There’s a perception that, as church leaders, we cannot take much from the secular business world and apply it to the church. In fact, many people often object to using business practices in the church.
An overuse of business practices has caused some to refer to the CEO model of church leadership. This model brings the concern by some that a business model of running a church deemphasizes pastoral care.
It’s true that an overemphasis on business tools can shift the focus from ministry to people to efficiency in operations, but that need not happen.
Business tactics at times have been prioritized over the Word of God. Instead of being used as tools, they were instead seen as goals.
Once a business-like church ran smoothly, it could easily forget about its true purpose of being the body of Christ. This has resulted in the church conforming to the world around it and relying on tools more than trusting in God.
For some, a perspective on a sacred-secular divide can create an uneasiness with anything not explicitly found in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t have a book on leadership, so leadership principles from the business world are considered secular, not to be trusted.
But Scripture focuses on righteousness versus unrighteousness, not secular versus sacred. Unscrupulous or manipulative business concepts, whether used in a church or in a company, should always be shunned. But sound business principles should be known and followed.
Business tools aren’t the key to having a healthy church. The Word of God should be the foundation of everything that we do within our churches. But if we believe God is truth and his world reflects his glory, business tools can be useful in church life.
Here are some reasons business tools can help the church.
First, all truth is God’s truth.
He is the author and creator of truth. If this is the case, then leadership books or other acquired truth can be helpful to us. However, we need to remember the church is the body of Christ with a mission to make disciples, not a business with a goal to make money.
Instead, we seek to lead churches that use sound business principles. In Scripture, we see how the building of the temple followed sound architectural principles, and the Israelites used wise agricultural concepts.
The church should be dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit and guided by the Word of God, but it should use business tools wisely as well. Following wise approaches actually helps the church not to be distracted by secondary issues and focus instead on her mission.
Second, nowhere in the Bible do we see the level of complexity of organizations that we see in today’s churches and in businesses.
Because many of our churches are larger than early Christian churches, and because the world is so drastically different 2,000 years after the church was first established, we need to acknowledge the ways the world has changed.
In doing so, we need to understand our current culture. We can understand our culture without conforming to it or losing sight of our scriptural roots.
Rather, it means acknowledging and embracing the parts of our lives that are different than those of our first-century counterparts. The biggest difference, perhaps, is technology and business.
These two things have mostly been used to improve life for humans. This is why it is important to acknowledge that parts of the business world can be helpful and useful to churches.
For example, think of financial programs that churches use to track money from week to week. I suppose someone could say, “Well, why use that? Why not just look to Scripture?” But ultimately, we need tools to help us accomplish the means and ends.
The problem comes when we fail to prioritize the Word of God and instead have a disjointed balancing act between Scripture and business tools or leadership. Below are just a few keys to being rooted in Scripture while still being open to truths from other sources are discernment and a filter.
We must first approach new ideas with an open Bible, prayerful hearts, and wise counsel from others within the church. We need to ask if implementing the new idea would further the Kingdom of God and aid the church to fulfill her mission, or if it would harm the church more than help it.
This should not be a quick, simple, or easy process; instead, it should be given time, attention, and effort before anything is implemented into the church.
Second, a filter.
Everything we consider needs to be filtered through the Word of God. In the same way water is filtered to keep us safe and healthy, our ideas and concepts are filtered through Scripture. Whether it is explicitly stated in Scripture is not a cause for concern; if it clearly contradicts the Bible, that is a problem.
A used car salesman may find a gimmick that gets a crowd to his car lot; that doesn’t mean we should use his approach just because it works to draw a crowd; we should weigh it with the Word, where a tool to draw a crowd is never prioritized over the beauty and majesty of the gospel.
We should never allow pragmatism (follow this tactic because it works) to be more important than seeking righteousness (is this tactic right).
When used effectively, this filter keeps us from taking our church down a path God has not paved for us. Scripture is at the center of all that we do, it guides us and helps us fulfill God’s will for our church.
These two things, discernment and a filter, should be prioritized in our decision-making.
Business tools, tactics, and leadership do not need to destroy our churches. They do, however, need to be approached carefully, with thoughtfulness and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Understanding, and later implementing, this careful approach means first acknowledging our priorities and doing whatever we can to maintain them.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair at Wheaton College, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
The Exchange team contributed to this article.