Not yet.

In the Why Are An Orange? post, I wrote:

I am so disillusioned with the end results of the organizational and programmatic aspects of church that I cannot seem to see beyond that.

At the moment, church as business seems to permeate everything that I read.

Ben Gray wrote a post entitled The Church Today Is Big Business. While I may not necessarily agree with all of his points, I do agree with his conclusion:

Most churches today are big business. They have profit margins, a paid CEO and subordinates. They even have a marketing strategy. It’s goal is to attract customers by providing a better product than any other church in town. And believe me, they need those customers because they have business expenses. They have bills and salaries to pay. Without paying customers, the church will go out of business.

The church is a business. You say, “But the church isn’t in it for the money.” I say, “Bull shit.” Every church is in it for the money. You ask how I got so bitter. I ask how the church got so vain.

There are pastors and churches everywhere proving that this mentality is pervasive. In Manifestations of Consumer Church, Bill Kinnon posted a link to the Ed Young video where Ed laments about church pirates who steal sheep, clearly communicating a sense of territorialism about church growth rather than an open and inclusive view of the body of Christ extending the kingdom.

Father Rob shares a warning in his post, The Church Is Not a Business:

I would say that a huge portion of the church has been heavily influenced by a church model that is actually founded more on best business practices than on biblical faithfulness.

In the pages of Scripture, we get a very different model for how the church is to operate. Success there does not depend on a person’s brilliance, their adherence to the latest best practices, or their ability to master ingenious strategies. It depends on God; on being “empowered” by the Holy Spirit.

We don’t “market” Jesus or what the church has to offer; we become what God is calling us to be and let that speak for itself. We don’t “sell” the Gospel or manage customers, commodifying both the teachings of Jesus and the people we are called to serve. And language really does matter in how we think about these things. And perhaps most counter cultural of all, we don’t necessarily pursue success; we pursue faithfulness.

Instead of being the sacred places they were meant to be, our churches will only become more and more like the world around them; like businesses chasing the latest market niche.

And if you don’t believe that, watch the latest video clip of Bill Hybels discussing WC and the response to the Reveal study. I have a great deal of respect for Bill, but I had trouble sifting through the business and attractional language in this clip – strategic, models, relevant, initiatives, spiritually catalytic, effectiveness, weekend event, service, adjustments, more effective, more information, lead better, seeker ministry, risk profile – yada, yada, yada.

“You have to thrill believers in order to move them to a place where they see people far from God the way Jesus sees them.”

I am trying to put a positive spin on what he meant by thrilling believers. Better worship songs? video clips of Bono? better coffee and donuts? What kind of thrilling might be happening in the multi-million dollar building at the well-produced service of the weekend event? Maybe there could be a power point of what’s happening outside the walls in order to “thrill the believers” into seeing others the way Jesus sees them.

Hamo shared an email by John Yates. He describes the problem of the church settling for an identity as a business organization as “spiritual masturbation.”

By “Christianity” I mean the construct of organised religious practice that developed in post–Constantinian Europe and was then progressively exported around the globe. It is the dominant form of religion we are familiar with to this day – church buildings, professional ministries, set services, academic training for ministry and so on.

Contemporary Western Christianity largely defines itself by its relationship with itself and its history. It is extremely introverted. This is indicated, for example, by the inordinate focus on leadership, ministry, church growth, gifts, the Bible, anointing, prosperity, revival etc. rather than on the person of Jesus and his living presence amongst us.

The greatest obstacle to the advance of the kingdom of God in most of the West is not secularism, religious pluralism or Islam, but a resurgent Christianity. By this I mean a religion dominated by mega churches, super pastors and political influence. What we are most in need of today is a post-Christianity church.

Do I believe this is true of every single church? No, but I do believe that most leaders of church organizations have difficulty not falling into the trap of business success mentalities and patterns of commodifying people. To be honest, I have a difficult time seeing myself not being critical of this.


25 thoughts on “Post-critical?

  1. You and I are bumping up against the same issues. This topic was the whole point behind my recent post on denominations, too.

