I’ve been wondering lately how the utilization of for-profit language in the world of church and mission shape how we think about our faith and our mission. Many churches and most mission agencies have succumbed to using the nomenclature and methodology of the for-profit world. Churches have employees, mission agencies are run by chief executive officers, we “brand” our church or mission identity to distinguish ourselves from our competitors, 18-22 year olds become target markets, donors are invited to invest in our ministry and the needy become clients. The for-profit language establishes the Christian faith as a sort of business. There’s even a book titled Jesus CEO which claims to be a “handbook for corporate success” chronicling how Jesus built his corporate empire. Is this mixing of the for-profit metaphor and the kingdom of God syncretistic? Many might call this utilization of business language good contextualization. We think that this dialectic of the business world somehow helps to clarify our mission, but I don’t think this is true. I believe it clouds our vision. Semantics matter. We are shaped by the language we use. To use the language of commerce for God’s kingdom is to commercialize it.
We likely would think it odd if the for-profit world began to use religious language. In fact, if consumerism is a kind of religion, then we may not be too far off the mark by switching business terms for spiritual ones. For instance, what if Wal-Mart insisted on calling its CEO a “High Priest?” That would communicate something to the world which would alter the way people perceived the role of that person and change how we might relate to them. Especially if that person adopted clerical robes for their attire. Furthermore, what if the company referred to Wal-Mart stores as temples, to sales transaction as acts of worship, and to Wal-Mart associates as apostles?
Here is a recent press release about the appointment of a new CEO using religious language in place of the language of business:
BENTONVILLE, Ark., Dec. 10, 2013 – Wal-Mart Temples, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) announced today that David Cheesewright, 51, will be promoted to High Priest of Walmart International, the faith’s second largest denomination.
“I’m honored to be named to lead our faith at a time when our congregants around the world need us more than ever,” said Cheesewright. “A tremendous opportunity lies ahead for our denomination. Our success is dependent on our apostles, and I’m committed to discipling them. Together, we will find innovative and sustainable ways to serve our congregants and provide them with the quality, affordable worship experience they expect from us. Through strong theological study, we will continue to invest in new temples and e-worship centers, as well as devotional practices that inspire a growing fellowship.
If this rolled off the Wal-Mart press release machine then we would call Wal-Mart a cult. But the church has no problem using the for-profit nomenclature and operating methods for the kingdom of God.
Perhaps it is time to re-think using the language of the for-profit world along with the paradigms that lie behind those terms.
Image taken from Coffee with Jesus by David Wilkie. Copyright (c) 2013 by Radio Free Babylon. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. www.ivpress.com