The separation of church and business


During a recent conversation with my boss he told me, "A Christian business isn't a church." Having worked at a Christian business for most of the past seven years, I resonated with the insight he gave. This statement is not as neat or obvious as it seems at first blush, and it bears some exploration both for those who are supporters or customers of a Christian business and especially those who are employed by one. There are key, fundamental differences between the two.

At a Christian business, like at all other businesses, financial considerations and profit margins are inextricably woven into every decision. While these businesses are message and mission driven, part of the inherent mission is to make money. The mission of spreading the good news of Christ is always within the framework of maintaining profitability. Churches have budgetary constraints, too, but they are to be purely mission and message driven at all times.

Another significant difference is that churches are places that, when doing things right, welcome all-comers with open arms. There should be a place for every believer to contribute, to serve. God made people with unique gifts designed to come together in a way that wholly reflects Him. The Christian business, on the other hand, is a closed system. Leaders of these businesses make hard decisions about who has the right skills and gifts to be hired and become an asset, and they must make even harder decisions about who is no longer an asset and must be fired. While churches find places for all to be a part of the ministry, business are about productivity. Who has what it takes to maximize the productivity of this business while maintaining the mission?

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Relationships are the heartbeat of the church. Community makes the church healthy. It functions like an organism in which all the parts must relate and connect well for there to be health. A business, though, is more mechanical-even a Christian one. The relationships between co-workers must be, first and foremost, professional. Do they work well together? Are they maximally productive? Yes, Christian businesses do benefit from employees who are friends and have close relationships. It does keep morale high and create a better working environment. But that's what it is, a work environment, and so the relationships must be primarily professional.

Between church and business there is a range of ministries and parachurch organizations that blend aspects of the two. And in these contexts the dynamics can be even more confusing. But for everyone who frequents a Christian business or works at one, it is crucial to remember that, yes, it is seeking to honor the name of Christ, but it does so by supporting your church, not being it. The ethics are the church's, but not all the ideals. And that's OK. It doesn't work when the two get mixed up. Both churches and businesses suffer when they try to be the other.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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