Disentangling Faith from Corporatism

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For a long time I was enthralled with “leadership.” I read everything I could on leadership. It was one of those intellectual itches that needed to be scratched. During this season of my life I was leading a team of people with a large parachurch organization and I found much of it to be helpful.

In the midst of that time I was also a member of a church where the pastor, who would become my mentor, was decidedly not pursuing the kinds of leadership stuff that I was. There was a cognitive dissonance that created deep frustration. Didn't he know that if would leverage the leadership strategies that I was learning about that he could grow the church faster and more efficiently?

When I became a pastor in a local church I participated in the research for another pastor who was doing his doctoral work in leadership. As we worked through the calls and discussions I grew more and more frustrated as it became clearer to me that the kind of leadership that we were seeing more in the church was rooted in the gospel.

What was going on?

Pastor as CEO

The consumerism of the American church necessitated that the pastor become a CEO concerned only with building their own platform so as to grow the numbers of people in the church.

There was a line in a leadership book that still haunts me. I'm paraphrasing but it went something like this: It said that the pastor was God's man leading the congregation toward the vision that God had instilled. Once the pastor knew God's vision then it was the pastor's responsibility to shepherd the sheep. Any sheep that disagreed with the pastor's vision was really a wolf. And you know what shepherds do to wolves? They shoot them.

We have bought into the idea that the church is a business. And yes, I'm using the word “bought” intentionally. We have turned what is to be the gathering of the family of God into big business. The main success criteria for most churches is bucks, butts, and buildings. The three “Bs”.

In a large number of churches around the country the conversations amongst leadership teams boil down to those three success criteria. How do we get more people to get more money to make a better building to get more people... and so the cycle goes.

Do we as pastors religiously coat everything? Absolutely. I don't think there's a single pastor that would say that they are focused on the 3Bs. We would all say that what matters to us is people hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus. Every single one of us would say that we want people to grow in their faith.

Sadly, in practice for many of us we have lost the plot.

When the leadership of the church goes corporate and the focus becomes “growing the church (by the 3Bs)” then you end up with the same kinds of things that happen in the corporate world. Pastors become insulated from the congregation. They get placed on a pedestal. Issues within the church get covered up, handled, and swept away because you can't have anything hurt the “momentum.”

Power becomes the currency of the leaders. Spiritual abuse begins to run rampant. Members of the church are nothing more than customers. Political games get played. People get used for the sake of the “vision.”

We have bought so deeply into the “leadership” cult of the secular business world that in many of our fastest growing churches you could strip away the Jesus aspects most wouldn't even notice.


Is it any surprise that when people see behind the curtain of the leadership of many churches that they walk away from the faith? I don't think so. These men and women that they thought were pursuing God are merely pursuing their own power and glory. The people that they thought were humble servants are actually power hungry control freaks. No, we shouldn't be surprised.

We must disentangle the faith from this corporatism.

What if we pastors instead of being CEOs simply sought to love well, being servants of those entrusted to us, and were simply present? What if we were actually open and authentic with those in our care? What if instead of seeking deep relationships outside the congregation we pursued them inside? What if we were simply content with caring for those in our immediate neighborhood not worrying about “growing the church (3Bs)”? What if we simply sought to model Jesus self-sacrificial love?

What if?


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