I have always been deeply, deeply disturbed by the tendency among many people, both clergy and laity alike, to think about the church as if the church were a business. Viewed within the broad context of church history, this is a peculiarly American thing. The causes and possible cures for this cannot be sketched out in a brief note like this one- even if given the space I doubt I could address them to anyone’s satisfaction (other than my own!). Instead, I will appeal to those of us who think about the church in more-or-less business and commercial terms to be biblical about at least one aspect of what the church has been called to be and do.
I have long since lost track of how many books, blogs, articles, and seminars I have read or attended that have used corporate, business models to define pastoral leadership roles and methods. Some of the ideas gleaned from these sources are good; some, not so much. But assuming at least some validity to considering the church as business and the pastor as executive, it is discouraging how the model fails at what may be the most critical point.
Every leadership resource I have been exposed to that echoes the business model deals with the importance in the business world of a business identifying its product. What does the business do? Does it make tires? Neck ties? Airplanes? When you look at what church leadership teams across the country are spending their time doing, one would think that the product the church leadership produces includes worship services, programs, events, ministries, web sites …
While these things are important and are more or less necessary parts of the work of the church, they are not and may never properly be the desired product of the church. What is the one thing that Jesus asked and commanded us to make? Disciples. While it is true that with respect to God himself our work is to worship him in Spirit and in truth, our product with respect to our work in the world is the production of disciples.
This presents us with a couple of key questions: Are we making disciples? Jesus describes disciple making as including both triune baptism and teaching them to obey all that he commanded (Matthew 28:20). Do we do these things? To put it differently, are we faithful and industrious in evangelism? Do we teach the gospel grace of obedience to God as a desired, let alone necessary trait in the Christian life?
I think that there are some ways in which we can answer these questions in the affirmative – yes, we do some of these things. But there are others in which I think it is very easy for us to be focused on trying to build programs instead of pursuing disciple-making with a burning and focused zeal. As a small church with relatively limited resources, we will never have the programmatic excellence that money can buy. It should be a comfort to know that God does not require of us anything beyond the gifts that he has entrusted to us! Nonetheless, there is an eternally significant role for us to play in the salvation of others. And we must be a salty and bright group of Christians who are alike committed to seeing friends and neighbors baptized and taught how to faithfully follow Christ.
This month I will be concluding a series of sermons on the Gospel of Matthew. The final note of this grand, Spirit-inspired telling of the Savior’s life ends with his commission that is to all of us: Go ye therefore and make disciples…” Be thinking about whether or not and if so how you are making disciples. How can the elders of the church, including me, better equip you to be involved in this great task? How are we as elders discipling you?
Questions that focus our attention on the product Jesus asked us to pursue are vital to deciding what things we should start doing and what things we should perhaps stop doing. But whatever we do, let us be certain that this year we are investing ourselves personally in the production of disciples – both individually and corporately.