    Just how DID Jesus do it all without PowerPoint and a rock band?

  2. “Come out of her, my people…” Rev. 18:4 basically says the same thing you are saying here.

    Being critical of systems may be different from being critical of people. In the west, we tend to identify people by what they do. But I don’t believe that’s where our identity lies. So, if we are critical of what is being done, then people may confuse that for being critical of (or rejecting) people themselves. But I think there is a distinction. I think *real* love tells the truth. It doesn’t let people go on doing things that are damaging without saying anything.

    God loved me, so He began to speak “critical” words about the religious activities I was involved in. He loved me enough to tell me the truth and call me out of a system that was a religious substitute for the actual substance of His kingdom. In ideal circumstances, our motivations match His.

    (I really liked that John Yates post by Hamo too).

  3. Wow! That’s really a cool church in the graphic. Where is it? … I want to join it NOW! (I hope they have a designer coffee shop and a youth room with video games and pool tables and an entire wall that is a fish tank and a manicured landscape with a fountain.)

  4. On second thought, maybe we *are* what we do.

    This is where I wonder about having been crucified with Christ once and for all and sanctification as a continuing, ongoing process… and how those two fit together.

  5. For many churches success is measures by ABC’s – attendance, buildings and cash. Following the lure of business models, we have sold out to a team leading concept where you need to join us in building it so they will come. If you are not on board then you are damaging and dangerous. You have value by serving for the greater good of the church, if you are personally damaged so sorry figure it out on your own which leads many to addiction, depression, destruction, isolation and self medicating but “we” don’t want to know and if something bad happens then it is the victim’s fault for not saying anything – they own their problem as the church quickly distances itself from it. Churches spend inordinate amounts of time feeding the machine to crank out perfectly produced worship experiences to feed people for their required one hour a week, conveniently offered on Saturday or Sunday. They create community building opportunities during the week to keep people isolated from the rest of the world, the one they should be ministering in. American churches have become self serving institutions whose goal is to keep themelves fed and happy not to meet people where they are and teach them that Christ isn’t a magic genie who is going to suddenly give you everything you always wanted, in fact quite the opposite. The closer you walk with God, the more broken you become just like Christ – abandoned, forsaken, sold out by those who claimed to love Him…hmmm sounds like a familiar story in the blogosphere. Sorry, you hit a nerve, Kimberly

  6. As I was reading your post, I was reminded of a quote I just read over at Wayne Jacobsen’s website…
    “When religion replaces the actual experience of the living Jesus, when we lose the authority of personal knowing and rely on the authority of books, institutions, and leaders, when we let religion interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we lose the very reality that religion itself describes as ultimate.”
    –Brennan Manning in The Wisdom of Tenderness

    Forgive me if you do not see the connection, but I thought it fit.

  7. Americans spent more than $7 billion on Christian products in 2006.
    Daniel Radosh says, there’s an entire parallel world out there, a vast alternative to mainstream pop culture, “like a mirror universe from a science fiction tale.” Daniel Radosh, Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture (New York:)

  8. Grace,
    this sounds so much like the church I used to attend. the funny thing is , I didn’t see it for a long time. I was serving in my church and getting filled every week. Or so I thought. My wife is the one who had a distaste for this place right away. I was caught up in the emotional experience and blinded to a certain degree. I can see it much clearer now. Even in the efforts to serve people, the mega-church is self serving. It’s sort of like sending out coupons for a free meal or something. The sewing is supposed to yield more people and if it doesn’t then there is something wrong.
    It is so very “corporate America” the way the churches conduct themselves.
    I am so tired of corporate America..

  9. Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”

    The Lord said you can’t do it – so what makes us think we can? When you get to the bottom of much of the controlling behavior, manipulation fed by guilt and shame, and the political maneuvering – you’ll find at the center of it is money. I watched it unfold week after week when I was an elder at the CLB.

    I’m convinced that if you take away the money – you solve a large portion of the problems.

    Mr 6:8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts….

    Now, how often do you hear this verse in the practical application sermons?

