I can be hard on the church sometimes, so let me switch gears today and offer some positive thoughts about the idea of “corporate” church. There are probably hundreds of ways it’s true that the church is not a corporation and no shortage of ecclesial deconstructionists to point this out, but I’ve noticed one aspect of this critique that feels a little – what’s the word? – lazy. I suppose I see this in two ways. The first is simply a quick dismissal of any principle of organization or interaction that we think is too wooden as “corporate.” If you’re going to make that claim, think things through enough to back it up.
For instance, I know I’m oversimplifying a bit but any venture can be analyzed by looking at “ends” and “means” – or in other words, what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re doing to accomplish it. Corporations (or “the corporate world”) pursue some goals that are compatible with the church’s goals and others that aren’t; and they seek to reach their goals using some methods that are compatible with the church’s and some that aren’t. And vice versa. For instance, one of the church’s “ends” or goals is to make disciples of Jesus and teach people to do everything he commanded. For the most part, this will not be an end that corporations share. Corporations tend above all else to pursue a profitable bottom line; this is not a major goal that churches share.
But the lack of compatibility in some instances – okay, the far majority of instances – doesn’t mean there’s no legitimate overlap. For instance, both might identify working in teams as the best method to reach their respective goals. Both might identify environmental responsibility as one of their ends (and in both cases, this will not be at the top of the list). Both might determine that annual or bi-annual reviews are the best way to hold one another accountable to doing our work and doing it well.
What I noticed a while back in myself and others, and this is the second point I’m getting at, is that sometimes we pastors want to reject corporate methods for stuff like time management, task tracking, or yearly reviews, because we’re lazy. We don’t want to set goals because we don’t want anyone to hold us accountable to them. We don’t want to intentionally re-structure our workdays for maximum output because we like dilly-dallying or being vaguely “spiritual” (whatever that means).
Anyway, I hope I’ve made my point clearly enough. At the end of the day, I’ll keep screaming as loud as the next seminary grad that the church mustn’t uncritically embrace the business mentality. By and large, I still think this is the caution most of us need to hear. But in the back of my head I’ll now be asking myself if I’m objecting because this means or end is truly out of line with faithfulness to God’s kingdom, or simply because it demands more of me than I want to give.