February 7, 2020
Scripture: Colossians 1:24
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
Thought for the Day: I am rereading Ronald Osborn’s book, “Creative Disarray,” a discussion on ministry and church-life in America. Osborn was one of our denomination’s great teachers, including teaching for more than two decades at Christian Theological Seminary where I attended (though he retired before I got there). Osborn wrote in his book:
Responding with the automatic reflexes of an organism threatened by change in its environment, the church has undertaken to adapt in order to survive. In behavior consistent with its past, it has begun to conform its institutions once again to the prevailing patterns in the secular world… Largely on the basis of that assumption, the major denominations in America have recast their mode of operation to conform with the dominant contemporary mode in business and government, the bureaucracy… In developing this mode of procedure, denominational officials have been neither wicked nor stupid. As great and good persons devoted to the Christian cause, they did not set out deliberately to diminish the sacral character of the church or to recast the pastor in the role of branch manager or executive secretary. But that is what they have done.
As you might guess, Osborn is not speaking of this shift in a favorable light. Too often I hear people say, “The church is a business and must be run as a business.” There is nothing further from the truth. Can we borrow some business wisdom and practices along the way to help us? I believe we can, but using business models hook, line and sinker is incredibly dangerous. For the bottom line of a business is to find a way to keep the customers happy by doing or spending as little as possible. The church, on the other hand, is convicted by the life of Jesus who gave more than was expected. In fact, he remained faithful to an ideal even in the face of death. That’s a business model that does not fly in any environment. Stockholders will not be happy. Let us continue to be challenged in regard to what the church is called to be in this moment of time. How are we to fully express the unconditional and relentless love of God revealed in Jesus, and to stay clear of practices that by their very nature undermine this message.
Prayer: We like success! We are in favor of good returns! Taking up a cross and following Jesus faithfully does not always look good on the bottom line, yet it is what you have invited us to do, Merciful and Gracious God. Continue to challenge how we think of ourselves and this body called the church. Amen.
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