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Bad Business, Bad Witness
How you run the business of church speaks loudly to your community.

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After serving in ministry leadership as a paid staff member for over 20 years of my life, I have observed some very disturbing practices that go on in many church offices. These are the kind of things that we dare not whisper, because they actually are quite embarrassing. Many who work in ministry, including myself, are culpable to some degree.

Sometimes, it seems our workplace ethics stink in the local church.

The average churchgoer thinks of church as what happens each Sunday morning when the songs are raised and sermons preached. But often, the overlooked business the church conducts during the week is far from ideal.

I remember working as a young twenty-something in the music and worship department at a large church. Six pianos needed tuning, including three grand pianos. So I called up my former piano teacher, a Piano Tuning Guild member with the credentials and talent to help us. I turned in the paperwork to the administrative office, and presto! We hired him.

About three months later, he called to tell me that he had never been paid. In fact, the person he talked to at the church told him, "God has not provided yet." He was confused and embarrassed, but no more than I was. Not only was he my piano teacher, but he was a non-Christian friend who had been dealt a major blow against his confidence in the Christian community.

More recently, a popular vendor in town explained to me that my church was the only one he would allow to pay him through a billing system. All the other churches in town were required to pay cash on delivery. The Christian owners and operators of this business were saddened by the poor business practice of the churches in their community, but they worried they would go out of business if they trusted churches to pay their bills.

Unfortunately, I have heard many stories like this, stories of churches not paying the schools or halls they rent in a timely manner, even treating the staff of these facilities poorly. These churches break contracts, cross boundaries, and diminish their capital of influence. Often, the people who try to do business with them are believers, and they are ashamed when they see the body of Christ operating in this way.

It is even worse when the people doing business with these churches are not believers.

And there is no excuse. Many services exist to help even the smallest church take care of their accounting. Whether we are talking about a church plant or a megachurch, pastors should not hesitate to seek the best financial advice and business help. Few pastors are experts at business, but all should be willing to submit to those who are.

Here are some indicators that your church may be using spiritual language as an excuse for poor business practices:

  • Overuse of spiritual language when things go awry financially. "God has not provided." "We are under attack … "
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Topics:Community impact, Money
Filters:Business administrator, Facility management, Finances, Financial officer, Pastor, Treasurer

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April 03, 2012  2:53am

I do plenty of business with Churches, Monasteries, Cathedrals, Dioceses, and other segments of the "heritage and faith based market." I note your reference that many community vendors tend to require cash on the barrelhead for purchases, rather than allow for credit. This is true with my business as well. I do so as they thes types of organizations tend to be credit risks. But, I'd like to add one variant. They are so poorly run that it is sometimes not a matter of "if" they will pay, but "when?". It is difficult to give 30-60-90 days credit to an organization that takes at least 90 days to make a purchase decision. Some of these organizations indeed try to leverage their spiritual status in order to get commercial terms for purchases. This also varies depending on the country and region in which the organization is located. I do business on a global scale. I tend to have more occasions to raise my eye-brows when doing business in Eastern Europe and Greece, for example.

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December 07, 2011  8:59am

TOO TRUE! As an admin asst to pastor at a church & part of a group of church admins in the state who communicate regularly online, I have to say that many churches business practices are ABYSMAL - sloppy bookkeeping, non-existent security, lack of insurance benefits for staff (other than pastors,) taking unfair advantage of unpaid leaders and paid staff (in the name of God yet!) ~ We ought to trying following the Golden Rule we so often preach and lead by EXAMPLE, not act as if common fair business practices (and common courtesy!) are beneath us.

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Anne Rogers

December 06, 2011  4:20pm

Great article!

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