Our county’s chamber of commerce just named the pastor of a local nondenominational megachurch as the “business person of the year.” He was cited for growing the church from 150 members to more than 6,000 in 30 years. The citation goes on to say, “Pastor (name deleted) is a true business leader. In a downturn economy, [this church] is continuing to flourish by expanding its facility and adding new jobs.”
I have spent some time reflecting on this announcement. Since I know many people who attend the church and have heard the pastor speak several times, I have great respect for their ministries and their witness to the community. They help a lot of people. The pastor is a great communicator and a good leader.
My first response was rather negative because I have an inherent distrust of CEO leadership in the church. I also am always concerned when business philosophy – not business practice – is at the center of a congregation’s life. Is the church a business? No. Should it be run with the most effective and efficient means available? Probably. Should the bottom line be measured solely by counting nickels and noses? No.
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On the other hand, I can appreciate that this pastor has forged a bridge to the larger community that provides opportunities for outreach, service and witness. He is interacting with the culture and is leading his church to do so. He has garnered the respect of community, civic and business leaders and can interact with them easily.
I also appreciate the fact that neither the church nor the pastor wrote the citation with which he was presented. This is a secular response to visible success and it is worded from that perspective. I have no doubt that this church and its pastor know that the church is meant to be more than a business. It is the visible manifestation of the reign of God in this world.
This struggle involves a spiritual dimension. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We are involved in a spiritual endeavor rather than a business one – even though it has economic consequences.
As much as I try to understand this commendation, it still makes me uncomfortable. But maybe that’s my problem.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.