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Bothered by the Business of Church

I'll admit that I like to pull a Scarlett O'Hara when it comes to the less attractive side of church leadership, like getting the parking lot paved or turning in a budget. "Fiddle dee dee!" I shrug. "I can't think about that now! I'll think about that tomorrow…"

I think the business of church can be excruciating. What do you get when you take a room full of over-committed volunteers, mix in some underpaid staff workers, and toss in hundreds (or thousands) of church-goer expectations? How about business leaders who are used to managing corporate dollars combined with under-resourced and over-ambitious "kingdom" plans? Welcome to church business.

The ministry-minded among us tend to be jazzed by relationships, not regulations. We look upon tomes of policy with disdain, fearing death by legalistic rules and passion-less programming. But it's a fair argument to say that avoiding this church business is not being a good steward of the resources that God provides each of our communities.

We do have to make sure the plumbing runs and the paychecks get cut. We need lights and A/C and erosion control. But church business can take a toll.

I talk to pastor's wives, whose eyes betray the battle scars their family has endured at the mercy of "business." I consider my own experiences helping raise a new church from its infancy, and recognize that nothing has the power to fracture and divide a community like the need to get something accomplished.

Generally, we church leaders tend to agree about the essentials of the faith. If I chose to begin teaching polytheism or swore off Jesus' deity, I believe the "business" of church would be unanimous about my removal as a teacher. But when it comes to business, there is no go-to Scripture to consult, no theological treatise to quote.

On bad days, it feels like God is pulling his own Scarlett, leaving us church folk on our own to wrestle through these decisions. But in reality, I wonder if he's left it up to us as a test of our own strength of community; stretching the bonds of unity in the essentials and of love and compromise with each another in the non-essentials.

The stories passed among leaders of battles lost tend to stick more than the victories won. Rarely do I hear about the celebration of a leadership team who decided without fanfare to approve the budget. What sticks is the ugly. The times when teams can't agree and bitter strife is the result. Those are the things that fracture, that divide, the arguments that make us wonder if we are anywhere near what God intended for us as the body of Christ.

Acts 2 is the highly quotable passage about the early church, that utopian place we all long for. But by Acts 15, there is strife and disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over a fellow leader, John Mark, that ultimately causes them to part ways. I take great comfort in their later reconciliation (2 Ti 4:11). I am glad God gave us that slice of reality in his Word, knowing that despite sharp disagreements about the business of the early church, there is still unity of faith in the end.

The business of church can seem so regular and mundane that we forget the need to invite God into it. When ministering at a dying person's bedside or counseling a couple through a crisis, prayer is rarely forgotten. Yet I've found that the more "ordinary" things of church leadership engage a part of me that wants to take charge, to control, and to manage outcomes on my own—a sure sign that my flesh is at work. When we find ourselves locked up in the business of church, we must be on guard against all kinds of evil—pride, stubbornness, close-mindedness and selfishness. We must draw near to God who promises to set our hearts straight and renew our minds. Only the power of God's spirit can work us into that place with one another and enable us to embrace the business of church life.

July21, 2010 at 11:39 AM

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