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When Ministry Is Business Rather Than Mission

Dear Friends,

From my anecdotal perspective, it appears that Bible-believing Christians in the USA are becoming disillusioned as more ministry scandals are put on public display and the broader culture of America leans leftward further away from the Judeo-Christian moorings that have characterized our country despite our country’s sins.

“What is going on?” is what I’m asked.

My answer is way too long to cram into this monthly update. But if you will kindly accept my musings without holding me accountable to offer footnotes and the like, then I will share a partial glimpse of my personal commentary, as a theologian.

In short, I believe that we are simply reaping what we’ve sown. Galatians 6:7 puts it starkly: “Do not be deceived! For whatever a person sows, thus he or she will also reap.”

For way too long, Americans have tolerated known corruption in the ranks of leadership. For instance, in the 1970’s after Watergate, we let President Richard Nixon off-the-hook and accepted his espionage, as a nation, when President Gerald Ford pardoned him without mention of the penalty of sin that Jesus Christ came to address (Romans 6:23).

In the 1990’s, America gently sighed with nodding heads of, “That’s okay,” when President Clinton was caught lying under oath. Yes, he was impeached, but he was also pardoned for his abuse of power by which he preyed upon a young intern in the White House. Instead of us, as a people, insisting upon the resignation of the nation’s top ranked official, we allowed sexual sin in the Oval Office and basically let perjury become the new norm.

Now, the point I’m trying to make is not about politics. These two stories about U.S. presidents are, in my opinion, reflective of the condition of the church.

You probably already know some of the statistics: in the 1990’s, about 85% of Americans self-identified as Christians. Even now in 2021, according to Pew Research, about 65% of Americans claim to be Christians. (Two days ago I read that another poll shows that the percentage is 70%). In other words, America is still majority Christian.

So if you ask me why America tolerates known corruption in the ranks of leadership, I would say it’s because corruption in the church is tolerated by the majority of believers. How can America hold U.S. presidents accountable to moral decency when Christians in America fail to hold American church leaders accountable to standards of moral decency?

Most Christian board members are taught to uphold the secular value of prioritizing the assets of the (Christian) corporation. They are not taught -- even if they are church elders -- to prioritize God. Notoriously these days Christian board members seek to honor ministry presidents, even if those presidents violate the law. You see, most presidents are magnets who attract financial donors and their contributions. What (wayward) board can afford to hold a sexual predator pastor accountable when so many millions of dollars lie at stake?

Jesus said it’s impossible to serve two masters at once. Physically our bodies can only bow in one direction at a time. There is no possible way to serve God and mammon simultaneously (Matthew 6:24).

Mammon disregards biblical principles about lending, not over-spending, and not excessively borrowing. The reality of the inordinate debt load of most churches and Christian institutions, even pre-Covid, indicates the encroachment of mammon. Our debt loads tell the truth: that professing Christians have spent millions and millions of dollars we don’t have. Yes, our college degrees are impressive. Bummer that so many Christian graduates are six or seven digits in the red. Yes, our campus buildings are impressive. Bummer that so many are unpaid for.

Serving mammon makes Christianity appear to be “corporate” in a business sense. When ministry is business rather than mission, institutional decisions are made with an eye to the short-term, bottom line. Doing what’s right is not the focus; doing what makes money becomes the focus.

Given my experience on staff at a mega-church and in three different accredited schools of Christian higher education, I have been part of the problem (I drew a paycheck from these institutions for almost 20 years). My repentance now entails establishing Right On Mission. At Right On Mission, we depend 0% on government student loans. Our prices for Higher Learning are about 75% lower than other schools that may have fewer Ph.D. faculty than we do.

Did you know that you can earn an MDIV Equivalent at Right On Mission for about a third of the normal cost? Our business model entails no indebtedness. Did you know that our Faculty Chair, James Spencer, Ph.D., used to be a VP at Moody Bible Institute, and our New Testament Professor, Jack Painter, Ph.D. taught Greek in university for 30 years?

At Right On Mission, everything we do is meant to work toward our vision of seeing believers live on mission with moral courage. We can serve God, not mammon. Together we can learn to think so Christianly that we find the moral courage to make ministry and the business of ministry both be unequivocally about mission.

Sarah Sumner, Ph.D., MBA

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