yes, there are budgets and bottom lines; income and expenses. Salaries need to be paid, as do utilities and “overhead.” Building and property need to be maintained. Best practices for handling money and audits need to be in place. We must not ignore these realities. We are called to be responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
A few years back, theologians started to notice that business was borrowing our language. God as CEO, servant leadership, stewardship of people and money, highlighting meaning and purpose in our jobs. To be fair, the church began using strategic planning, program evaluation and analysis, and more. But the cross-over in language does not make our endeavors the same.
Businesses work to make their products and services better to keep their customers coming back. That is how they make profits. Many business owners are truly good people, and bring their faith to the way they conduct their business and treat their employees. It is the church’s mission to develop their members in their faith journey and relationship to God. This sometimes means challenging our members, even making them incredibly uncomfortable. Christian stewardship is not about paying for a product – a great sermon or a pastoral call – but sharing and investing in gratitude for all that God does in our lives.
It was disquieting then, to read recently what seemed to be the answer to this question in reverse: Is this business a church? In an article in The Atlantic [Workism in Making Americans Miserable], Derek Thompson described a new religion called “workism.” Workism suggests that expectations of the workplace have changed from a means of material production to a means of identity production, “promising identity, transcendence, and community.” He cautions, “To be a workist is to worship a god with firing power,” concluding “… work is not life’s product but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.”
It is wonderful that we can share some language and best practices with business, but our roles are different. We alone worship an authentic, transcendent God, the true wellspring of our identity, humanity and community. We cannot expect members to invest in their faith and the church’s mission if they are left to find their meaning and purpose in their job, profits, and paycheck.