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We’re always decrying the rise of the consumer culture within the church. But how should we expect people to act when pastors act like CEOs marketing Jesus as a product?

The Bible uses many colorful words to describe the church. It’s a family, a body, a fellowship, a holy people, a flock, and more.

But not a business.

In my previous post, I wrote about Why It's A Bad Idea To Run A Church Like A Business. In today’s post, I want to get more specific about why.

Using Business Without Becoming a Business

It’s not that there are no business aspects to leading a local church or denomination. Much like a family is better off when we manage our money and time more effectively, most pastors would serve Jesus, their church and their families better if we used good business principles to manage our time, energy and resources more efficiently, too.

But using wise business principles is not the same as running a church as though it was a business.

Here are three ways running a church like a business can become problematic.

1. The pastor acts like an owner and the members act like customers

We’re always decrying the rise of the consumer culture within the church. But how should we expect people to act when pastors act like CEOs marketing Jesus as a product?

In too many churches, we tell our guests to “sit back, relax and enjoy the service” (in other words, act like customers), then we get upset when they make demands or leave for another church that offers more of what they want.

If we treat church members like customers, they’ll be more than happy to act like customers.

While there’s a lot of finger-pointing at the rise of a consumer culture in new, seeker-friendly churches, the owner/customer model happens in churches of all types. Big and small, old-school and new-school, high and low liturgy, denominational and nondenominational.

When the pastor acts like they own the church, church members will either push back, give in, or leave. The one thing they won’t do is act like the church. Because, in this model, they’re not expected or encouraged to.

The result? Burnt out pastors and shallow members.

2. The pastor acts like middle management and treats the congregation like employees

Church members are not supposed to be passive customers. We’re supposed to be active participants in the ministry of the church.

But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to treat church members like worker drones.

Pastors are supposed to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. But when the church becomes a business, it can be very tempting for pastors with control issues to start ordering people around like bosses managing employees.

So many church members (and ex church members) have become the walking wounded, not because they weren’t willing to serve, but because when they volunteered they were turned into virtual slaves by domineering, control freak pastors who abused biblical terms like servanthood and obedience to give them cover for their own control issues, abusing their position and overstepping their authority.

The result? Domineering pastors and burnt out members.

3. The members act like stockholders and treat the pastoral staff like employees

This is most evident in churches with a congregational form of government.

That form of church governing isn’t wrong (the church I pastor requires congregational approval for big decisions), but when it’s abused – as any good thing can be – the church members become more like passive investors demanding a return for their money.

Committee membership becomes more important than actual servanthood, pastors are afraid to take a potentially unpopular stand, and actual ministry grinds to a halt under the heavy hand of procedures and pettiness.

The result? Controlling members and neutered pastors.

Where does Jesus fit in our business models?

Perhaps the biggest problem with these three skewed visions of the church is how we treat (or ignore) Jesus.

If anyone in the church is acting like a boss, they’re crowding out the place where Jesus should be Lord. And when church members act like customers, they’re missing out on the extraordinary joy of serving Jesus.

Businesses have employees and customers.

The church has family members.

Businesses have bosses.

The church has a Lord. A head. A savior. And a king.

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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