By Caleb Keith –
This week I read two articles about how Apple is becoming greedy. The first one is a Business Insider article that you can read here. In this article, Apple’s current financial structure is laid out and analyzed. What turned up is a short sided business model focused solely on short term profit margins. The second article is an opinion piece written by Ben Lovejoy of 9to5 Mac. This article highlighted simple business facts, but went deeper into the history of Apple and their dance with greed. Mr. Lovejoy begins by referencing a Steve Jobs quote from his time away from Apple in the mid 1990’s which said,
“What ruined Apple wasn’t growth … They got very greedy. Instead of following the original trajectory of the original vision, which was to make the thing an appliance and get this out there to as many people as possible, they went for profits. They made outlandish profits for about four years… What that cost them was their future. What they should have been doing is making rational profits and going for market share.”
Neither of the articles, nor is Steve Jobs criticizing Apple for making money. After all, making money is what companies are supposed to do. No, they are criticizing Apple for loosing sight of the mission and the customer.
In the church, greed is only typically talked about in context of the congregants and very rarely in the context of the congregation, or synod as a whole. That is probably because churches themselves are not seen as businesses nor is their purpose to make a profit. Yet greed, as seen in the articles above, has less to do with making money and is more about gaining something at the expense of the mission or the customer. The mission for Christians is clear, proclaim Christ for the forgiveness of sins to all people. The customer is where we tend to get hung up, or dare I say greedy.
The nature of the mission, being directed at all people, creates a dividing characteristic. There will be those “customers” already inside the church and those outside the church. Individual churches, or even a synod as a whole, can become greedy by sacrificing one of these groups or even the mission for the sake of increasing attendance. Churches also occasionally sacrifice outreach by overcomplicating the mission. The church is in constant balance between maintaining its congregations and at the same time proclaiming forgiveness to those outside of the church. Greed doesn’t come from churches that struggle with the balance, but rather those that would intentionally isolate or keep one group out. This might look like a pastor changing his preaching style to be more relevant, or a 180 degree change in service style to attract people from the outside but that neglects the needs of an existing congregation.
I have personally seen and heard about congregations that have purposely neglected people inside and outside of the church for the sake of filtering the church’s audience. Like Apple’s current business practices, this is incredibly short sided. Tactics like the ones above may grant immediate success but ultimately undermine the entire purpose of the church. By choosing the audience that we want to hear the Gospel, we reject Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:16-20, that we are called to proclaim the forgiveness of Christ to “all nations.” When we lose any part of that mission for the sake of our own preference, we are failing even in the midst of what looks like success.
The reality is, we all have our own preferences and agendas that we bring with us to our place of worship. That is exactly why Christ is the center of the church and not the sinners who reside in it. In the midst of our weakness and greed, Christ’s forgiveness stands strong. As individuals within congregations, and even synods, we are forgiven by the blood of the lamb, and set free back to our calling to share that forgiveness with all people.