Risky Business (Part 1)
A business expert warns pastors not to emulate marketplace principles.

I first discovered Jim Gilmore when his book, The Experience Economy, was handed to me by a nationally known church consultant in 2002. If I wanted my church to grow, he explained, I had to employ the marketplace strategies in Gilmore's book. Years later I wrote about my encounter with the church consultant in my first book, The Divine Commodity, and how I believed his advice was misguided. I specifically mentioned the danger of applying Gilmore's book to the church. A few months later my phone rang. It was Jim Gilmore calling to thank me. That was the start of our friendship.

Jim's bio will fill you in on his business chops and publishing accolades, but he's best described as a "professional observer." And his skills are highly sought after by companies and universities. When I'm curious about a random topic, an email to Jim will include a reply with five must-read books on the subject. He seems to know something about everything! He's also the only person I know who teaches at a business school, seminary, and architecture program. As I continue my research for my next book, I spoke with Jim about the current state of the church and how Christians should think about engaging the world.

Skye: You spend a lot of time in the gap between the business world and the ministry world. Why do you find this space so important?

Jim Gilmore: Because business is the most corrupting influence on the visible church today. I only became fascinated with this space when I learned of so many pastors reading our book, The Experience Economy. I would normally have been delighted to have readership emerge in any pocket of the population, except the book was not being read to obtain a better understanding of the commercial culture in which congregants live, but in many cases as a primer for "doing church." I found it particularly troubling when our models for staging experiences in the world were being specifically applied to worship practices.

The talk of "multi-sensory worship," the installation of video screens, the use of PowerPoint, having cup-holders in sanctuaries – and I'm not talking about for the placement of communion cups – and even more ridiculous applications really took me back. I even read of a pastor who performed a high-wire act, literally–above his congregation. All of this effort to enhance the so-called "worship experience" arose at the same time that I detected a decline in the number of preachers actually faithfully preaching the gospel through sound exposition of the scriptural text.

March 12, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 17 comments

Randy Millwood

March 27, 2012  5:19pm

Hmmm... I don't disagree with the presenting problem: churches grabbing stuff from industry or the market and carrying it, lock, stock, and barrel, into the congregation is unacceptable to be sure. I applaud an effort to challenge this practice. But, I fear in an effort to address this, Jim has still affirmed a paradigm that needs exploding: the notion that the Church is an institution at all. She is neither institution, business, school, non-profit social organization or anything else short of the living, organic, dynamic, Bride of Christ. She is a people. She is a family. Her role is more integrative than compartmentalized. Splitting hairs over what kind of institution she is just leads us back down the same road we're trying to abandon.

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Silva Kandiah

March 20, 2012  4:49pm

Why is business considered dirty? So many of Jesus' parables are from the world of business. He himself was a carpenter. Christians, so immersed in the unbiblical but Augustinian separation of earthly and spiritual, forget that the original commission was an earthly business command: Dress the garden and keep it. That has not been done away with. Gilmore's objections to technological tools will be like the early churches objecting to printed bibles because the original scriptures were delivered orally. For one of God's model of multi-sensory worship services, read what he decreed for the Ark and the Temple - music, incense,sacrifices...So what is wrong with video screens,cup holders, power point.

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March 20, 2012  2:03pm

>>The church does not exist to help guide transformations, and this goes for two types of transformations. The church has no role in guiding personal transformations in individuals, which only contributes to turning Christianity into what Christian Smith has described as therapeutic moralistic deism. I agree that we do need to protect against "therapeutic moralistic deism," however, there is a huge difference between that and guiding personal transformation (aka discipleship). The former puts self first, the latter is helping a person learn to submit themselves to God. >>Neither should the church see itself as guiding collective transformations Isn't Acts 2:42-47 the collective transformation of the community of Christ? "...Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common." It's pretty clear to me from reading the gospels that Jesus loved the whole person not just their soul, otherwise why would he have healed and fed people's bodies? Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. -Matthew 25:40

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March 20, 2012  12:59pm

I agree church's should not be run like a business, the church job is to help move us closer to the almighty. That said, it would to the community's advantage and growth and the healthy growth of the church for the church to own business's. However, the ministers job is only to minister to the church, the business's are run by managers hired by the church.

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Claude Cunningham

March 16, 2012  2:39am

I think there's a real problem with people on the right only looking at the excesses of those on the left for justifying their "rightness", and vice versa. As a result, those on the right who need to get closer to whole ministry run further to the right - and likewise for the left. Satan just loves it. Clearly it's about embracing Christ wholly, and you have to know Him to come to that position. So sound evangelism is priority, but John 17 (and much else) calls us to strive to honour one another and strive to see what is good, and be slow and sure before condemning. And very humble about our own efforts.

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March 13, 2012  12:23pm

Totally agree that church is not a business and shouldn't be run like one. But I worry that the given reason for the church's existence will also not lead us to make disciples. I think that we need to go beyond the question of church-as-business-or-not if we are going to engage the West with the gospel. Newbigin's voice seems extremely important here: the church as a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom of God.

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March 13, 2012  10:50am

One of King Saul's big problems was that the Lord didn't fund the office. It's kind of funny really - He funded the Levites - but He didn't fund the king. So Saul had to figure out his own funding. It's really no different now.... The Lord's not the one who established 98% of these offices that people hold in the church.... so they have to find their own funding...

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J.L. Schafer

March 13, 2012  5:56am

I can buy into this limited role for the institutional church if Christians get serious about taking the gospel out into the public sphere, integrating their faith with the lives that they live at home, at school, in their places of business, etc.

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March 13, 2012  4:47am

The church IS in the business of building better Christians.

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March 12, 2012  7:42pm

The church IS in the business of building better Christians. There's "encouraging one another" in Hebrews. There's "teaching them all things I have commanded you" in the great commission. And much else that plays a role in transforming people into mature Christians. I don't think that Gilmore has really thought through the difference between business and church. Businesses try to make money by answering people's wants. The church should be building people to satisfy Christ. When churches use people to build institutions and careers, then churches are too much like businesses.

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