Earlier this week I was asked what I think about the upswing in the trend of church mergers. I first responded with a question of my own:Do you want the real answer or the nice one? To his credit he asked for the real one and I gave it. You didn’t ask, but here is my real answer…
“Merger” is a business term where two separate corporations consolidate all their assets to form one single and larger organization. Usually, this strategy is driven by greed–for money, influence and greater control of a market.
I mentioned to him that this is actually a symptom of a very serious affliction in the kingdom of God–the view of church as a business. The thinking behind a merger is that the church is a business with assets, employees, a board of directors and a commodity it offers to its constituents. This understanding of church is so prevalent that I imagine right now many are reading that last sentence and thinking it is a true description of what their church is today. Friends, that is how far removed we are from the New Testament.
Delving further into a false paradigm in an attempt to do it better is a bad idea. Why would you want to do something wrong better? I believe many of the new trends in church are just that. Franchising your church brand via multisite is a similar idea. Oops, sorry I just offended a bunch of my friends, didn’t I?
But seriously, the idea of multisite is that we have a single church that meets in different locations. Some claim that this is very much like the New Testament. Yeah, that is very New Testament, in fact that is the body of Christ in general, isn’t it? “One body…one Lord, one faith one baptism…”
But multisite carries more to it than this. It puts a single brand on the church, usually tied to a dynamic teacher or methodology (usually it’s the teacher) and appeals to Christians as consumers looking for that brand of worship service. Sometimes they offer the same preacher but with a different style of music to appeal to a variety of consumers. This again is a symptom of a bigger problem–our view of church is screwed up. In many ways, this is a microcosm of denominationalism which brands a certain form of church and functions as a corporation. Of course denominationalism is not biblical either. Wherever competition exists for a market share we are in business not Kingdom work, and I’m afraid much of what is taking place today is more of the latter than the former.
What I said to the person who asked me about church mergers is that church is not a business, nor a building. It’s not a weekly event to attend, nor just an organization or corporation.
In the Bible the church is not defined but instead is described with pictures: a flock, a field, a family, a body, a bride, a branch, a building made of living stones. Never is it described by the pictures we typically have today: a building (w/ and address made of the non-living stones with stained glass a steeple and a sign with a logo), a business, a school or a hospital. We have substituted an organic and life producing view for an institutional one that does not produce life but at best simply tries to preserve it and contain it.
Jesus faced a this same problem. Lets look at his response to a similar situation in Mark 11:15-18:
Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He beganto teach and say to them, “Is it not written, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
While examining this passage, my good friend and ministry co-laborer, Paul Kaak suggests we ask, “Why were they so fearful and so murderously angry?” Paul points out that Jesus’ words were a double edged indictment. They had substituted their true calling for a false identity. They had become distributors of religious goods and services and had abandoned their true missional identity. Becoming takers rather than givers, rather than propagating the freedom of truth to all people without prejudice, they were now focused on preserving the institution financially and culturally at all costs.
We must be careful to not do the same thing. The predominate way of seeing the church today contains, conforms and controls the people. The biblical pictures of the NT are all about releasing and reproducing the life of the church.
Inorganic things can produce, but not reproduce. As Christian Schwartz points out so eloquently, “A coffee maker can make coffee (praise God), but it cannot make more coffee makers.” Jesus intends for his bride and body to be fertile and for his branch to bear fruit. He could have used the pictures of a business or academic institution but he didn’t, nor should we.
Jesus has great patience and shows much grace. I believe there is hope for our churches today. I am not suggesting that the vast majority of churches today are all wrong and need to shut down. I am simply stating that we need to stop seeing church through faulty lenses that corrupt our church practices. Lets not function like a business and start relating to one another like a body. Lets move beyond being an academic institution and start becoming a disciple making and reproducing movement. See church as a family on mission together rather than a once-a-week religious event to make me feel better for the week ahead.