Aside from Matthew 5:13-16, I am hard pressed to think of many passages of scripture that have been more abused by the modern American church than 1 Corinthians 12.
That passage teaches us that the church functions as a body. We learn that the same Holy Spirit gives us different gifts, and that no gifts are to be denigrated or despised. “25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” _This_ is the point of the passage. It teaches us to care for one another.
But then we middle class Americans get ahold of this. Capitalism and industrialism are so ingrained in our minds that we don’t read the passage this way. Instead, we apply our values of ruthless efficiency and turn the body into a business. We read this passage and think “Aha! What we need to do is make sure each person is ‘plugged in’ where he or she belongs.” So we invent all sorts of ways of measuring our SHAPE, we interview and evaluate people, all in the interest of _efficiency_.
We don’t phrase it that way, of course. We describe it as “finding where you fit” or “serving where you are gifted”. We’re not striving for “efficiency”. No, we’re “trying to reach the lost”. It’s all about evangelism, doncha’ know.
I have some training and experience in interviewing and hiring. Of course, you are interested in finding the right person to do the job you have open. And you want to take into account things like his personality. You don’t want too many strong, aggressive people, or too many followers. You need a good balance there. And all that is well and good for a business, but it’s no way to run a family.
There was a TV series that my wife used to watch. On one episode, one of the main characters got amnesia and was trying to figure out how to fit back in with his family. At one point, his grandmother brought him his “favorite meal” and watched in delight as he ate the first few bites. After she left, he grimaced and turned to another relative. “Why did I eat this stuff?” The answer was, “Because Grandma made it for you and she thinks you love it.” This young man was willing to pretend to enjoy and appreciate a meal because Grandma made it for him. _That_ is how you run a family. That is how you treat a body. Lovingly, not efficiently.
Compare that with the business world. A minister was talking to me once and he said he was used to working in the business world where if you didn’t cut it, you were just fired. There were high standards and you were expected to meet them. If you don’t do your job well, you get disciplined and terminated. Maybe it’s a good way to run a business. But that’s not how you treat family.
The church is not a business, an organization, a team, or an army. We are not on a battleship. There are a couple of times that “athlete” and “soldier” are used to depict that _individual_ Christian, but never corporately. We are always described in _organic_ terms. Branches of a vine. Trees in an orchard. Sheep in a flock. Members of a body. Members of a family.
I grew going to small churches. I’m thinking of one in particular. The music minister couldn’t sing. His daughter played the piano, and did it well. We always sang the same twenty or thirty songs. An elderly lady ran the nursery. Same lady, every week. It could have been done better, but it was “her” nursery and we left it alone. We wanted to do some remodelling but couldn’t because Sister Susie and Sister Sarah put the plaster on those walls and textured it with their own fingers, and it would hurt their feelings if we tore it down. So we didn’t. One of the Sunday School teachers was a sweet foreign lady who didn’t even speak good English and had no discernable lessons. We could have replaced the sign with a nicer one, but Brother Joe donated the money for that sign before he died, and his family (who still went to the church) would be terribly upset if we did. So we didn’t. But on the flip side, Sister Susie played the piano on occasion. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except for her arthritis. She would play, knowing full well that it would give her a bad case of arthritis for a day or two and she’d be in terrible pain. Sister Sarah had diabetes, but that didn’t stop her from cooking food for the church suppers. She couldn’t eat it, but we did – and it was good.
Let me tell you, it was not efficient. There were two men, mentally retarded men, who came to our church. They stunk to high heaven. I mean, they stunk. One of them in particular. He did not bathe apparently. He got a pew all to himself. But he was there, and he was part of us. No, it was not efficient. But it was good.
How does that compare to the typical “church as business” you see today? Where the pastor thinks he’s a CEO and they use marketing to “reach” people. The churches that have long since abandoned the neighborhoods to relocate near the freeway. Where you audition for the choir and have to take “spiritual gifts tests” to determine where you “fit” based on your “SHAPE”. Where the nursery is run like a daycare, replete with formal looking “policies and procedures” given to parents and posted on the wall outside. Where you “fire” volunteers who just aren’t cutting it.
Churches that are run like businesses look good. They have brutally functional buildings. Big multipurpose rooms that can go from “sanctuary” to “gymnasium” in 10 minutes. The “worship team” puts on an excellent show. You’re neatly organized and packaged and deposited in your assigned cell group. They’ll take care of ministering to you. The
human resources department church has a folder on you full of your transcript spiritual gift test results, your resume ministry experiences, etc. They do an excellent job matching you with an opening. The programs and services of the church have been professionally tweaked to match the interests and needs of the customers targeted people groups. The church’s professionally designed logo and slogan are stamped everywhere. It hums with all the efficiency of a well oiled machine.
And as Church Inc rolls forward, swelling the rolls and the coffers, you might just turn around for a second to see what it left behind. You might just find a smelly retarded man, a piano player with arthritis, a song leader who can’t sing, and a dear lady who used to run a nursery. There is no place for them in this business. You’ll find them in an inefficiently designed brick building in the middle of a lower class neighborhood, miles from the freeway. Tell them I miss them.