Well, after having second thoughts about this post early this morning, I’ve tried to take another approach to it. I doubt that I’ve got it right yet, but would be interested to hear some discussion.
Some of us believe ministry and business are mutually exclusive. I’ve seen the sincerity in the eyes of those who are convinced that one of the biggest problems in the church today is that we are treating pastors like CEOs, people like markets, and focus groups as a substitute for seeking the will of God.
The caution needs to be taken seriously. Wherever followers of Christ put their confidence in business methods rather than Christ; value money more than people, or use manipulative methods of persuasion rather than teaching the Bible with candor and honesty, somebody might as well put an idol to Baal in the boardroom.
But our reaction to the misuse of business models in ministry also needs to be considered carefully. For instance, in reaction to well managed annual plans, balanced budgets, and clever marketing, some followers of Christ suggest that the only way to do ministry by faith is to place ourselves in such difficult circumstances that if God doesn’t show up and intervene, we will fail.
But history shows that taking an approach that i.e. asks us to overextend ourselves spiritually and financially, while trusting God to meet our needs, can also be fertile ground for presumption and misrepresenting of the Word of God. “Believing God for a miracle” that leaders or influential persons say “God has revealed to them” might even be more dangerous than use of business principles (because a misuse of a “word of faith”, or “believing God for…” can misquote the Spirit of God and lead to disillusionment after members have invested themselves in someone’s self-deception or ego.)
But if this is one more issue that polarizes followers of Christ, I think I can see at least one reason why. The Scriptures give us some very different points of reference. For instance, on one side, we see the Lord being angry because King David called for a census to assess his military strength (1Chron 21:1-8). That seems similar to what the Lord did in insisting that Gideon take no more than 300 fighting men against an enormous army of the Amalekites and Midianites (Judges 7).
But on the other hand, the wisdom of Proverbs shows that it is wise to count our resources to avoid presumption (Prov 27:23-24). Such inspired and wise sayings remind us that when we come to our God, and to a life lived in and through him, we don’t leave behind the general wisdom he has built into the world. We just realize that while such wisdom has its place, even in ministry, it’s no substitute for prayerful reliance upon our God to do what only he can do.
There’s plenty of room in ministry to trust the Lord even when we are using principles of natural wisdom. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase” (1Cor. 3:6-7). Here Paul builds on the thought that, even in the down to earth business of farming, doing the right things doesn’t assure germination in the spring or harvest in the fall. Both allow for dependence on the Lord. The psalmist makes a similar point when he says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it (Psalm 127:1).
Seems to me that the issue isn’t whether ministry needs to be done in a business-like way.
What matters is what principles of business are used, and whether we are using budgets, business plans, and focus groups to support our faith in the Lord or to replace it with reliance on ourselves.
Having an annual plan can be a way of giving consideration to all members of a ministry team, and doesn’t equal presumption as long as it is used only as a reference point– to be changed, by agreement, whenever it appears, through counsel, circumstance, and prayer, that the Lord is redirecting us.
Where business has crossed the line is when money is more important than people, policies are out of line with Scripture, or Robert’s Rules of Order are given more honor than the principles of Christ. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul also made it clear that gifts of administration are from the Lord, and so is the principle of letting “everything be done decently and in order” (1Cor 14:40).
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. Would be interested to know what you’ve seen that shows either the value or danger of doing ministry in a business-like way.