Ministry and the Corporate Mentality

What do a lot of ministries and the modern idea of corporations have in common? One important thing, at least from my viewpoint, is the desire to last beyond the life, energy, or efforts of one individual. Corporations have many uses but one fundamental purpose is take the vision of the founder(s) and give life beyond any individual’s lifetime or effort. The focus is on the vision and mission (or ministry) not the person, per se. So Microsoft is more than Bill Gates and The Salvation Army more than William Booth and the YMCA more than Sir George Williams.

The question we have to ask ourselves, is this biblical? When God gifts a person for ministry, does he expect the effort to be centered in the person and what God is working out in the life of that individual and how that impacts his plan or is it rather centered in the gift, and the mission that gift may entail. The difference is more than significant, it is determinative. How you answer that question states whether mission and ministry has the natural limit of the lifetime and gifting of the person called or whether it should take on a life of its own and God’s true purpose is in that furtherance. This is no idle question, but goes to the heart of most of what is and has been done in the name of Christ in the world since the inception of Christianity.

Nowhere I look in the biblical record do I see ministry beyond the life of the person called by God. Jacob missed a great opportunity when he let Wrestlers for God slip by. Joseph did not begin a dream interpretation ministry. Nehemiah did not establish the Jerusalem Fund to continue his work. Paul did not establish the Pauline Mission Society, missing a unique chance to continue his work beyond his imprisonment in Rome. He just established churches, the one apparent biblically sanctioned effort not centered in an individual or their “ministry,” but in a group and a place. When Paul writes to the “Churches of Galatia” or “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” he is writing to members of the family of God located in a specific physical location.

What we call churches today goes well beyond those early groups of Christians meeting in a person’s home. What we call ministry today, usually goes well beyond the calling of one or more individuals (think Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark). These entities take on a life of their own. They become religious orders, educational institutions, multi-generational ministries, or groups attached to a building and property with a possible ongoing memory of what was once a church in the biblical sense.

Those activities have no biblical precedent, at least none that I know of. While the counter argument will run on Jesus giving Peter and the Apostles the “keys” to bind and loose, these activities are lacking such official sanctions from Church Councils. From my observation, they appear to be the world leavening the Church instead of the Church leavening the world.

I guess it all boils down to my view that biblically God calls and gifts people for ministry, not ministries themselves. I see that subtle transfer as a perversion of God’s plan for the Body of Christ, a shift of the focus from the heart of an accountable individual to a heartless organization, no matter whose name is on it or who is its supposed head.

Just a few thoughts from beyond the rim…

  3 comments for “Ministry and the Corporate Mentality

  1. econ grad stud
    September 13, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    This is a profound concept I’ve never considered.

    There isn’t a Biblical injunction against Christian organizations but I wonder if we organize service too often and too thoroughly.

    I wonder also because there isn’t Biblical justification for organization.

  2. Jan
    September 13, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    I appreciate this post, William. Something I hadn’t considered before, this distinction in spiritual gifts between ministers and ministries. As I’ve begun work on a part-time MA in pastoral studies and my first module was on “leadership”, your thoughts are particularly important for me.

    Glad to see you gray cells are still working well. Hope all is well with you and yours.

    I’m in Exeter, writing from my late mother-in-laws. She fell last Friday while buying flowers at the florist. She died before we could make the two hour drive to the hospital. Only 70 years old. She was a retired Salvation Army Officer. The sermon she was going to preach last Sunday was on the bed. Remember us in your prayers. Thanks.

  3. September 14, 2007 at 9:51 am

    There are no biblical injunctions against a lot of things that if examined carefully go against the “spirit” of the biblical economy. The question for those who advocate transperson ministry is why are there NO biblical examples…not one I know of.

    The closest example I can find, and one that I find extremely illustrative is Elijah–Elisha. Elisha had to beg for the mantle of Elijah’s ministry to fall on him and even with that effort, Elijah said it was God’s decision, but noted a specific sign that would verify the transfer.

    That was unique and God-driven. I see nothing analogous in transperson ministry.

    Jan, that is one of the problems of getting old, so many people close to you begin dying. It is like the death of a thousand cuts as those who have dear places in your heart pass on, one after another.

    Yet, as Christians, with Christian dear ones passing, we at least have the hope of eventual and joyful reunion.

    Grace and peace be to you.

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