Its instructive that a book entitled “The Road Ahead” should be written by Bill Gates. In another generation a spiritual leader would have written it. Or perhaps a political leader. Today it is a businessman who shows us the road ahead. It is indicative of the degree that business has taken over the popular mindset. Sept 11th forced us to look at other human values for a little while. But now it’s beginning to look very much like business as usual.
I am not anti business. My primary fear is that the culture of business has crept into so many other dimensions of life, far beyond the market-place. I see this phenomenon in how churches define themselves.
So many churches today define success and greatness by the three “Bs” – bodies, bricks and budget. How can we tell if a church is a great church? 1. By its size. How many members does it have? (Bodies). 2. By its facilities. Does it have an up to date, modern plant? (Bricks.) 3. By its giving and expenditure. Is its annual budget bigger than the GDP of some developing countries? (Budget.)
Now I am a realist. I too want to see the church touch as many lives as possible. And since the Lord has created us with bodies, we need some real estate to function. We are not bodiless spirits. And we do need money to function. But are the three “Bs” the most important concerns in the mind of Christ?
When we turn to the New Testament, we see Paul very concerned for a very different triad. Instead of bodies, bricks, and budget, Paul is concerned for faith in Christ; love for all the brethren; and hope for what is laid up for the saints in heaven. ( Colossians 1:4,5) This is Paul’s list for what should be core values for the church of Jesus Christ: 1. Faith 2. Love 3. Hope. And if he were forced to make a choice he would put ‘love’ as the most important. ( 1 Corinthians 13:13)
I could just hear him saying: If you have the biggest membership in the land but have no love? If you have the best facility in the country but have no love? If you have the largest ministry budget in the world but have no love?
Maybe it has to do with the dynamics of scale. But many large churches strike me more as successful business entities – well organized, driven by all the right programmes, managed by objectives?yet strangely cold and impersonal. Of course there are large churches with excellent house groups led by very compassionate leaders. Yet, if you find yourself in one it is often with the sense that it is serendipity.
I am no romantic that hearkens back to some early era in church life. Every era of the church has been beset by its own set of problems. However I can’t help but be haunted by the fact that the early church had little by way of bricks and budget. Yet it won over most of the known world in a relatively short time. I am also struck that the communal life of the church was such that it forced one of her critics to say, “see how they love one another.”
Some of our churches today may now be blessed by the three “Bs”. But can we still cause our critics to be amazed at the level of love within our midst?
Maybe we need to step back and take a long hard look at the degree to which we have been influenced by the business model of doing church. Maybe we need to decide afresh what are the fundamentals of church life.
And if we must have goals and objectives they should address the proper triad.
The world has more than its fair share of successful big businesses. It is looking for spiritual reality, for communities that exhibit a robust and lively faith in God. It is looking for communities that are not bound to things only of this world but who share the joyful, energizing secret that there is a better world a’coming.
Above all, the world is dying to experience the love of a loving God through the love of those who claim to follow Him.