When I was much younger I visited a church with my mom and the sermon was so happy and encouraging. We went back a few times and began to realize the sermons were always so happy and encouraging. There was no instruction, no encouragement to do what is right, no mention of sin. My mom talked to the pastor and asked why that was, what his thoughts were about the issue, and he confessed that he’d been told by the Church Board to not talk about sin because when he did the giving went down. People like to give more when they feel happy and encouraged.
I worked on staff at a mega church years ago and I began to see how circular it was to grow and need to provide services for all of the people there and need to encourage giving so that you could grow, etc. I moved away from the mega church model because it was run on a business model and that seemed to run counter to the model of discipleship we are instructed to use in Scripture. I talked to several people who attended the mega church and their praise for the church was that they could attend, blend in, never be asked to do anything that made them uncomfortable, and they could leave feeling good about themselves — happy and encouraged.
I was associate pastor on staff with a church that was smaller and that didn’t seem afraid to address any issues. I felt free to speak on anything that the Lord impressed. Then there were issues that arose that were not related to me and some of the larger givers were not happy with what was happening. They held back their tithe to express their frustration. As the money receded the problems being faced got larger and it became more urgent to fix things in order to appease the givers who were not giving. And suddenly anything I said that was misunderstood or questioned involved immediate calls at all hours as I tried to explain what I meant in a sermon two weeks earlier when I said X or Y.
This was not the goal of those withholding their finances. These were lovely people who gave greatly in every area of their lives. They were simply not financially supporting something they were not in agreement with at the time. My concern at the time was not with them. Rather, it was with the reaction to their funds not being present when we were already facing a financial challenge. My frustration was with I experienced as the curbing of the teaching to attempt to appease the givers so that their money would flow in again. I question whether they realized no one else was having their questions or concerns answered so immediately and so personally.
This was when I realized that the Business model wasn’t only infecting the mega church model but was a foundational problem in the Christian church.
I don’t believe Scripture instructs us to preach messages that the people with more money want to hear so that we can keep getting their money. I flat out reject the business model of running a church. Business models are inherently hostile to the Gospel — the Gospel is good news for everyone! In a business model the haves are favored over the have nots. Marketing doesn’t try to figure out how to appeal to and draw in the downtrodden who can’t afford a product. The more flashy the product, the more profitable the marketing needs to be.
Mother Theresa is praised because she was willing to give up everything to serve a leper community. Why is that so rare in a community of people who profess faith in Jesus who did not consider it important that he was enthroned in heaven and chose to come to earth to live with and serve . . . lepers, and others, but definitely lepers. He ate with tax collectors, worked alongside prostitutes, lived with fishermen, and generally pissed off the religious establishment.
The religious establishment was invested in selling a message that some are special and others are not — that some are in and most are out. They had moneychangers in the Temple who made sure that the religious establishment got the most money for sacrifices. The religious establishment housed those who plotted to kill Jesus to shut him up. He disrupted their business model.
What makes us think that a business model for church is the best way to share the Gospel? Or maybe no one thinks it is. Maybe that isn’t the purpose of churches anymore and maybe I’m late to the party of leadership that understands that. So I’ve abandoned the business model.
I’ve embraced a discipleship model. It requires more of the one discipling and gives more to the ones being discipled. I love this model. It is consistent with everything God has taught me about mothering. It pours love and care into the next generation of believers while challenging the one discipling to grow and mature and step up in ways that would otherwise never present themselves.
Our community is smaller, and I talk about tithing and giving but don’t pass a plate. i work for God and not the community. I serve the community. I’m also seeing lives changed and people growing in understanding of Scripture and passion for Truth and other people who need love. I’m excited for those who are being discipled by the members of our community. They are getting good news, love and acceptance. They are getting the lives of people who are passionate about them getting to know God.
It’s looking good for the Gospel advancing!