Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "Business" Of Church

Matthew 21:12-13 ~ 12- And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13-And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Although there is a healthy debate even among Christians as to whether the "church" as we know it today was ever supposed to be the "church" as we have become used to seeing it, or even whether Jesus came to establish a religion at all, one thing is for sure, whatever the church and religious practice associated with the church once was, it is hard pressed to continue to be that and as a result has lost it's luster in a ever increasing mine-field of church and even secular "alternatives".

In short, the rise of relative moral values, increasing secularism, and the desire for social relevance are among some of the more pervasive issues that the church faces. That doesn't even begin to touch on the ever increasing moral failures of some of the leaders and adherents of the church. All of these things have made the church, the modern physical church, a very difficult landscape for the average person to navigate.

Church, The Business

Then add the "business" of church to the mix. There has always been a business aspect to serving God through the corporate entity called the church. Even within the first church people sold what they had that the needs of the corporate group might be met (Acts 4). Under the Levitical system, sacrifices and offerings cost and had value. In Jesus time, ministry under the Temple System had become big business. Scripture records that Jesus drove out the "moneychanges" at least twice during his ministry (Matt. 21:12-13, John 2:14-15) and reprimanded temple leaders for their excesses. I believe, and have further taught, that Jesus did this at least annually as a symbol of his office and in expectation of what the religious Jew would have understood as the special authority associated with the Messiah who was expected to appear in every generation. By the time of Jesus, to say that the Temple and the people were being abused would have been an understatement. What was being done was not in accordance with what God had commanded and not in line with what he expected from those who would serve HIM. The poor were to be ministered to, not taken advantage of. The very fact that the nickname of the Temple at that time was "Herrod's Temple" indicates that money and evil associations had began to rule the day even in what should have been the most sacred of places.  

Show Me The Money!

From the historical position of Catholic "indulgences" to modern mega church "sacrificial gifts", to $50 million dollar plus places of worship, not to mention $250,000 monthly TV programming budgets. As we already know, on any given Sunday at mini-mega local churches offerings of the faithful can exceed $20,000. Big business exists within and surrounding the modern church. Much of the raised funds are delivered to folk

who work for service within the church. Beginning with the pastor, (in many cases) salaries and benefits abound. Yet another sizable portion of funds are delivered for presentation of the building or program and other things some of which does not directly minister to a single soul. Surprisingly, in many modern churches, only a small percentage of funds raised actually make it to individuals at street level in the form of outreach or ministry programs. Just in case you didn't know, a community concert or a "street party" is NOT an outreach program in and of itself...

Of course it takes money to operate and no one is saying that money shouldn't be spent on operational costs, however too often what often starts with attention to care for souls and meeting the needs of men evolves into attention to detail of the physical and material characteristics of those who work within the church and activities that takes place as a result of church work. Progression appears to be taking the focus of ministry away from what matters towards what makes one comfortable and what makes more money. Then many think they must do these things in order to be relevant within society. This is most certainly a deception, because with Jesus (even with no money) one will always be relevant. 

What Are We Known For?

Then, look at the program...For instance, how many times is a function of the church, such as a "memorial tea", fashion show or fundraiser, exalted as being representative of the church in place of prayer, fasting, and calls to repentance? How many churches are known by their call to purity, holiness and righteousness as opposed to the personality of their pastor or their self branded community status? Many times the "business connections" associated with church attendance and membership is the only thing that is desired...forget a spiritual fellowship or communion...In far too many places the "church" has become a secular venture and an RSVP only target marketing scheme for those who associate with it to make money. 

Not only has the church been named after pretty much anyone who starts it or has any influence over it, it has established and set up rules and regulations that men agree upon and agree to abide by. Many of these rules and regulations have no relevance or bearing upon what is right or in accordance with bible or biblical commands. In addition, the practice of the church seems to correspond to the influence that it delivers to and within the community. For example: in far too many cases, especially when the church perceives itself to be "sophisticated", or to have "arrived" (because even churches can develop a corporate identity based on individual perceptions of itself) the scope of topics that it addresses sometimes shrinks. This is especially notable when topics lend themselves to controversy. Even though modern civil rights and racial equality was birthed within the Black church in particular, overall, the power, emphasis and influence of the church in this important area has all but diminished in modern times. I believe that weakness within the church is the only reason that the US Supreme Court could gut a part of the voting rights act. Not that the church didn't rally, but the church can't rally when the animals are out of the gate and expect results. The rallying begins with a solid message everyday and not just a message in response to the latest political upheaval.  

