At Work

What Can the Local Church Learn from Business?

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Google declares the glory of God,
and Trader Joe’s proclaims his handiwork.
Apple and Microsoft pour out speech,

Uber and Airbnb reveal knowledge.

– Psalm 19:1-2, sort of

The marketplace is one of God’s creations. Business is part of the created order. Because it is part of the created order, it reflects the Creator and his truth. It is where God’s gifts are being used by his image-bearers to rule and subdue the earth.

It is certainly not immune from the effects of the Fall, but by looking to business, we find principles and lessons that are true and useful for other areas of life.

The Bible itself shows the usefulness of gleaning wisdom from the workplace. The book of Proverbs is especially prone to doing so.

  • According to Proverbs 14:23, it is one thing to be a salesman, but nothing is more important than execution.
  • A failure to deliver quality in your work will be destructive to your business (Proverbs 18:9).
  • Keep an eye on your bottom line (Proverbs 31:18).

Even the familiar parables of Jesus extract wisdom from commerce.

  • Shoddy construction won’t stand the test of time (Luke 6:46-49).
  • You should seek out the best return for your investors (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • Resilience and determination are invaluable in growing a business (Luke 15:4).

If the Bible encourages us to glean wisdom from the workplace, what can the local church learn from business?

Evangelicals are uneasy with the suggestion of exporting principles from the marketplace and putting them to use in the local church. Rightfully so.

David Wells, John MacArthur, and John Piper have sounded various alarms about this practice. When the church becomes driven by pragmatism and metrics, it ceases to be the church.

Yet, the question remains.

Can a church leader find any wisdom from the work of Steve Jobs?

Should elders and deacons glean anything from businesses in their management of the church?

What truth can be learned from marketing techniques that could assist a pastor in his sermon preparation? (Insert squirming here).

As a local church leader and business owner, here are a few examples of lessons local church leaders can glean from business.

Market Differentiation

When you try to be like the church down the street, you lose your identity. Not every restaurant needs to become a nationwide franchise or open additional locations. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a really good restaurant. In fact, poorly managed growth can compromise quality as is often the case in franchising.

What makes your church different than other churches in the area? Is it the size, location, history, particular program, etc.? Be the church God has called your church to be and seek to be it with excellence.

How does your church communicate its distinctives? There’s no need to refer to the “competition” or belittle their distinctives. Make it clear what makes your church unique and be who God has called you to be.

Resource Allocation

The inability to regularly examine priorities and allocate financial resources appropriately is poor stewardship. It’s waste.

We’re not talking about dumping the preaching, worship, and sacraments. Rather, churches can learn from businesses who often have to shift resources to foster growth and address shifting dynamics.

Are you devoting resources to keep your website up-to-date and informative? If your church is spending more on landscaping than digital communication, you might need to examine your resource allocation.

Does your staffing reflect demographic trends in your church and area? If the fastest growth in your congregation and community is older adults, it might be time to re-examine the youth ministry budget.

Are there staff responsibilities that could be performed with the same quality by volunteers or contractors?

Simplicity

Businesses are forced to keep things simple. It makes for easier communication and organization. Complexity is not a virtue.

Pastor, is your sermon simple enough that people could recall the core message the next day?

Church leaders, is your ministry model simple enough that newcomers can easily identify pathways to connect into it?

Can a visitor find times and directions for your church within one click when they go to your website?

There are countless examples of God-pleasing wisdom found in the life of any successful business that can find application in the life of the local church.

The truth in God’s world doesn’t stand in opposition to the truth of God’s word. All truth is God’s truth.

When you grow fearful of applying time-tested principles from business in the church, recall these words of John Calvin:

Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears (II.2.15).

As the church, the Bible dictates our content and substance. From outside the Bible, churches can discover numerous principles that are true and useful for ministry.

We can learn how to instill a culture of hospitality from Chick-fil-A, how to utilize data from Google, and how to communicate from Seth Godin.

We can also learn from farmers, hair stylists, and mechanics.

As the church, we can learn from the professional world. We don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed. The business world is God’s world, too.

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Further readings on At Work

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