Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why Don't We Run The Church More Like A Business?

I can't tell you how many times I have heard this sentiment, often at around the time of the Annual Meeting. "Why Don't we Run the Church More Like A Business?" Its corollary, a rallying cry, "We should run the church more like a business!"

Sometimes it seems like this sentiment has to do with the church budget, other times to do with personnel issues. When I hear it, I'm left with a sense of uneasiness, and a vague sense of what the person might mean. Some how they are expressing, (I think) a sense that if we did things in a more businesslike, step-by-step, rational manner, we would be in some way more successful.

At least, I think that's what they mean. Maybe they mean that they wish they could fire the pastor if the church isn't growing.

Anyway, if you know what it means to "run the church more like a business", let me know.

As for me, sometimes I think we ought to run the church a little less like a business, at least in a few areas.

For example, I think when we are having a church council meeting, we should pray more: not just a short prayer to open our meeting and a short prayer to end the meeting, with almost no mention of "God" in the middle. What if in our business meetings we were constantly listening to God, listening for God, not as a pious exercise, but as a way to get our of our own mind-sets and knee jerk opinions, and into what following Jesus means?

I'm pretty sure this wouldn't mean less disagreements, but our arguments might get a lot more interesting.

I think we should resurrect the word "discernment" in church meetings. Discussions about how we need to get more money, or how we need to attract more people could be replaced by discussions focussing on discernment of our mission: what is it that God is calling us to do; who is it that God is calling us to be?

I'm lukewarm about Parliamentary procedure. It serves a purpose, it keeps order, I suppose, but sometimes I do think it it gets in the way of the Spirit breaking out. I'm still thinking on this one.

Finally, we could remember what the church is, and what the church is for: the church is the people of God, and its mission is to proclaim and live good news, to be good news for other people. Our mission is to be good news of reconciliation, good news of mercy, good news of welcome, good news of justice.

13 comments:

Fran said...

Diane, Diane, Diane... this is such a great post. I am envisioning church pastoral councils, finance committees and liturgy committees all sitting in silent and hopeful expectation.

No, however, we churchy types are often a loud and productive lot. All well intended of course, but wow...

And since when is church supposed to be successful? When your main guy gets prosecuted, killed and hung on a tree, you are right off the bat, starting with the not-so-successful.

Discernment of the counterintuitive path of Jesus. It is so not how parish business is done, is it?

But maybe it should be?

In any case, as a business person who works for church now, I have come to see this all in a whole different light. Business ideas can help, but heaven help us all if that is how we end up.

Thank you!

God_Guurrlll said...

I feel you sister friend. It is frustrating when my attempts at community discernment is viewed as communal navel gazing.

Paul said...

Sigh. We do need order, accountability, and measurable goals (along with the immeasurable ones). But....

I have seen adjuticatories that reek of the worst of corporate culture (yes, the hint of sulphur), where "managing up" (sucking up to and manipulating bosses) supersedes "managing down" (taking care of the areas and people you are supposed to be taking care of), where image and politics are everything. In the business world serving one's own career advancement takes priority over the servanthood of Christ.

Now, this is what turned our vestry meetings around. We opened with thirty minutes devoted to Bible study and prayer focused on mission. Then we did our business. At the end we had our financial report. It changed the atmosphere and people began to like serving on vestry instead of viewing it as a horrid duty. We made decisions much more on the basis of where we felt God calling us and much less in terms of what we thought we could afford. We were transitioning from fear to faith. And our meetings were not longer than before but shorter. Probably the best structural thing I did in my pastoral career.

Most of my adult life has been spent working in the corporate world. It is too much the creature of the enemy of our souls to be a healthy model for the church.

昱廷昱廷 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hot Cup Lutheran said...

*sigh* so challenging... i have tried various times to interject mroe of the spiritual, so that the same-o parlimentary procedure and lackluster business side doesn't prevail... but somehow it does. somehow focusing on spirituality, and discernment gets interpreted as "a waste of time"... it isn't of course... but we are not a culture or a people used to waiting for much of anything anymore... and that i think has shaped an intolerance for listening/waiting upon God...

Pastor Joelle said...

Next time they ask that tell them if they ran the church like a business their pastor would be MUCH better compensated.

Ruth said...

Wouldn't it be nice if the people on the councils even knew what the word discernment means ? I was talking to a pastor lately. He is a good Christian man but he had no idea that one was could evaluate ideas by whether they could be coming from onesself, the devil, or the world or to evaluate them to see if they were in line with Scripture. He just plunged in. Many people have no idea that the Holy Spirit can really lead one.

Kimberly said...

As someone who now has an elder on the board touting the business model, I can only add a hearty amen! I'm resisting the impulse to slip this in his box :). This is so well-written. At least no one else is getting on board, and another elder is being quite vocal on why the business model doesn't work.

And lol at Joelle. Maybe I'll say that the next time this elder lifts up the business model!

revkjarla said...

AWESOME Post!!!!

PRL said...

Well put Diane. In the denomination I am part of, we no longer make decisions by parliamentary method - rarely, as a last resort, though some people still want to go back to that way of making decisions – at times it would be quicker, but that isn’t the point. Here is the link if you want to have a look: http://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/Regulations/manualmeetings2008.pdf

One thing that I think has helped our Congregation Church Council is alternate meetings are discussion. So one month, business and reports, the other month a longer time of devotions which leads into a topic to discuss to over coffee and cake, such as a hymn that typifies your favourite image of God; the aspect of the life of the congregation that is most meaningful to you; the best thing that happened in the congregation this year [and some great answers when you accept ending a program as a good thing to do]; a time someone helped you in your faith journey. The mood of the meeting has changed, we get through the business in much less time than before, and we tend to not rehash business for months on end. This has given the Church Council a greater awareness of their role as spiritual leaders, and it seems to be encouraging the congregation.

Mompriest said...

This speaks directly at the heart of the issues I faced at St. Homeostasis...leadership who wanted to run the church as a business v/s leadership that desired more prayer, more discernment, more spirituality...and their inability to reconcile this along with my inate leanings toward prayer and discernment lead to the powerplay and pull toward church as they had always done it - ie like a business. sigh...it's a tragedy actually. And I fear the full ramifications will not be known for awhile still.

Then again I could be wrong...

Judy H said...

I have emitted sighs around most of these issues. Yet I also think about how "business" is what some of our people do best, their area of competence and even expertise. It seems important to find ways of changing the culture of meetings without leaving them feeling stupid or left out by church-culture language like discernment.

Diane said...

yes, Judy, and I have no wish to "diss" people's areas of competence. I don't particularly like a lot of "in-language", but I think there might be a point to teaching some of the language of faith. and I certainly don't think it's a bad idea to ask the questions:

"What do you think God wants us to do?" "Who do you think God wants us to be?"


There's no 'in-language' there, and there aren't any easy answers, but it puts us on the track of thinking about what our "business" really is, after all.