Is the Church a Business?

How the local church is supposed to be run has been the point of many conflicts in Christian circles. People are often very committed to their points of view on the question—and very impatient with those who disagree. Let me suggest that only one point of view has any legitimate claim over all the others. That one point of view, obviously, is the one revealed by God in his Scripture. The idea that the church must be run like a business must be subjected to the same biblical scrutiny that we are to give any view.

Is the church to be run like a business? Is the church like a business in any way at all? Or do such ideas arise out of human philosophy?

There is no biblical basis for comparing God’s church with a business. The Bible never equates the two in any way at all. The “business model” is familiar to many in the United States, but this familiarity does not make it a biblical model for the church.

One might ask what sort of model the Bible does give regarding our relationships within the church or our activities as a church. Does God give us anything to which we can compare his institution of the church? The answer is a resounding “yes!” God frequently compares his church to another institution he established: the family. The church is to operate like a family.

In Scripture God is called our Father (not our CEO). Christians are called brothers and sisters in Christ (not employees). We are said to have an inheritance (not a retirement program). Scripture speaks of family relationships that endure. No one is ever fired or retired. If anyone does leave the church permanently, he or she is considered never to have been a genuine part of the family (1 John 2:19).

We come into the family of God by birth and are given all the benefits of family membership immediately. 1 Peter 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (emphasis added).

In a family, there are shared responsibilities. Someone cleans the restroom while someone cuts the grass. One person may do most of the cooking, while another may do most of the earning of money to buy the food. But no one does all the work while others look on. There are no second or third class family members. In the family and in the church, people are to work together for common goals.

In a family, there is a clear system of leadership which is imposed on the members of the family by God himself. Ephesians 5:22-23 says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” Ephesians 6:1-3 commands, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.”

Husbands and fathers do not choose the role of leadership. It is given to them by divine decree. If they refuse to accept their God-given role, they are still responsible as leaders. It is not theirs to decide whether to lead. The father’s leadership is not changed if someone within the family would prefer to have it another way.

Within the church, leaders are the ones who are given particular gifts for leadership and oversight. These gifts are given by God with no one but him controlling who is legitimately gifted to lead. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us, “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (emphasis added). If leaders abdicate that responsibility, they are guilty of being poor leaders, but they are still the leaders. If church members refuse to be led by biblically qualified leaders, they are guilty of rebellion against God, but the leaders are still the leaders because God made it that way. Hebrews 13:17 reminds us, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

In a family, fiscal responsibility is necessary, but the nature of the resources is entirely different from those of a business. The assets are family assets. They do not accrue to someone else’s benefit. A family home is enjoyed by the family. It is not a place of labor owned by someone else.

Does this distinction really matter?

How you think about the church does matter. It has a significant impact on your contentment, on how (or whether) you participate in the God-given objectives of the church, and on how you relate to others within the body of Christ.

If we try to operate the church as a business, we will find ourselves at odds with God’s design. We will have imposed a worldly philosophy that is in conflict with God’s purpose. Such a mindset can only lead to striving, disagreement and difficulty. If, on the other hand, we see the church as a family, we are far more likely to rest in God’s purpose and work together in harmony to glorify him.