Building the Body or Building the Brand?

Examining church doctrinal statements and job postings is a weird hobby of mine. It’s one of the consequences of being a huge theology nerd as well as a pastor’s wife. Recently, I came across several ministry job descriptions that are deeply troubling. Frighteningly, these are coming to represent a norm amongst contemporary evangelical churches. For example, the fundamental requirements for one such job are as follows:

  • High compatibility with [this church]’s values, philosophies, and culture
  • Passionate, growing follower of Jesus
  • Member or pursuing membership

It should be alarming that compatibility with an undefined “culture” is placed before a relationship with Jesus. And yet, unfortunately, this is becoming common. This might not have been an intentional prioritizing, but the fact that it was not noticed and edited to reflect faith in Christ as the most basic requirement for ministry is itself telling…and devastating.

Another posting from this same church does put Christ above church culture but continues to emphasize “compatibility” over faithfulness. Certainly, you want a staff that gets along well, but it seems as you read further that this compatibility is more than just the ability to cooperate as part of a team. Under the job responsibilities are usual things such as communication, collaboration, etc. This is all fine and good, even necessary. However, the following is listed as the second most significant job responsibility:

  • Protect and champion [this church]’s brand

I reread this several times, but the words are plain. Instead of caring for the body of Christ, the foremost responsibility of this position is to “champion the brand.” I understand the need to have clear communication. I even help manage the social media for our small church, but we are not seeking to build some platform or make a name for ourselves. We barely have a logo, let alone a brand!

Another job posting from this church advertises for a director whose primary responsibility is to “develop dynamic, attractional biblical programming.” Biblical teaching, of course, is essential. But why must solid teaching be dressed up as “dynamic and attractional”? Do we really need to adorn the Word in the trappings of the world? It seems that, instead of craving more entertainment, people are starving for solid, biblical preaching without these additives.

Beneath the responsibilities section is a list of competencies, most of which are fine. It is obviously good to have “meticulous” workers, who are skilled in time management, creativity, adaptability, and communication. You won’t make it far in any field without some degree of these qualifications. But do ministers really need to be “visionary leaders” or would American evangelicalism be better off with more “servant leaders”? Do we really need more “strategists” or are we starving for shepherds?

A final requirement for each of the jobs posted by this church is: “humble, hungry, and smart.” It’s a catchy trio but I am not entirely sure what this means. Humility is absolutely a requirement for ministry workers, but is “hungry” simply a church-approved word for ambitious? Is “smart” another synonym for strategic? The description that followed seemed to suggest as much.

Church members, I encourage you to read the job listings of your church whenever they are posted. Whether or not you see yourself in vocational ministry is irrelevant; we must be aware of the behind-the-scenes of our church life. We must discern whether our perceived “Sunday experience” aligns with the staff expectations.

Scripture is clear on the requirements for ministers, whether these be ordained pastors, counselors, directors, assistants, etc. Anyone who serves in vocational ministry (in any capacity) is to be held to the following standards, taken directly from Titus 1:6-9:

  • above reproach, living a life of integrity that avoids evil and even the appearance of evil
  • if married, faithful to a single spouse of the opposite sex
  • if a father/mother, leading the household according to the faith
  • not arrogant
  • not quick-tempered
  • not a drunkard
  • not violent
  • not greedy for money or fame
  • hospitable
  • a lover of good
  • self-controlled
  • upright and holy, set apart from the things of the world
  • disciplined
  • holding firm to sound doctrine
  • characterized by sobriety
  • known for an attitude of love

In these verses, there is not a single mention of brand loyalty, strategic thinking, strong-armed leadership, awareness of trends, ability to identify target audiences, or compatibility with some undefined but inflexible church “culture.”

Believers, in an age of scandal and subversion, we must be alert to the postings of our churches. Is what is proclaimed on Sunday consistent with what is advertised in job listings? Are the requirements put forth by scripture consistent with the unspoken culture of our employees? Are our church cultures supplanting the way of Christ? The biggest question of all should be: is the church a body or a brand? Are leaders to be shepherding or strategizing? These are painful questions to ask, but if we are to avoid any more failures like those of Mars Hill or Harvest, we must practice this discernment in all things.

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