April 7, 2020

The Business and the Work

I am employed in the health care field. Working as a chaplain for a corporate entity has taught me a great deal, and has helped me reflect upon the make-up of the “corporate church” in America and the nature of its leadership.

If you have read Internet Monk over the past two years, you know that I have a heart for pastors and their true work and a desire that good pastoral theology be honored. Here are a few posts from the past that you can review, which run along those themes:

The main burden of these articles (and on my heart) is that pastors take care of people. That is the very definition of the title, and the title defines the calling. Being a pastor means working personally with people to help them live in the Gospel of Christ.

So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. (Col 1:28-29, Phillips)

Our attitude among you was one of tenderness, rather like that of a devoted nurse among her babies. Because we loved you, it was a joy to us to give you not only the Gospel of God but our very hearts—so dear did you become to us. Our struggles and hard work, my brothers, must still be fresh in your minds. Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the Gospel to you might not cost you a penny. You are witnesses, as is God himself, that our life among you believers was honest, straightforward and above criticism. You will remember how we dealt with each one of you personally, like a father with his own children, stimulating your faith and courage and giving you instruction. Our only object was to help you to live lives worthy of the God who has called you to share the splendour of his kingdom. (1Thess 2:7-12, Phillips)

This “shepherding” role was always understood as the main focus of pastoral work until fairly recently in church history. One particularly major shift in definition came with the church growth movement of the 1970’s. Church growth theorists began to teach that, if churches are to grow and multiply, they need “ranchers” rather than “shepherds” leading them.

“As I frequently say, the first two axioms to church growth are: (1) the pastor must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price, and (2) the people must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price.

“…Start the church as a rancher, not as a shepherd… It is hard for some to picture how they can start a brand new church and not shepherd all the people, but they can, as long as there is mutual agreement that this is the way it is done in our church. This mutual agreement requires three basic ingredients:  (1) the pastor does not visit the hospital, (2) the pastor does not call on church members in their homes, and (3) the pastor does no personal counseling.”

• C. Peter Wagner, The Everychurch Guide to Growth

In essence, Wagner baptized capitalist corporate models of organization and leadership. He saw what growing companies were doing and translated that to the church. What is most important in a “pastor” is not his or her people skills and his devotion to providing pastoral care and spiritual guidance to members of the congregation, but his or her leadership skills:

  • a capacity for vision and the ability to attract loyal lieutenants who will support the vision,
  • a quick, discerning mind that recognizes one’s “market” and is able to creatively develop strategies for increasing market share,
  • effective communication and presentation ability that will attract and inspire crowds,
  • a strong personality that can control and hold others accountable to the “vision” he or she has set forth,
  • corporate intelligence — the ability to grasp the big picture of large organizations and how they best function
  • an attractive and charismatic image that will allow him or her to become the “face” and the “voice” of the organization, its spokesperson, its inspirational center.

Can anyone deny that the purveyors of the church growth mentality have had a huge impact on American church culture and the definition of what it means to be a pastor? The net result is that the pastor is no longer involved in “the work” of ministry but is in charge of “the business” of ministry.

This brings me back to the business of corporate health care.

It seems like every week our team of hospice workers gets communiques from the leaders of our organization and the wider network to which we belong. These messages enthusiastically announce how our network is focusing on excellent patient care as our top priority. As examples, they go on to talk about new construction projects, changes in leadership and leadership structures, new technologies, the implementation of new programs, and so on. I have yet to read one of these that actually talked about one specific effort to improve face-to-face patient care. It’s all about the business, the organization, the way we are “positioning ourselves” to be leaders in excellent health care. The people who are focused on these corporate matters are not doing “the work” of health care, they are running “the business” of health care.

I am not saying what they do is unimportant. The responsibility of those who “run the business” is to keep the business viable. That is not a small concern. In order for workers on the front lines to do their work, the business must be sustained. I don’t want to work for an unhealthy organization. I respect and support those who are trying to keep costs down and increase revenues in order that I and others might have gainful employment and do the work to which we are called.

Nevertheless, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that running the business equals doing the work.

No, the people who are doing the work in our area of the network are the folks on my team — the nurses, social workers, chaplains, health aides, and volunteers who serve people face-to-face. We visit them, go to their homes, listen and talk with them, touch them, provide practical assistance to them. We laugh and cry with them, hear their stories, answer their questions, sit with them in silence, share their burdens, educate and encourage them. We become like friends or even extended family during significant seasons in their lives.

