Corporate Church

One of my pet peeves over the course of my church work has been observing the behavior of church consumers. These are the people who church shop every few months. Who will come up and tell you that they “don’t feel fed” and that your church does not offer the programs that the need to grow. And because there is a perfectly good church just down the road that has not committed the offense of challenging their spiritual life, they leave your church and the hurt they have cause, never to be seen again. Sometimes this is not a bad things.

Yet, the reason that there are so many church consumers is that, as leaders of the church, we have created this system that produces them. They are our product; our spiritual children, if you will and we cannot forgo at least part of the blame for the monsters that we have created. As church leaders, we have made it mostly (or all if you are honest with yourself) about measurables. Yes, we can rationalize this all we want, but we want bodies in seats. Bodies in groups. Dollars in the offering basket. And more and more people volunteering to do work in the church. These are the things we look for. External stuff.

So, people’s spiritual lives get measured by what we can see. And “good Christians” are looked at as the product. It is no wonder that when people are having doubts, involved in conflict, not measuring up, not “being fed” (which is a sense of their own stagnation), or not able to produce in the way we’ve defined – that they leave our churches. Their spiritual lives are viewed as a product that the church as a corporation produces. Defective products have to go.

As I have progressed in my journey, the question has arisen in my mind again and again – what is the true measure of growth? What should we be looking for within the people we lead to know the state of their spirituality – their relationship with Jesus, creator of their soul?

Steadfastness. The apostle Paul defined it. If you are a college basketball fan, Dick Vitale would call it stick-to-it-iveness. (So funny to me that spell checker did not underline that work. Thanks Dickie V!) Here’s how we define steadfastness: it’s like the man swimming for his life in the ocean from a shipwreck. He arrives on the beach tattered and exhausted. But he’s arrived by his own effort.

This looks like the marriage where the wife decides that the godly thing will be to grin and bear the abuse. As long as she is able to make her husband happy enough they he doesn’t explode, then everything will be OK.

Or the man who is addicted to pornography that decides that he just won’t look. Even though it is all he thinks about, not looking, he is going to gut it out and make this change.

Or the parents who bring their kids to church no matter what, but who resent each other and never miss an opportunity to tear each other down at any other time.

All these look the part, but they are not examples of steadfastness. They are examples of self-righteousness. Making our own way to God. Covering our own shame with the fig leaves of our pretending. As long as I look good enough, my church buddies will accept me and I’ll know God loves me.

A better way to understand what Paul is referring to is maintaining our openness to God. Being open to what He is doing no matter what the circumstances. Finding God as your delight rather than what God does for you.

This is a fundamentally less satisfying definition from a leadership perspective. How do you measure openness? What does delight look like on a bar graph? How do we report these things to the elder board? More than that, this is much tougher. It means that we are going to have to allow people to mess up. To be comfortable with a spirituality that doesn’t progressively lead to a better life day by day before Jesus returns. Church leaders are going to have to believe that God DOES work all things for the good of those who love Him, and let people or help people experience their rock bottom so they can delight in the God who has given His EVERYTHING to save them.

Defining steadfastness outside of performance means that we have to take seriously the charge to restore our brother, not just discard him when the going gets messy. That we’ll have to bear each other’s burdens. Entering into each others lives in a meaningful way in order to do so. Really, doesn’t it just lessen the burden we have to bear for each other when people perform well and look the part? No more obligation to be involved in the lives of others when they have it all together. Is “my best life now” even a realistic reality for the one in Christ while we remain in a world that is the dominion of the evil on in these last days? What should we expect from our people?

Our churches should be places where people have the freedom to go beyond the performance that we can measure. Sure they are in a group. Sure they serve every Sunday. So what? The Church should be a haven for those in Christ to walk through the mess of their brokenness with someone who has walked the path before. Without shame or guilt. If God gives none, then why should we? Most of all, the impression should never be given that we need to put ourselves back together in order to be acceptable before God. That is His job. We are the clay. He is the potter. We are the soil. It is God who makes things grow.

Please don’t misunderstand my rant. I’m not discounting preaching, Bible studies, small groups, community, service projects, Sunday school or any other way churches get people involved. Those things are of the utmost importance. They should be a point of intersection between our lives and the Gospel.

Where we go wrong is imparting to those things the power to change. They don’t have that power. God does. What each of those things are is an opportunity to foster our openness to God and His work in our lives. We are the soil. God is everything else. Nurturer. Lover. Forgiver. Pruner. Teacher. Comforter. Tender. He is the gardener of our soul.

It is time that we evaluate the predominance of Maxwell (or I could name a dozen other business oriented leader gurus, his name just came out first) style leadership within our church structure. Corporate structure and pastors as CEOs lead to people being products. Performance is success. Numbers are what we celebrate. It is time to abandon the performance driven church (how can people believe our words about grace when we are sticklers for performance???).

It is time for corporate leadership to give way to spiritual leadership.

Alas, there is the problem. For that to happen, we leaders must deal with our own root. Through the power of Christ begin to become aware of our own junk. From our awareness comes the ability to deny ourselves, take up our cross on which we crucify daily the old self, and follow Christ. Only then are we fit to tell people to follow me as I follow Christ. Because only then are we trusting the God whose church it is in the first place.
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