Biblically centered, substantive, and relevant conversation has become a relic. To even say "holiness" in some churches first comes with a list of disclaimers describing what holiness is NOT. That, of course, is an attempt to redefine holiness, making it socially acceptable and palatable for the masses. Ask around. you will see. Count the number of individuals who identify themselves as those who believe in and or teach "holiness"...Why? Because that message just doesn't sell as many tickets, and as I will point out, our desire to "sell tickets" and become "attractive" to the world, and even one another, is the problem.

...changing speeds, lanes and values...

Although the bible is a "spiritual" book, it is often only interpreted through the lens of carnality and secularism. The world has interpreted the bible that way and the church has followed suit. In other words, church is now presented as a set of "convenient", "cute" and "quaint" values and practices that must be marketed and sold to the public. Many conclude that what the bible records are merely "stories" and object lessons. It is not necessarily filled with objective or relevant truth and absolute truth that proceeds from God himself.  

When it comes down to the application of the word in individual lives, many of our leaders present and believe that as long as there is a "degree" of change in a person's life, one passes the test of the modern church...What do I mean? Well, that type of sentiment is was confirmed to me as I listened to a minister who wasn't ashamed to present his modernized concept as he proclaimed; 

"...if you are  now a believer, even though these things are OK, because y'u-know bud is allright. Right? But you should be drinking, smoking, and cussing a little 'less than what one did before you became a believer..."
In other words, according to his sentiments, the only power in Christ was power to make one feel better about their sins, not to come out of sin. That is the message being promoted to this new and modern generation through what we now call the church. On the other hand, isn't there a scripture that discussed having a "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" and how the saints should respond? (2 Tim. 3:5) I thought so....

When Success Becomes Our Enemy 

Dr. R A Vernon
The Word Church 
The Cleveland, OH, 20,000 member megachurch pastor, Dr. R A Vernon emphatically states,

"We've got to pimp this ride a little bit"

Dr. Vernon said this in expressing to his TV audience the need for updating, modifying and beautifying the facades of 4 of his current worship centers in the Ohio area.  He would also go on to discuss the benefits of having a "#1" (to assist the pastor) who knows the heart of the minister and who knows all the personal and ministerial "secrets". This "#1" (which sounds like somethings straight from Star Trek The Next Generation) would be instrumental to paying all the pastor's personal bills and one who should prove their worth by being able to open all the doors necessary for the pastor to simply come in and sit down in business deals moving from one project to the next with ease...as Dr. Vernon put it, "I don't need to know the details, that's what I pay him for"....

Not only does Dr. Vernon, promote a sort of church administration that imitates Wall Street, one of his primary appeals is his short and direct church services, even stating that, "If I weren't the pastor, I would simply come to our 4:00 Saturday worship service and call it a done deal. Come Saturday at 4, you're out by 5 and go home and spend all day Sunday with your family and doing what you wanna do. That's what I would do"

Now, I am sure that it seems like it but, I am not picking on R A Vernon. Besides, according to him, my criticism would be ineffectual, because he has a large church and is more relevant within the Kingdom. Just in case you think I am being petty, have you read "Size Does Matter"?....(It seems his type of sentiments must be some sort of Cleveland disease)... Then, to be fair, Dr. Vernon's Word Church does quite a bit of outreach to relive burdens from the people. That is a good thing for which he and they should be commended. What I am pointing out is a certain set of truth propositions, presented in the public square, that lines up with the topic and deserves attention. Dr. Vernon statements are simply an apropos example of what I am discussing and are worth examining.

The Facts Are...

Matthew 16:18 ~And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The modern church is and has patterned itself after modern day secular businesses.  Don't get me wrong...the church MUST do the business of the world and of the Lord...Hollering "Jesus!" and speaking in tongues does not in and of itself purchase the land, neither does it pay for the building or anything else that we need to provide ministry. However, when secular business acumen overtakes ministry to the souls or diminishes spiritual emphasis and values that should be held forth, it is WRONG! The souls of men must come first. It is those souls that Jesus died for. Not the salaries of the employees or even the payments to the musicians. 

It simply seems that our modern success has driven us further away from the truth and what we can identify as being "real". Not everyone will drive, and neither does everyone want a BMW, Lexus, Rolls or Bentley believe it or not. Not everyone desires the biggest or the largest facility. Some simply want the power and realness of God and the blessings that HE provides. The unfortunate part is that we no longer truly rely on God...we rely on the substance of a ever weakening self and render what that provides to God as if he must simply accept what we offer him.

If it were not for Jesus, one thing is for sure, we would not have a reason to exist or a chance in this world. When Jesus builds HIS church, it will never fail. This is why the TRUE church will never be irrelevant. It doesn't matter if someone devises and implements a new program or what we have come to label as "ministry". When God is allowed to have his way and build HIS church, it will be successful and relevant no matter how many members it has.

Hopefully the "business" of the church doesn't block you or someone you know from the church. If it does, i would like to know and have that discussion right here.


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