  10. Greetings,

    I discovered this blog a couple of weeks ago and have made it a part of my morning joe. The blunt force honesty in it and others linked through it is refreshing.

    I was saved at a Calvary Chapel, got involved in a Toronto Blessing-esque church, then went on a ten year churchless journey. Which I am still on.

    Does this make me Post-charismatic?

    I can’t say I felt the Lord leading me this whole time. It has felt more like me leading me. But back then he did give me a dream that showed many things that were or would happen.

    I find myself in a tween place. I don’t buy the business as church, but I don’t have yet an abode to transition to. (New things can feel very foreign and awkward, can’t they.) And when I say abode, I only mean a place of resting with Him in whatever (church/churchless) paradigm he wants.

    I am unwilling to jump off the ledge of “emergent”-ness. It all appears too liberal, watered-down or anti-X for me. Besides, if I were to see emergent as another “move” or trend it wouldn’t be any better for me than the lastest-greatest-gotta-go charismatic revival.

    I also wonder. Is evangelism, emergent or not, only for the extraverted or high energy personalities? Of which I am not.

    Anyways, I do enjoy the non-religiousness of what has been happening. The decentralization of the Church.

  11. Jim,
    Your post brought up some good points about the franchising nature of denominations which contributes to consumerism and predictability, but also to sectarianism and the creation of affinity groups rather than unity in diversity.

    In Bruce’s post, linked above, he says,
    Ever wonder…………….if Churches gave away 90% of what they took in what difference the Church would make in the world?

    I believe that “corporately” we have lost our way and taken on a model and identity of church that little resembles the family of God. I think there is a distinction between the people and the systems, and that there are many well-intended people caught up in the machinery of the religious system.

    I think it’s WC. Let us know how it goes when you get plugged in.

    I believe there is a connection between this mentality and spiritual abuse. Tracy (best parts) is writing about spiritual abuse and a contributing factor is the commodification of people – the presumption that they are to be used for the leader or church’s purposes.

    katherine and cindy,
    I swing back and forth between being hopeful that this can change and convinced that it will never change because of the investment and payoff to those involved in perpetuating the success of this model of church.

    I believe that is applicable. When religion becomes a packaged product, we lose the relational aspect, not only with Jesus, but also with one another.

    A parallel and irrelevant universe. What is a christian product?

    I’m glad you brought that up because there are many people still having very real experiences in the midst of this church culture. It isn’t all bad. There are people getting saved, learning and growing. However, I believe the church as organization mentality is something that we have to be very aware of particularly for those involved in leadership of an organization.

    If the church really was not a profitable business, it would be interesting to see what dynamics would change.

  12. Crap, totally forgot why I was making the comment in the first place. There is a church that we frequent. Found it after our last church split.

    Its a mega-in-the-making. Has all the programs and all the “plug-in” opportunities. When I talk to folks there about being out of a system or lower case c church. They think I am absolutely crazy.

    The problem is when i get into details, the answer is always, “Oh, we do that” or “We have that.”

    And having been involved in it I can say they aren’t lying.

    They have the inner healing prayer ministry for those abused. They are hugely big on evangelism. And not the preachy kind, but the acts of kindness kind. They have some order or avenue for using spiritual gifts. They have all the small group stuff for intimate fellowship. Heck, what flavor of small group you want? — gifts, mens, singles, couples, etc.

    They even have(had?) a ministry of college kids discussing current events in local bars.

    Don’t you have to drink beer in a bar and talk about Jesus to be emergent?

    But this is all wrapped in strategies, mission statements, canned sermons, high-tech projections, scripted worship, etc, etc.

    Is there something wrong with this?

  13. Grace – I think Brain answered your thought – the only “churches” that are going to be left are the Walmarts. Walmarts are great – for what they are – a little bit of everything – a whole lot of nothing. Millions and millions to run one. All the little not so professional “churches” around end up closing their doors. So – you’re either going to have a mega-church – or a house church.

    I’m really surprised Disney doesn’t get in the church business – they are very good at everything the Mega-church does – they just need to find a prince valiant (or a little mermaid) that can preach.

