The Business Side of Ministry

When Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49 KJV), I don’t think that anyone interprets that as Jesus building His church as a business. The dictionary defines business as; “The activity of buying and selling commodities, products, or services.” Other definitions include; “A person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; a profit-seeking enterprise or concern.”

Most church leaders understand that ministry and business are not the same. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we don’t believe in organization, structure, and administration, or even using some business principles to help us meet the needs of the church. It’s when we have a “business attitude” and lead as if we were a business that we lose something of the heart of the Lord for His church.

When we take a worldly approach to organize, structure, and run the affairs of the church in a manner that seems more like running a factory, clothing chain, or agency, we lose the dynamics of the Scriptures to be the Body of Christ, a fellowship of believers, and the household of God. I know one pastor who even said, “We are a business Monday through Friday, and a ministry on the weekends.” Sadly, that’s the way he ran his church. A business mentality in pastoring often includes the concepts of having employees, employers, business models, the hiring & firing of staff, punching time clocks, reporting for duty, budgets, and allowed times off. Another church that I’m aware of only allows so many absentees for their staff when the church is having a service. And let’s not even talk about what happens if you’re late to the office a few times. It’s an unfortunate attitude that effects relationships. The church that runs like a business can develop a “we / them” feeling between senior leaders and office staff or volunteers. Should the church be organized? Yes. Can we err by having a completely “non-business” approach to ministry? Of course. But too often I have found that leaders who take a business approach to ministry are looking to numbers, growth, buildings, and finances to be the results that prove that they are doing Kingdom work. Growth is not the goal; life is the goal. More specifically, Jesus is the goal.

Although I agree with seeing the church as the Body of Christ and a family of affection, pastors who reject all organization and structure for the sake of a “family church atmosphere” miss the mark as well. They may reject the principles of leadership and business, but many of these principles are Biblical. It seems like they fly by the seat of their pants and in the process, some Kingdom things get overlooked. This non-business approach may work in house churches or smaller congregations but as the church grows, the need for some organization and structure increases as well. Let’s look at a perfect example in the early church.

In the 6th chapter of the book of Acts we see a great example of the “growth problem” and how they met the need with greater organization and increased ministry personnel. As the number of disciples grew, some of the widows were being overlooked in the care and administration of aid. Here we find several points to consider.

– First, we realize that the church had previously set up a care ministry for the widows. It was already in place.

– Secondly, it wasn’t until the church grew even larger that the ministry that they had in place was insufficient to meet the needs and some people were overlooked.

– Thirdly, the Apostles made their role clear. Our “job” is to spend time in the word and prayer, so we need to add to the number of leaders serving the widows. The Apostles weren’t trying to do it all. They knew their calling and stayed true to it. Job descriptions are not of the devil.

– Fourthly, when the body came together to choose seven additional leaders to oversee this ministry, these men weren’t “hired”. It wasn’t a business decision. It was seen as  a ministry where the deacons were installed with the laying on of hands. Perhaps they received some compensation – perhaps not. My point is that the organization and administration to care for people was not seen as a business but was a business principle applied to ministry. Yes, they implemented  organization and structure to make sure that the needs would be met. But I believe the attitude and atmosphere was clearly spiritual in nature.

– Finally, notice the process of choosing these servants and the credentials of those that were chosen. They didn’t lay out job descriptions, submit resumes, interview the candidates, and pick the best men. No. They looked for men who had spiritual wisdom, who were full of faith and the Holy Spirit. No one asked about their previous employment or familiarity with food distribution and social services.

The Lord said that He would build His church, and numeric growth is often a part of that process. May I suggest that in that growth process, we not lose the heart and life of being the Body of Christ, a fellowship of believers, and a family of affection. I believe that if we hold to those core values, we will effectively navigate through any business principles needed.