Should business standards among Christian ministries be lower, the same, or higher than those in non-Christian organizations?

“Higher,” most Christians would immediately respond, perhaps citing a biblical text. Unfortunately, far too often standards in Christian ministries fall below those in other businesses—which may be at an all-time low themselves.

Here is one of many examples: A large, prosperous church in the South retained a Christian artist to do an extensive job. In addition to her time, effort, and travel expenses, she paid for materials out of her own pocket. As promised, she delivered the work on time. The church was delighted.

The artist should have been paid on delivery. She waited patiently for weeks, but no check arrived. And few tasks are more time-consuming, or humiliating, than chasing down a tardy check.

She was faced with a dilemma. If she said nothing, she might go without pay yet another month. Unlike the ministry, she could not solicit tax-deductible donations. And if she pressed the case, she would run the risk of being branded “hard to deal with,” which is Christian ministry-speak for “wants to be paid promptly for work performed and accepted according to contract.”

When she finally did call, the church told her it hadn’t decided what bills it was going to pay that month. That arrogant evasion did not help the artist pay her bills. And it would not have been tolerated in a nonministry business.

For example, contractors who do not pay their carpenters on payday, as promised, may face the withholding of equipment, a complaint with the local labor board, or a lien against the job. The action, whether by the ministry or by the contractor, ultimately amounts to theft and exploitation. In other words, it’s ...

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