  14. brain,
    It’s nice to meet you. There are great things happening in lots of churches. Maybe the answer is to just focus on that stuff and overlook and stay far away from the business side of things. I’m still trying to figure out if it is unrealistic or idealistic to not expect that to be a part of church.

    I have noticed that the effect of a mega-church in a community is similar to the effect of a walmart on small, locally-owned businesses. When you have the ability to provide one-stop-shopping, better service, quality, and prices, it is inevitable that the little guy won’t be able to compete.

  15. Grace – I’ll buy all of that except “better service” – I think the Mega church we attended 8 or 10 times (we haven’t been for 5 weeks now) – nobody has ever even struck up a conversation with us – just “welcome to Walmart!”

  16. jerry,
    I should have said “services” as in children’s ministry, etc., all of the things you can do better when you have more money.

  17. Grace,

    As is “normal”…I’m coming to this discussion a day late and a Pound short ;o)

    Some one wrote something to the effect (Wolfgang Simson, maybe?);

    When the Jews received the Gospel they saw it as the New Law. When the Greeks got the Gospel they made it into a philosophy and when the Europeans came to the Gospel they made it into a culture. Americans have made the Gospel into a business.

    Kimberly’s measuring church success by “the ABC” method is amusing yet true. Another method is “BBB”…Buildings, Bodies, Bucks.

    JulieT’s quote from Brennan Manning is exactly right. Has anyone here ever read anything that Manning wrote that wasn’t right on? Manning, in Abba’s Child quoted Thomas Merton saying;

    “If I make anything out of the fact that I am Thomas Merton, I am dead. And if you make anything out of the fact that you are in charge of the pig barn, you are dead.” Merton’s solution? “Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.”

    Grace, quoting your re-post;

    I am so disillusioned with the end results of the organizational and programmatic aspects of church that I cannot seem to see beyond that.

    Is it just the “end results” that are bothersome, or is it the methodology/mind-set AND the subsequent “results” ?

    Maybe I’m too simplistic, but isn’t it time we just walk away from the knee-deep hupla and devote our time, gifts, energy, material blessings, etc. to just seeking and being the little clots of the Kingdom that are known by the Lord and who know each other face to face?

    Forget the Franchises. Perhaps God is using McChurch to pull some folks off the sidewalk, but it seems to me that McChristianity leaves growing people un-full, thus they begin looking for the real Feast. (did I get enough goofy metaphors into that last run-on sentence?) We don’t need to “produce church”, rather, let’s be participants in what Jesus has already “produced” of and in Himself.

    Let’s rest from “keeping score.”


  18. Great thoughts Tom!
    You are right that the methods, mindsets, and results are a package deal. While I can walk away from this personally, I am not ready to quit saying that there is a vision for the church that is greater than the institutional models we have accepted and embraced. And I agree completely that participation in the body of Christ is a great place to begin being the change we wish to see.

  19. Grace,

    None of us should be “ready to quit saying that there is a vision for the church that is greater than the institutional models we have accepted and embraced” in the past.

    Just as you are (and the so many others are who interact here at your blog) , I am constantly in a process of distinguishing the essence of our relationship to Jesus and each other from the cultural containments which often make the claim of being “essential”.

    I’m convinced that church (Believers who relate/commit one to the other) has often (especially in our country) been industrialized and has thus lost/obscured the essence (DNA) — which is, to quote Paul, “Christ in me” and thus Christ in you and me.

    If we will dedicate ourselves to living out of that essence which has been put into us and taking the time and trouble to figure out together what that looks like, then we will, through the work of the Spirit, be a “picture window ” onto the world through which the world will witness the manifold wisdom of God.

    That’s being “on mission”, I would think.

    We start with what we’ve been given, and as Traveler has indicated on a more recent comment thread, we live out of the assurance of God’s goodness and grace and not out of fear of making mistakes. God takes our mistakes and turns them to “light” (Eph. 5:13,; ASV, KJV, Youngs Literal).

    So, let’s continue to hack away at the overgrowth…you have a strong arm, Grace.


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