Is the church a family or a business? The answer is, “yes.” The church is God’s family business. We struggle with this idea because “family” and “business” are mutually exclusive terms in our culture. We think of family as something warm, spontaneous, personal, and unconditional. We think of business as cold, calculated, impersonal, and performance oriented. How could any two ideas be more opposite? We counsel people not to go into business with family for fear of difficult entanglements and clouded judgment. We even have a saying, “It’s not personal; just business.”
Perhaps our difficulty with reconciling these two concepts stems from our own culture rather than from anything essential either to family or to business? We live in a society in which the dominant economic entity is an impersonal construct which we call the corporation. Regardless of what is written in the mission, vision, and core values of any specific corporation, all are driven by the same prime directive, “survive.” Without fail, this agenda objectifies individuals within the organization. No wonder we struggle to reconcile our idea of family with our idea of business.
The New Testament was not originally written to our greed-driven culture, however. Those who originally received the gospel and, in fact, the vast majority of all people past and present have functioned within a society driven by another economic entity, the household. Households were family businesses. Adult sons would not leave home when they reached adulthood and married. They would build onto their father’s house and work to expand the holdings of the family. They were not paid a wage per se but rather worked for room, board, and an inheritance. Members of the household were expected to contribute and could be assured of an unpleasant confrontation with the householder if they failed to do so. At the end of the day, though, they would be sitting around the family table dipping in the dish with everyone else. The household knew nothing of expendability.
With that backdrop, consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:14-15:
“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
The church is God’s family business. As members thereof, we work to expand his holdings in the world by carrying out the Great Commission. Our reward is his pleasure with us and a rich inheritance at the end. To be effective, we will need leadership and organization (These two verses follow Paul’s instruction regarding elders and deacons.). However we must not become an organization. How do we do that? By keeping the bottom line, “make disciples” rather than “make budget.” These two agendas are and will always be in conflict.
In a culture where elders and deacons serve as a board of directors, pastors are CEO’s, staff are employees, and members are customers, the church desperately needs to reclaim her identity as God’s family business. In an era when some call two believers playing golf together “church,” the church desperately needs to reclaim her identity as God’s family business. God has paid us the huge compliment of calling us his adult children and of inviting us to participate in his glorious enterprise. Let’s leave the boardroom and head for the field!