The “Corporate” Image of Church: A High Powered Enterprise

Most contemporary churches today are becoming more and more like high-powered business enterprises. Business and corporate styles are being applied to church leadership, structures and strategies. These make-overs has given the church a “corporate” image, where a lot of pragmatism and utilitarianism dominate its landscape. Such image somehow nurtures a consumer-driven spirituality and reinforces the ethos of individualism, materialism and patronism (A “patron” is one who poses as the father figure and treats people as perpetual children not capable of growing up).

The professionalisation of the clergy evolves to some type of CEO point person who calls the shots. Frederick Buechner in his book, Listening to Your Life (Harper San Francisco, 1992) says:

“The church often bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the dysfunctional family. There is the authoritarian presence of the minister – the professional who knows all the answers and calls most of the shots – whom few ever challenge either because they don’t dare to or because they feel it would do no good if they did. There is the outward camaraderie and inward loneliness of the congregation. There are the unspoken rules and hidden agendas, the doubts and disagreements that for propriety’s sake are kept more or less under cover. There are people with all sorts of enthusiasms and creativities which are not often enough made use of or even recognized because the tendency is not to rock the boat but to keep on doing things the way they have always been done.”

Thus, the “corporate” image of church no longer resembles a corporate expression of Jesus Christ, but rather more of the image of corporate America. It has lost its experience of an authentic community and has become a well-oiled ecclesiastical machinery with its sophisticated hierarchy and organizationall structures. People were discipled in “churchmanship.”

Consequently, this image keeps the majority of its members passive, apathetic, dependent and disempowered. Moreover, we need to further explore why – in spite claims of church growth among mega-churches and growing statistics of new churches planted in our cities – the contemporary church have little to show in terms of its transformational impact in society. We are still on top of the charts among the most corrupt societies in Asia. There must be a vital link with how churches empower their people for the works of ministry to become a catalyst for change. Unfortunately, much of the emphasis of our contemporary church is its preoccupation with ecclesiastical offices and highly mechanized programming focusing on how to work ’for’ people (serving consumer satisfaction) rather than working ’with’ people. This has created an unhealthy dependence and as a consequence making the church impotent in its witness in society.

Since i believe that an important characteristic of church is semper formada (ever reforming), it is but a necessity to honestly question and re-imagine everything we know as church today. We need to courageously explore sensitive issues such as de-structuring, de-centralizing power, and de-institutionalizing our current church realities. We need to re-read in fresh new ways the New Testament and the witness of the early church. We need to carefully take note of their emphasis on people in solidarity, their life together as community, growing together in Christ and assuming responsibility for the life of the church and their mission to the world. As sons and daughters of God, they were no longer to be under “ecclessial guardians” and “patrons.”

The church must become the community of the King, demonstrating to the world what it looks like to be under the rule and reign of God. They are signs of the kingdom. They are God’s “showcase” to the world. For church to be truly faithful in this vision must see to it that all of the saints be empowered and free to minister as “priests.” The priesthood of all believers is not just a sentimental doctrine but should be a practical reality. This envisages a people coming together in various ways and free to give creative expressions of worship, teaching, prayer, fellowship, service and care. A church in which each member functions according to their giftings and mutually edifying one another for the building up of the church. Such vision can be achieved as people assume greater responsibility and grows by doing and participating. Consider the words of Charles Ringma, in his book Catch the Wind:

“The idea of church is very different from that which applies management procedures to the life of the church. It does so because the life together of Christians should not be further technologised. Instead, church is seen as the household of faith, not as an institution. Processes rather than structures characterise the life of believers. The preoccupation of much of the contemporary church in the West has been with numerical growth, right procedures, effective roles, departmentalisation, ’top-down’ management and extensive programming. The result has largely been the movement of Christians from smaller churches to the larger ones which are able to provide a larger range of religious services.”

This would be true to the Philippine scenario as well. For we have this incurable fascination with what’s latest in the west. Most contemporary Filipino churches are mere carbon copies of the “patron” churches in the West. We need a lot of de-westernizing and de-constructing to do. This article therefore is meant to call for broader participatory processes that facilitates people empowerment, community building, mutual edification, encouragement, care, accountability and consensus making in forging decisions and directions in local churches. A church that is organic rather than organization.

This call is long overdue. May we see a transformed “corporate” image of church that looks more like her groom – Jesus Christ.