The responsibility of those who “do the work” is to care for patients. Directly. Personally. Compassionately. Skillfully.

It galls me that so much focus in health care is on the business but the language from corporate headquarters is all about the work. In actuality, many times it’s those who are doing the real work who get shortchanged, because at certain points there can be significant conflicts between keeping a business viable by guarding the “bottom line” and providing excellent patient care. Yet the business-types keep smiling and saying their number one priority is our patients. Aargh!

And this, I fear, is what is happening in many churches. When we redefine “pastor” and make it part of the “business” side of things, the work gets shortchanged. Real people suffer. A church might become big but it will not grow deep.

I have no problem accepting the fact that churches need to make sure they are conducting the “business” aspects of their life with integrity and skill. Any gathered community of people will have organizational and institutional aspects of their life together. We need devoted, faithful people who are gifted in leadership, administration, finance, etc. We need them to “run the church,” to keep the institution viable, healthy, strong, as well-organized and smoothly run as possible. Their contributions should be honored and not be diminished.

But they are not pastors. They are not called to do the “patient care” work in the same way that those with pastoral gifts are.

Let’s stop confusing “the business” with “the work.”

Comments

  1. Good word. Amen.

    I was baptized into Wagner and his like in seminary and that (coupled with some faults of my own) led to some pretty ineffective “ministry” my first 5 years out of school. I have come to see, largely through experience, that you’re spot-on. We are called to care for people, not run organizations.

    One of my Anglican friends made an insightful comment the other day along these lines. He said that we don’t have to worry about growing a big church–we’re already part of a world-wide church. We just need to focus on taking care of those in our local parish.

    I pray the corporate model is expunged from our seminaries and churches sooner rather than later.

  2. Steve Newell says

    The word “Pastor” infers a shepherd who is given charge over a flock of sheep in our term pastor comes from the Latin word for shephard. The role of shepherd is very different that of a business manager. A shepherd is responsible for the well being of his entire flock both the strong and weak, the young and old, and obedient and disobedient. The shepherd places the flock’s well being above his own.

    This is not want we see for the business manager. The manager will keep those who help the organization grow and remove those who either will not or cannot help the manager obtain their objectives. This is container to the role of a pastor.

  3. Douglas G. says

    “Taking care of people” is something that should be done by friends and family, not by paid professionals.

    • The church is our family, Doug. That “paid professional” is your brother or sister.

    • In many parts of the world, becoming a Christian means losing your friends and family, and all the new Christian has left is his or her brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • When I came to Christ my friends were potheads, my family alcoholics.
      As much as they all liked me, they were not of great help.

  4. CM…good post. I remember when I was at a wedding in Connecticut in 2009. I was a couple of months out of church, and dealing with a number of issues. So then I drove to CT for a friend’s wedding. I sat at a table for the bride’s friends. All the talk was about church numbers such as…

    “McLean Bibe has ^&% Bible studies…”
    “McLean Bible has ^%&% attending…”
    “McLean Bible has &^* services…”

    On and on it went. Then I had this “WTF” moment when I realized that they were mesasuring the succuess of McLean Bible in the same way that I measured success when I was a contractor for American Honda. It wasn’t about community, hope, or redemtpion…no it was about numbers, church plants , growth, etc.. It reminded me of how focused I once was in the business world on RR (Response Rate in marketing) and ROI (Return on Investment) It was one of those moments that piled up and taught me that Christinaity is fraudulent….

    But man I remember that moment…what a shock. It still gives me chills…..

    • Oh, Dearest Eagle….”Christianity” is not a fraud, but what you are talking about is. I pray that you will have a go sometime at a church that did not start in the Americas and is at least 300 years old. You will see a different way, a path that looks nothing like what you are describing. (hugs)

    • My bud Eagle, I so enjoy your honesty.
      I come down with Pattie on this one. In some ways my roots are so similar to yours, but I was in for over 30 years.

      Like Pattie, I have landed in a tradition that is over 300 years old, and in it’s roots is very connected to early Christianity. And the path is so different that sometimes I feel like I am on a different planet from where I was.

      Bless you guy!

