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!
Yes, God does indeed have a family business. Consider this as another way of saying some of the same thing. God’s family business is along the line of his occupation. Actually, he has two occupations and, therefore, two businesses. His first occupation is that of a gardener. (I am tempted to say a farmer, but today that conjures up an image of someone driving a tractor or combine). In Genesis 2, it says that as soon as he had taken some dirt, molded it into human form, and blown life into it, he planted a garden; and he planted the man in the garden. The garden wasn’t just a place in which to plant crops; it was a place in which to plant the human race. And, of course, when you plant anything in a garden, what do you expect? Fruit, eventually. It’s true that sin caused the expulsion from the original garden, but there is a garden ahead. The word translated as “paradise” that Jesus mentioned to a thief on a cross and that is mentioned as descriptive of someone’s experience of the third heaven (which was beyond the ability of words to describe) in 2Cor. 12 is in reality the Greek word for “garden”. So, we started there, and it’s where we are headed.
God’s second occupation is that of an architect. He has designed a building and he began the construction of it by laying the foundation and setting in place the cornerstone. The paradox of Jesus is that he is the builder and also part of the building. That same paradox applies to us. In 1Cor. 3, both of these metaphors are used and it’s clear that we do, indeed, have a part in the family business, whether planting, or watering, or building something onto the foundation (just be careful about the ingredients you build with); we are called co-laborers. God has rolled his sleeves up, so to speak, and he expects that we will join with him, again for the purpose of producing fruit and building a “holy temple” that God can live in through the spirit (Eph. 2:22).
Yes, we are part of the business, and we are the business! Branches of the vine, living stones in the temple. Sadly, we sometimes get caught up in building our own kingdoms, wasting time and money building temples on earth. He has made it so clear when he spoke rhetorically through Isaiah (66:1-2): as the owner of all the resources in heaven (his throne) and earth (his footstool), what could we possibly think that he needs us to build for him on earth? No, the branch, the stone that he is looking for is simply someone who knows his limitations, who has a humble spirit, and who is in awe of his maker, waiting for the next instructions with a willingness to obey. That’s when we really become useful in the family business, and are able to build our part of the building with something that will stand the test of time and fire.