Friday, April 18, 2008

Entrepreneurial Church

Free Market Capital -- this is what drives the emerging church scene today in America and world wide. The new 'hip' churches are built on a business model that requires the skills of marketing majors and actors more than theologians and pastors (By the way, this has resulted in many dynamic personalities on stage but fewer and fewer well-trained/educated preachers and pastors). Being a 'church planter' requires what? The same repertoire as a business entrepreneur because the basic model is the same: Get as many people through the doors as possible. Therefore, entertainment has become the locus of the service - as opposed to the eucharist as it has been historically in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, theology/praxis, or the Word proclaimed, as it was/is in Protestant theology, represented by Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, etc.
This entrepreneurial type "church business" springs from the Protestant fold primarily, a movement originally built off the notion that the Word proclaimed is next to, if not above (in real practice) the eucharist. The preaching moment so elevated has over time resulted in an increasing amount of grand standing by one individual - the preacher. Churches with good preachers grew. Nothing wrong with this, but hearing a good preacher tickle your ears and inspire your mind is not worship of God. The service became more about one person's wit, intelligence and oratory than about worship and submission to God through the eucharist. Slowly this model has developed into something that has dropped the inconveniences of liturgy and has sought to be whatever the general public wants, which is usually entertainment and to feel good. Indeed, what the masses want also includes the important desire to belong and search for meaning. But hyper sensitivity to the masses wants, in order to draw them, has shaped a service and church movement that has fixated on brilliant marketing in order to draw numbers. As one church planter coach told me recently: "It is about getting butts in seats." Is it?
For what? So that we can peddle a load of propostitional truths as the way to salvation? Are the motives more admirable than this? Perhaps. Such as drawing people into the community of Christ and thereby exposing people to the Spirit, whereby lives are transformed both through relation with other people as well as with the Spirit of God. Sure. I hope this is so. But what seems more dominant is that the new era of Church entrepreneurs are more about being Free Market Capitalists than they are in attending to living out the Gospel. Which is what? "Saving" more souls and gaining more followers? I submit that no, this is not the primary charge of the Gospel message. For the Free Market Church, an obsession with numbers seems to be the driving force, both for financing and for accomplishing the goal of converting souls - which for some may only be an excuse on the way to building their own personal church empire.
If converting more souls is not the primary action of following Christ, what is? Obeying Christ. In part this includes evangelizing souls for conversion, but this is only one piece. And by the way, we are not the ones who convert, only the Spirit of God can do this. The greater part of the Gospel message brought by Jesus is loving our neighbor. Full stop. And this is evangelism. The basic premise is this: The Entrepreneurial Church movement is at risk of self-love and pouring energies into being more like Capitalists than followers of Christ. What is the difference and can Capitalism and following Jesus coincide? First, the emphasis of Capitalism and Jesus are different. As a Capitalist, your chief command is to follow the money and engage profitably with the economic activity and in making certain that you do everything possible to be a relevant player in it. As a follower of Christ the goal is to love neighbor - which includes everything: the environment, wildlife, your family, your enemy, etc. The motive is not profit per se.
Jesus has been and should be a stumbling block to all that is not fully in sync with the Kingdom of God. Capitalism has had a hard time reckoning with Jesus because by definition it is driven by a consumer mentality - which is quite a distance from loving neighbor as a chief mission statement. And while Capitalism and Jesus are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the elements of capitalism, I submit, are not to be the backbone of the Church movement.

1 comment:

worldviewpr said...

Hello Zach, Pastor Layne at Faith christian Fellowship in Walnut Creek, suggested I check out your blog and found this interesting post.

I blog at Halfway To Concord.

As for Capitalism and the Church, I agree with your analysis that the spirit of mammon cannot be the the driving force for Christ's Church. Heavens we should return to the times of Pope Leo X.

Yet, business, development of wealth, innovation, rightly seen, can all be expressions of economic love, just as good laws can be seen as a response to the creational norm for justice.

That said, demands from the left and its co-option of Christian activists that demand "living wages," "affordable housing," and other socialist bromides from government (subsidies as wealth redistribution) continue to fall short of effective, if not biblically normative economic and social policy.