taking the words of Jesus seriously

In a business-driven culture obsessed with success, Christians are often tempted to apply secular business models to their spiritual faith. With around 40 hours of our week spent working, our minds are trained to think about productivity, consumerism and prosperity. Bestselling books on management techniques, inspirational TED talks, growth models, leadership seminars and self-help guides can quickly become our main source of knowledge and information—becoming secondary to the words of Christ.

Not all secular business advice is bad; just realize that it comes from an entirely different paradigm…

Business vs. Faith:

Hierarchy vs. Equality
Industry Standards vs. Theological Beliefs
Efficiency vs. Holiness
Board of Directors vs. Spiritual Leaders
Risk Management vs. Missions
Loss Prevention vs. Freely Giving
Marketing vs. Evangelism
Publicity vs. Outreach
Customers vs. Communities
Managers vs. Mentors
Graphs, Data and Research vs. Prayer, Meditation and Revelation
Professionalism vs. Love
Networking vs. Relationships
Physical Growth vs. Spiritual Maturity
Salaried Employees vs. Unpaid Volunteers
Profits vs. Tithing
Fine Print vs. Grace
Sales Growth vs. Spiritual Growth
Success vs. Sacrifice
Money vs. Christ

When Christians have a business mindset about their faith, they often mistake efficiency with effectiveness, but not everything is meant to be fast, quick and streamlined. Take prayer for example:

Almost every church and Christian organization has a website, prayer chain or bulletin page dedicated to people’s prayer requests. The idea is to have as many people praying for you as fast as possible—this is not a bad thing.

But fewer and fewer Christian ministries are offering a platform that offers the very personal and meaningful opportunity to actually pray with another human being—within an intimate and one-on-one context.  This model is considered too inefficient. Matthew 18:20 (NIV) states that “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”.

Public prayer chains and websites do serve a valuable purpose, and they are a great way to help those in need, but the next time you attend a church or ministry that has a public prayer request list, carefully look it over and analyze what you see—most likely a long list of physical ailments.

Broken legs, sore throats, allergies, aging grandparents, a disease, sickness, a cold and a litany of other physical problems probably make up about 95% of all public prayer lists. Why? Because nobody wants to publicly admit what their real problems are.

If we weren’t afraid of being judged or what others thought about us, our prayer lists would look more like this:

I’m addicted to porn
I physically abuse my wife
I’m being molested
I’m being bullied
I struggle with pride
I want to kill myself
I suffer from depression
My spouse and I fight constantly
I’m not sure if I still believe in God
I’m addicted to drugs
I hate my coworkers
I have anger issues
I want a divorce
I’m having an affair

The problem is that nobody wants to put these types of requests within a public venue. Issues like this are best addressed through interpersonal relationships—which require time, energy, vulnerability, conflict and love. As Christians, we need to provide environments and foster communities where individuals can pray within a safe environment without feeling judged or looked down upon, a place where people can receive real help. Unfortunately, our effort to efficiently streamline everything—including prayer—is making it hard for us to be honest and open about our most urgent needs.

It’s easy for us to obtain efficiency at the expense of effectiveness. But sometimes there are no quick fixes, and redemption often requires messy work. When in doubt, just look at Jesus’s example. He wasn’t efficient, but nobody can doubt his effectiveness.

Also by Stephen: Am I a Christian Bigot?

Jesus talks about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one that was lost—inefficient. Jesus picks twelve bumbling disciples, one who ultimately betrays him—inefficient. Jesus flees from the crowds—inefficient. Instead of forgiving the world’s sins through a simple act or word, He dies on the cross through excruciating pain and torture—inefficient. Most importantly, He commands us to go out into the world and make disciples by helping the poor, forgiving our enemies, feeding the hungry, sacrificially serve and love everyone around us—inefficient.

By today’s standards, Jesus had a horrible business model. So instead of quickly trying to succeed, maybe we should all try to be a little more inefficient.


Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Photo Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

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