If there is any truth to the criticism that the church is just another business, you’d have to concede that by business standards we’ve never looked particularly adept! Imagine a fictional systems analyst reviewing our fledgling faith tradition in its first days. MEMO: “Location of the operation is much too remote for this movement to be of lasting significance; serious problems are noted in the teaching style of Jesus of Nazareth; he persists in teaching through proverbs and quaint stories known as parables; the marketing and promotions department is seriously flawed; Christ’s appearances are rarely advertised; and we really need to get more milage out of the miracles.”
More scathing criticisms would have been levied against our Lord’s corporate associates. MEMO: The entire leadership team should be replaced as soon as possible. We note that Vice-President of Operations, one Simon Peter, is prone to violent outbursts and misinterpretation of company policy. He often embarrasses Jesus of Nazareth by asking foolish questions during public presentations. Corporate Treasurer, one Judas Iscariot, is a dangerously independent thinker and we have serious questions about his long term loyalty to the firm. Plans for the termination of his employ should begin immediately.”
Now let’s take our friend with the clipboard and plunk him down, right in the middle of a typical ELCIC congregation in 2022. MEMO: “Analysis in all areas indicates a terminal condition. The only surprise is that this firm has managed to stay afloat as long as it has. Most of the workload is carried by a small minority of employees; absenteeism has reached epidemic proportions. Most members are totally unacquainted with the corporate handbooks; policy and procedure manuals are routinely ignored; machinery is antiquated and prone to constant breakdown or failure. This firm has no viable future, whatsoever!”
Seventeenth century French Protestant theologian Theodore Beza once described the church as being an “anvil that has worn out many a hammer!” He’s right. The church has proven itself to be amazingly resilient. But the source of that strength and resiliency has nothing to do with business acumen or expertise. The church’s strength and resiliency are born from its faith in – and relationship with – a living God.
There’s no column marked “faith” on the analyst’s clipboard. And, yet, this is what we know and believe to be the essence of our identity as the people of God. This is what we know and believe to be the source of the strength and resiliency that have always been so evident within the Christian movement. And it is this same wellspring of faith that has sustained and carried us through this challenging time of pandemic. It’s always been such.
So take heart when the enemy pulls out his clipboard and points out all of the ways in which your church doesn’t quite measure up by the world’s standards. Take heart and look to the only place you need measure up; to the God given wellspring of your faith. Yes, we’ve got big challenges. That can’t be denied. But like Peter of old, I suspect we are more rocklike than we thought imaginable.
Hammers be damned!