From the humble meetings taking place in small, unknown towns to the deliberations of elders in the Bible belt, making decisions that guide each congregation is surely deserving of respect. Surrounded by the spiritual threats of the secular world and the compromises of the religious world, these men face a daunting challenge—the spiritual safety of souls in a soul-destroying realm.
Yet, a misunderstanding that can creep into all our minds is to think of the church along the lines of a company or a business. After all, there are apparent similarities. There are leaders. There are numbers to crunch. There is money involved. There are workers. There are growth issues. In order to satisfy our lesser accountability to the earthly government, we must occasionally make at least a passing effort to operate in a corporate capacity. It would be very easy to be tricked into thinking that a congregation should be run along the lines of a business.
The risk is real. There have even been times when strategies for growth have been derived from the financial wizards of the conference room, rather than from the Bible. A hierarchy begins to develop suspiciously similar to games played by the suits in the high rises. Instead of behavior shaped by humility and love, it becomes a system of power and intimidation. In addition, the gospel ends up becoming a product. And when the truth is reduced to a widget and the lost are approached as “customers,” all kinds of compromises follow.
The church is not a business. When God chose an analogy, He did not use the corporate world. In one instance, He compared the church to the human body. “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12). He also compares us to a temple and a flock of sheep, but the nature of the church is to at least some extent captured with the concept of a human body. God used the idea to teach some extremely important lessons about our connections with each other. “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any less a part of the body” (I Corinthians 12:15). This concept of individual significance is carried out to the fullest extent. “It is much truer that members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (I Corinthians 12:22). This is much different from the way things are thought of in the business world. In the church, the head is Christ and all things are controlled by and in service to Him.
A human body is not like a business. The brain will not be willing to downsize the kidneys. The hands will not question the necessity of the mouth. The skin will not negotiate a hostile takeover. If such things did happen in a body, it would certainly not be an indication of health. Much of the unkindness found among Christians might be traced back to the fact that we have forgotten to leave our executive keys at the door.
This basic misunderstanding of the nature of the church might also explain some of the programs sincerely implemented for the purpose of growing a congregation. If you’re dealing with a business, you improve your PR. You market yourself, make the product more appealing to your customer. However, if you’re dealing with a living organism, you feed it. A young man who is in need of growing doesn’t need artificial programs to make him taller or stronger. Some modern tactics of trying to grow the church are the equivalent of telling the young man go hang from the monkey bars several hours every day. This will not make this young man grow. You need to feed him. And the living entity of the church survives on Scripture (Hebrews 5:14). Feed the body and it will grow, spiritually and possibly numerically.
The body of Christ and the corporate world are not compatible. They are two completely different things. This is the body of Christ, not the corporation of Christ. We are not selling something. We are serving Someone. To try and run the church with the tools provided by worldly businesses is a form of blindness that can only hinder any congregation. All of us should remind ourselves constantly that we are part of a living, breathing body—the only thing truly alive in this dead world.