  5. Mike, keep beating this drum.

  6. To use a corporate/business term, I really think there has been a “loss of institutional knowledge” of what it really means to be a pastor and come alongside people in our everyday hurts and trials and life. Even at small churches I have experienced this, and it’s awful. After offering to help coordinate a community service activity at such a church, I unexpectedly was laid up in the hospital for about three days, during which I underwent two cardiac procedures. We apprised the church leadership of this. The only contact we received was a call on my cell phone literally while I was still checking out of the hospital, asking me how long my recovery would take and if I could still coordinate the event. I was in pain, fairly heavily medicated, and needless to say in no condition to answer coherently, but I said I thought I could do it, and I did. But even through the haze of drugs and pain I was shocked at the insensitivity. This experience was one of a number of reasons we didn’t stay at that church. Quite discouraging.

    By contrast, the attitude, strongly communicated, at my decidedly secular workplace, was: do what you need to to get well; we are thinking of you; and don’t worry about anything work-related — we’ve got it covered.

    When the secular workplace is more “pastoral” than the church, we have a real problem. Ditto what Danielle said: Keep beating this drum. The church needs to hear it.

    • Awesome! A decade ago when I had huge and immediate major surgery, the hospice I worked for did not offer disablility and I could not obtain it on my own (too fat for the bean-counters).

      My seven week recovery was funded TOTALLY by donations of PTO (leave time) by my co-workers. Who contributed was known only to HR and God.

      I have NEVER forgotten this blessing, which allowed me to heal without frantic stress over $$$$.

      (ps….they did use me as a poster child and got disability added the next benefit year!)

  7. Again and again/ a type of ministry based on a rotten model (marketing+capitalism mentality) will only give rotten results.

  8. Ditto – please keep saying this. Pastors are not the same as business managers – and we don’t want them to be.

  9. CM, what a great post. I’ve stated several times that I grew up in ministry in a megachurch, where you probably heard the name “John Maxwell” almost as often as you heard “Jesus”. I was greatly enamored with my pastor, and wanted to be “that guy”, leading a portion of Christ’s army onto victory in this fallen world.

    After five years of attending the church, I found that I visited his home one time, and he had never visited mine. I never had a conversation with him that wasn’t immediately before or immediately after church. I may as well have been just reading his tweets, to be frank. I never had his phone number. He was a great orator, though, and had the ability to make you feel you knew him. Honestly, I still consider him a close friend, and I haven’t spoken to him in almost four years. This is what the Wagner/Maxwell models do..create the illusion that you have a relationship with someone, when they are, in reality, distant. The development of dynamic leadership skills is what matters in the model.

    Being from the South, my brothers and I are fans of the Allman Brothers Band. My oldest brother once shared a beer with Duane Allman, one of the greatest slide guitarists ever, just a few months before his death. They were in a crowded night club, and my brother’s table had an empty chair. They talked for about three hours that night. My brother tells the story often, but doesn’t pretend that he had a close relationship with Duane Allman. He doesn’t even imagine it. It’s funny how I really never even got that close to my former pastor, but I still think of him as someone I was at least formerly close to.

    I’ll close with my quote for the day from Henri Nouwen…

    “The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”

    Developing community isn’t just about having a leader who can draw crowds and increase numbers. It’s about changing hearts.

  10. I think there are only a few causes worth my time and hearbeats championing. This is one of them. If this ever gets turned around, it will be slowly, like a great supertanker at sea. Let’s hope we dont’ hit an iceburg first.

    Dont’ lose heart in getting this word out. It’s Kingdom stuff.

    GregR

  11. The Previous Dan says

    Great post!

  12. Great article thanks!

    As a student/graduate of Fuller Seminary with Peter Wagner as one of my ‘profs’ I can identify with all this. Interesting that many ‘church growth’ gurus have never pastored a church, let alone a large one.

    I was senior pastor of a megachurch, and I hope I can say we didn’t fit this Wagnerian stereotype! In fact, our ministry with pastors these days emphasizes a more balanced approach.

    I’ve written a little about all this here: ‘Church Growth and Pastoral Stress’ (a bit dated, but you get the idea) – http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9680.htm . Some personal reflections – http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/19701.htm

    And I love Marvin McMickle’s send-up of megachurch pastors. (‘Where have all the prophets gone, to megachurches every one’… – http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/19588.htm

    Keep up the good work: terrific/healthy provocation!

    Rowland Croucher

    • Rowland:
      Thanks for posting the links to your musings here.

      I hope that you come and check this site out often, because I have found that it is here where you get the unvarnished opinions of people who show up to Sunday morning services and have all these thoughts trickling through their heads that church leadership often does not want to hear.

      In what ways were you provoked/inspired by what you read here?
      Are there any things that you can take away that would speak into the hearts/lives of pastors of mega churches?