Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The Body of Christ vs. the Church Corporation
"The elders have decided that your days at [this] Church have come to an end...please have your office cleared out by the end of the week."
After the initial shock of hearing these words spoken to me by my fellow pastors, which was after having poured ten years of heart, soul, and professional life into this particular church, I was left wondering how "the Body of Christ" could so abruptly dispose of one of its own with all the grace of a scene from Dilbert or Office Space.
Since then, I have learned that I am far from alone in this sort of experience. I continue to meet "former pastors" all the time. Some, like me, found themselves on the receiving end of a wave of office politics. Others have stepped down willingly (I consider these the wiser ones), because they discovered that working in a church had less to do with actual ministry and more to do with power moves, finances, and image management.
I can't help but wonder how this continues to happen so often in churches, and along the way have made some observations in this blog about what’s really going on beneath the surface. Predictably, I've been told by Christians that "the church is full of imperfect people" and that I should just "forgive and let God deal with it." And believe it or not, this is what I have done. It hasn't been easy, but nonetheless this is what I continue to do.
However, I still think we as co-workers in God's Kingdom are responsible to learn from things like this and make changes--lest we continue to plod along in our ignorance, repeating our mistakes and letting more and more people get abused in the process.
What I have learned over this time is that there really is a difference between the Body of Christ and a Church Corporation--and that it is not only possible, but vitally important for God's people to recognize the difference. It’s easy to miss this.
The Latin word corpus means “body”. The Church of Jesus Christ is a “body”, made up of many parts, created by God for the purpose of continuing Jesus’ ministry on earth. A Corporation is also a “body”, but of a different kind--created by people for the purpose of financial strength and influence in the community; whether the corporation is “for profit” or “non-profit”, it thrives on finances and growth. And in many churches, the body of Christ has taken on the form of a corporation.
Many believers never give this a thought. It is assumed that the “church” they attend is in fact “the body of Christ”, when in fact there are two bodies at work—the body of Christ (the believers themselves), and the church corporation (the business structure). These two entities co-exist in almost all local churches, thus creating one of the most basic problems in the Christianity of our day.
Does your church have a budget, staff, and/or facility? If so, there is a strong pull to become less like the body of Christ and more like a corporation.
Of course this is nothing new. The church has taken on worldly forms of organization ever since the days of Constantine (if this is new information for you, I recommend Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna). What’s different now is that many members of the body of Christ are abandoning those forms in favor of less structured ones, which is creating a real crisis in the world of corporate Christianity.
More and more believers are discovering that what they thought was the body of Christ in their church is, in fact, a corporation--sustained by money and power politics. And while there are still many wonderful members of the body of Christ existing in these environments, the financial and power cravings inherent in a corporation are increasingly at odds with the community of love and grace that is the body of Christ.
Many believers intuitively feel this war going on—resulting in the large-scale disillusionment we see within Christianity—but have a hard time identifying or naming the problem. They’ve been taught that the church corporation IS the body of Christ, and although it may be “imperfect”, we should not criticize or find fault; because, after all “it is the body of Christ” and you shouldn’t “tear it down” or be “divisive”. This misunderstanding has kept many believers from standing up for the body of Christ in the midst of corporate takeovers in their own churches.
I think that to understand the conflict between these two “bodies” is to understand a lot of what’s gone wrong in many churches.
It can be difficult to discern at times: When things go wrong, such as abuse, condemnation, manipulation, corruption, secrecy, guilt tactics, pressure, obligation, or punishment for nonconformity in a church, where does that come from? Is this just the effects of an “imperfect” body of Christ, or the bitter fruit of a corrupt system that above all else needs to feed and protect itself?
This is, in fact, the essential difference between the two kinds of “bodies”. One (the body of Christ) lives to extend and give to others, the other (the corporation) lives off of others in order to keep itself alive. At its deepest level, the body of Christ embodies Jesus in this world, and continues the ministry and message that Jesus gave when he was on earth—the mission is everything. At its deepest level, the corporation exists to add value to its investors through the success and expansion of the organization—the mission (or “mission statement”) is a means to that end.
The body of Christ cares about all kinds of people and makes sacrifices to express God’s love and grace to others. The church corporation cares about bottom line, budget, expansion, reputation, growth and will use or misuse people as necessary to achieve those objectives. The body of Christ has a heart; the church corporation does not, although for public relations’ sake it pretends to.
Make no mistake; these are two conflicting entities, and they are constantly at war in local churches. In some cases, the body of Christ is holding the corporation at bay; in others the corporation has already taken over, and the life and freedom of the body of Christ has been minimized and even rendered ineffective.
In the best of corporate churches, the leaders recognize this tension and do their best to keep the corporate side of things contained, and they hope that the relational side outweighs the corporate side. They may even have the presence of mind to be aware that money-giving “investors” may use their giving as a tool of control in the church. But still, too many church leaders fall prey to the lure of financial support or status in the community and thus give away their spiritual birthright, in exchange for a tasty bowl of soup.
Is there a simple solution to this? I don’t think so. Without the clear leadership of Jesus himself in our gatherings, and the bold determination to submit to one another and follow Him alone, we will still try to find a “Saul” to lead us. We still crave the “security” that comes from a familiar church environment, even if we see corruption in it. In our present economic upheaval, we still desperately hope that a strong, well-led organization and leadership will make things right for us. Truth be told, we also still love to be part of the winning team, the one that’s growing in strength and numbers. And so “investors” and “leaders” become very attractive to us, and by taking the bait, we fall into corporate Christianity.
Maybe the most important thing is to simply for now be aware of this and to refocus on Jesus himself rather than the particular drama and politics of our church bodies. Maybe we just need to be aware that the “body” and the “corporation” are indeed at war with one another--and in many cases, the corporation is winning. But maybe, with that awareness, we as followers of Christ can see more clearly where “the body” ends and “the corporation” begins. Maybe that will help us see why things are happening the way they are and give us the boldness to speak up when it’s needed.
Posted by Meikbahr Den at 10:42 AM