Text: 1 Thessalonians 2: 2-3; Matt. 22: 19-21
“Show me the coin used for the tax.”
The “coin” Jesus asked to hold in His hand represented the “Imperial Tax,” required as a tribute to Rome to support the Roman Empire's occupation of Israel. Think of that - first century Jews were required to pay their oppressors a yearly tax to support their own oppression!” (Quoted from http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/july/why-its-bad-idea-to-run-church-like-business.html)
Today’s Gospel couldn’t be more timely!
We, too, pay taxes that may go for debatable causes; yet we pay them as a “rendering,” knowing money is needed to support governmental services. We grumble, but we pay them!
We, too, know there are payments we have to make to the church, There are salaries, utilities, insurance, and the cost of mission work – vans for ASP mission week, emergency relief, places like Bethany Children’s Home and Counseling services, Phoebe Homes with their several life care facilities, colleges and seminaries –all ministries that a local congregation needs to support…with tangible currency.
Unlike that “Imperial Tax” first-century Jews had to pay to Rome, we want to give, but how we are going to get the money? As we ask that question, we see there are many congregations where membership is shrinking, attendance is declining, and income is dropping ; making for less money to do the work of the church.
And before we know it, we beginning to see the church as a business empire that is in trouble…
but without an emperor to extract an “Imperial Tax.”
And so, we look to the world of business to show us how to turn the church’s statistics around. Successful business executives and motivational speakers are scheduled (to quote a line from a denominational publication)
to develop “leadership that will be entrepreneurial and innovative.”
Karl Vaters who runs a successful business and pastors a small church has discovered:
“…a few years ago I started my own business…I started it. I own it. I run it. And I make all the decisions for it.
“In these last few years, (it has) become very clear to me …I can now say with certainty that pastoring a church is very different from running a business. “A church doesn’t belong to the pastor. Or the church members. Or the denominational officials. It belongs to Jesus. “When we treat the church like a business, we start acting more like business owners, less like stewards. And when we do that, bad things happen. Our energy gets diluted, our priorities get twisted and our focus gets blurred. “This is also why I have a hard time with our over-emphasis on a modeled-after-businesses idea.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/july/why-its-bad-idea-to-run-church-like-business.html
Keith Drury, a prolific writer and associate professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University echoes the same caution as he writes:
“For 25 years the field of “Church Leadership” has taken its signals from business…The trouble is the church is not a business. It ought to be run with sound financial practices and we ought to be efficient and care about effectiveness, but there are crucial differences between business and the church…Here are a few:
1. The church’s bottom line is not money but ministry.
Where do you list the 14 hours you just spent in the hospital with a family while their son was going through open heart surgery. Or where will you list the “productivity effectiveness” of spending the entire next day arranging his funeral after the operation failed? In the church we defend such “wasted” time by saying we were not “making money” but “making ministry.” Ministry is our bottom line. And ministry is a lot foggier to measure than money.
2. In the church, we sometimes work with the “wrong people” on purpose. We take ordinary fishermen and turn them into something better…And we do it tenderly and carefully because the way we do it is as much of our bottom line as what we do.
3. While paid staff can be motivated by money the workers in the church mostly receive an intangible salary: there’s a sense of meaning, knowing I’m doing a good thing, and feeling a part of something worthwhile or pleasing the Lord. We work with volunteers who, well, volunteer.
4. Our mission is not to make money but spend it. In the church we intend to make disciples out of people then guide those believers into spiritual maturity while accomplishing evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, worship and service. These are our mission, not a means to some other mission like making a profit… being the church is the bottom line. (Adapted from http://www.drurywriting.com/keith/church.business.htm)
Yes, the business of being the church, of working for our employer who is Jesus Christ, knowing that our job satisfaction is to hear it said of us as Paul said of Christians in the church in Thessalonica:
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Architects were invited to submit blueprints of the perfect church building. The winning plan was a structure entirely of glass set on a hill where it was illuminated on the inside by the sun and, on the outside, reflected its rays like a beacon sending its light all over the world.
The “sun” being THE S-O-N, Jesus, the Light of the world and Light for the world, the light reflected by
those who belong to Christ, who are doing the business of the church which is a work of faith and labor
of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
What our world needs NOW, beginning in our homes and our neighborhoods where there is so great a need for people who are a confirmation of those words!
Someone sent an email just in time to add as an “Amen” to “being the church, It read:
“ I noticed the title of this Sunday’s sermon on the sign out front “Minding Our Church Business.” Then, I looked passed that to the banner hanging in the side yard of the church with its heading: BE THE CHURCH.
“…both of those signs made me think ‘the church still has a lot of work to do,
a lot of unfinished business in this world.’”
Yes, the unfinished business of being Christ’s people acting like Christ, reflecting Christ, carrying out His ministry;
the work, the business, the ONLY business of the church!
Text: Exodus 32: 7-8, 14; Matthew 22: 9-12
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is Pastor Emerita of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA