Love Your Lord? Love Your Staff!


I once worked in professional ministry.

There, I confessed. 😉

People paid me to show the light of Christ to others. And while I’ll add to the lament that the pay seemed to amount to little more than the change from a vending machine, it was pay nonetheless.

Where there’s one paid employee, there’s usually more. I worked in camping ministry for several years, Your typical summer camp staffon staffs of about a dozen to almost three hundred—a half dozen staff experiences in all, split between mainline Protestant camps and Evangelical.

If I learned one truth during my tenure in professional ministry, it’s you can’t be a Christian organization and not have some kind of hierarchy of ministry focus. In my years as a paid Christian camping professional, I saw two different ministry focus hierarchies:

1. Our ministry focus is on God first, people who fall into our ministry objective second, and staff third.

2. Our ministry focus is on God first, staff second, and people who fall into our ministry objective third.

Let me tell you about the places I worked that employed that first hierarchy of ministry…

When you work at a Christian ministry that puts everyone else before staff, you discover that about halfway through your ministry objective timeline the well’s run dry. So much time has been spent pouring the life of the staff into the lives of the people they’re ministering to that in a few months time your staff’s inner lives resemble the Sahara Desert—during a drought. And with a plague of locusts, too.

Leaders of ministries who follow a staff third ministry model succeed in doing one thing exceptionally well: creating ministry burnouts.

The problem for leaders comes from always expecting staff to pour themselves out, while not lifting a finger to refill their earthen vessels. In the end, everything about the ministry fails. It may have started ministering by the Spirit, but when people dry up—and they will in this environment—they start ministering with the arm of flesh. And we all know what that means: failure.

One of the camps I worked for had a nationally-recognized name, multi-million dollar budget, and several hundred people going through its gates every week. But they also had a bizarre curfew on Sundays during the summer that made it nearly impossible for summer staff to make it to church and back under the curfew. As a result, a lot of staff had no chance to worship.

I worked on year-round staff. Because of some special skills I possessed, I transitioned from my regular duties into the summer duties and found myself bound by the curfew. My response? Start an in-camp worship service for staff on the one night of the week we all had free.

Seems reasonable enough.

But you’d be astonished at how much persecution came down on our worship—from the camp leaders! No, I wasn’t an ordained minister, but this was a Protestant camp right? Martin Luther, priesthood of all believers? And yes, we did offer communion, too. Or was that wrong, as well?

Honestly, I felt like the leader of an underground church right there in Evangelical land. But you know what? The folks who came to that worship service left filled. And those who begged off and complained stayed empty and later burned out.

The worship service persecution was just one of many ways that camp kept pouring out its staff and giving nothing back. The list went on and on. In fact, it could be the poster camp for how to grind up and spit out a staff.

And they LIVED for the staff third hierarchy. Practically engraved it on the walls of every cabin in the camp.

I worked at another Evangelical camp (see the trend?) that had strange rules in place, such as A-level staff couldn’t associate with B-level staff outside camp. I had no idea such a lamebrained rule existed until I told the camp director in passing that I was planning on taking the mildly-retarded camp janitor, who had no friends on staff that I could tell, out for an ice cream so he could get away from camp and talk with a real person. From the pummeling I received for merely attempting to minister to another staff person, you would’ve thought the whole idea was part of a scheme to murder the guy!

The sum of all the rules at that camp added up to a legalistic tangle of nonsense that proved…well, anti-human. In time, I feared I might be subjected to forty lashes minus one for ministering to the wrong person. Or the right person in the wrong place. Or the wrong way. At the wrong time, or—oh, the heck with it.

Conversely, the mainline camps I worked for—you know, liberals—went for the staff second approach. Their leadership perpetually worked to meet the spiritual, mental, physical, and social needs of the staff. They paid better. They threw special parties for staff. They celebrated milestones for everyone on staff, even the summer-only folks. They routinely asked each person on staff how his or her relationship with the Lord was going. They treated staff like real people and not underlings.

And they actually allowed staff to minister. To the visitors. To the other staff. To anyone.

Their success came from understanding that people cannot be perpetually poured out without something being poured back in. Yes, people can have a devotional life that provides some of that refreshing, but anyone in leadership knows that real leadership means giving something back.

Let’s be honest here. The amount of personal time we devote to interacting with the actual subjects of our ministry may pale compared with the amount of time we spend with other staff. Any wise person leading a ministry realizes that the lives most likely to be changed by the ministry are those who actually work for it. Yes, a ministry that works with the poor may very well touch the lives of the poor to whom they minister, but it’s far more likely that the ministry will forever change the staff that works in that ministry.

And I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s true for every single ministry on the face of this planet since the Day of Pentecost.

If you’re the leader of a ministry (doesn’t matter what kind), my charge to you is to lay down your life for your staff. Christ laid His down for the ones who follow Him. If your ministry model has been staff third, shred it—now. If you don’t, rather than building your staff, you might very well be creating burnouts who never darken the door of any ministry again. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got the e-mail addresses of a couple hundred ministry burnouts I can send you.

If you love the Lord, then love your staff. Show it in practical, tangible, life-changing ways. The Lord demonstrated that kind of love to His disciples, the ones He called friends. We can do no less for those people with whom we minister.

Busting Myths About Christianity: Assessing Myths 9-10


Entering the homestretch of this series on myths believed about the American Church by those outside it, it's hard to avoid the cruel fact that several of these myths aren't myths. At one point, they may not have had one shred of truth to them at all, but something's happened to the Western Church—a very bad something. Sadly for us, those people who hold no pretenses to following Christ have noticed, yet we haven't. 

The myths: 

  1. Christians are more judgmental than non-Christians.
  2. Christians are stingier than non-Christians.
  3. Christians are more intolerant of other people than non-Christians.
  4. Christians are more short-sighted than non-Christians. 
  5. Christians don't know how to have fun. 
  6. Christians despise intellectuals more than non-Christians do.
  7. Christians prefer kitsch over important art.
  8. Christian subculture mimics the world rather than creating anything lasting.
  9. Companies run by Christians are as unethical as secular companies, and perhaps more so.
  10. Christianity causes more problems in the world than any other religion.

Today, we'll look at the final two.

9. Companies run by Christians are as unethical as secular companies, and perhaps more so

One of the most damning newspaper articles I've read in my life arrived in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the Enron and Worldcom scandals rocked the business world. In that article, the author took an in-depth look at the religious backgrounds of all the principal players in all the scandals. In nearly every case, those leaders were Evangelicals deeply involved in their churches as elders, teachers, deacons, and more.

I read that article about five times, attempting to find some way to reject what I was reading, but the truth shouted from the page.

My own personal odyssey dealing with Christian businesspeople is about as bad. When I look back on all the times I hired self-professed Christian professionals to help me resolve a problem, the number of times I got stiffed—and grossly, too, I might add—far, far, far outweighed the number of times the same happened with folks who made no pretenses to being Christians. Like 10:1.

So when I need an electrician to wire my house correctly so that the resulting "fix" doesn't burn it down, an ICHTHUS plastered on a Yellow Pages ad is my sign to hire someone else.

I hate saying that. As a Christian businessman myself, I would go sleepless for months if I knew I didn't turn in my best work. I'm a representative of Jesus Christ. My word and my work mean something deeper than putting food on the table. Doing outstanding work on every job I take is more than just the norm; it's my worship!

Why, then, do so many Christian businesspeople do such shoddy work—and under the guise of Christianity, too? Don't they know that's an anti-witness? Perseus slaying the MinotaurThat kind of carelessness may be the foot that stomps out the Holy Spirit, not only in the life of the businessperson, but in his or her client's life, as well.

Why does this happen? I think it may have something to do with a hyperinflated and mind-bogglingly poor notion of what grace entails. Some Christians must cover their atrocious work ethic with such a thick lacquer of "grace" that they convince themselves it will hide all the flaws. Or they're nothing more than cultural Christians, reflecting no true inner conversion, bereft of the Holy Spirit who would never let them rest for doing such poor work in the name of Christ. I have no other explanation.

At one time in history, Christians could be counted on to provide the best of every service and manufactured product available. I can't muster the historical proof to say that we're far worse now than then, but doesn't it seem like it? Sure, a real mythbuster would have the proof, but all I have is a lopsided series of encounters with Christian businesses that weighs heavily in favor of a negative assessment. That doesn't mean that millions of good Christians who would never lie, cheat, or steal from a client don't exist. But whatever the case, the scoundrels are making it tough on all of us.

So while Hebrew National Hot Dogs claims to answer to "a higher Authority," we Messiah-worshipers better do more than just answer.

Assessment: Plausible, and very likely Confirmed.


10. Christianity causes more problems in the world than any other religion

Let me make this simple: Bull.

If anything, the heritage of the Christian Church since its founding proves a history of God using believers to fashion every good we enjoy today. Anyone who believes that Christianity is more a problem than a solution long ago turned off the brain cells.

If no Church of Jesus Christ graced this planet, we would kiss goodbye…

…the majority of the world's greatest art, music, and literature.

…large portions of philosophy, science, and invention.

…nearly all charitable organizations that reach out to the least of these.

…virtually all hospitals and medical centers in the world.

…every concept of personal freedom in government.

…the hope of rescue of oppressed people everywhere.

In fact, I would guess that a world with no Church would be so hopelessly grim by now that a traveler through such an alternate Earth, if not already a Christian, would convert on the spot after returning to his Church-filled reality. And that's true of no other religion or thought system. 

For this reason, it's imperative that we Christians assess where we are today and ask if we're still making that kind of difference. If we're not on the forefront in every fruitful endeavor that Mankind enjoys, then we've failed to live as the Lord's fully redeemed people.

Our ancestors understood what Christ bought them by His blood, and they ran with that opportunity. They understood what it meant to live like wise Daniel did among the worldly, that it was more than just being pious. It meant learning! It meant expanding the horizons of what is known and what can be. Those wise men from the East called by God to visit the infant Jesus were the direct result of a godly man like Daniel who saw that serving God wasn't just a set of religious rituals separated from the whole of life.

Those Christians before us got it. Their devotion spawned countless benefits to us in every part of our lives. We can't drop the baton. To those who have been given much, much has been required.

Assessment: Couldn't be more Busted!


In the end, every single Christian in America should be a mythbuster. Too many of the myths held by unbelievers about Christianity today are shockingly closer to the truth than we care to admit. We can't continue to reinforce those myths.

If our passion for Christ is outweighed by our longing for entertainment, then we shouldn't call ourselves Christians. I'm afraid that in too many cases we're more concerned with our Tivo programming than reversing the mindset of unbelievers about the Church, and Jesus Christ, in particular. By living such worldly, meaningless lives, we only drive the lost away from their only hope.

Those Christians who gave their best to give us the science and arts we enjoy today took risks and God rewarded them. Many sinned boldly, yet loved God more boldly still. That kind of baldfaced living under grace seems foreign to us today. The modern American Church shies away from wrestling with angels. While some small-minded Christians point with pride to the fact they're not limping, it's also why so few of them go on to have their names listed among the heroes and patriarchs of the Faith. And it's why there's so little greatness in the American Church of the 21st century.

Christian, live in such a way that no myth hatched by the world applies to you.

Have a great weekend.

Entries in this series:

{Image: Perseus slaying the Minotaur

The Christian & the Business World #7: Binding the Business Strongman


I just want you to know you aren’t going to church with a crook…. More than anything else, I hope that my witness for Jesus Christ will not be jeopardized.

– Bernard Ebbers, church deacon, Sunday School teacher, self-proclaimed born-again Christian, and former CEO of Worldcom, speaking to his congregation at Easthaven Baptist Church after the scandal broke. The congregation responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

I believe in God and I believe in free markets.

– Ken Lay, former Enron CEO, son of a Baptist preacher and member-in-good-standing of Houston’s First United Methodist Church.

Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia Communications, Qwest Communications International, Tyco, Dynegy, ImClone, and Global Crossing. More often than not, those companies were run by Christians—at least in name, if not (as we now know) in actual practice. Go to JailIn one of the most damning articles I’ve ever read, The Wall Street Journal in July 2002 drew a correlation between the leadership of those disgraced companies and their (largely Evangelical) church affiliations. But Ebbers and Lay were not the only two Evangelical Christians to find themselves having to answer to the courts and shareholders for their fraudulent schemes. From the lowliest person involved in one of these well-known business scandals to the highest echelons of those disgraced companies, Christians were involved every step of the way promoting gross fraud and chicanery.

But how is this possible? How does your Sunday School teacher teach a great lesson on Sunday on telling the truth then turn around on Monday and defraud shareholders in his company to the tune of $3.8 billion?

It’s not Worldcom, it’s worldview.

As we saw in this series’ posts on The Industrial Church Revolution, Darwinian worldviews supplanted a coherent Christian worldview as the Industrial Revolution grew, feeding off the classism created by it. Not only were average Americans losers in this transition, but capitalism lost as well. The result was that the concentration of capitalism’s power moved from home-based economies in a divergent marketplace made up of individual families (largely governed by a Christian worldview that kept the purity of capitalistic ethics in check) to corporations that operated out of a survival-of-the-fittest mentality where the ends justifies the means. (Lest anyone think this is an oversimplification, try explaining the litany of ethically-bankrupt companies listed above any other way.)

Without a Christian worldview upholding it, capitalism takes on a truly wicked sheen. Darwin’s ethical base is…well, it doesn’t have one. It could be argued that ultimately the only ethic that can prevail in a system where passing on one’s genes (be it naturally or figuratively) is the only goal is “grab and maintain power at all cost.” This prevailing Darwinian ethic is remarkably similar to the ethics of many, if not most, of today’s large businesses. Matched with capitalism, Darwinian business practices become nothing short of hellish.

I live outside a city dominated by two enormous and exceptionally powerful companies lurking in the Top 10 of the Fortune 500. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that the mentality of those companies is that they would rather send entire departments within them to the guillotine than be #2 to any company in their marketspace. Microsoft, another company with a win-at-all-cost Darwinian worldview, regularly recruits ex-execs from both of those companies; the current leadership of the software giant reads like a Who’s Who of expatriates from both.

The question that must be asked here is if Darwinism has supplanted Christianity as the predominant worldview, then how can anyone expect the leaders of a company to operate the company in a way that is contrary to the soulless, anything-goes-ethics of Darwinism? The leopard can’t change its spots. So why do we think that the business world can change if the people running those businesses no longer operate from a Christian perspective?

Everyone here is tripping over the truth that the Social Darwinism that governs many businesses has a worldview that reeks of short-sightedness. Whatever is expedient in the moment is what gets the job done. Darwinism’s emphasis of passing on the genes of one generation to another totally foregoes the long-term view of life that Christianity possesses. Darwinism preaches just one generation, while Christianity preaches eternity. No wonder so many business decisions today lack any forethought other than “Let’s get through one more quarter and damn everything else.” So many of the recent trends in business—outsourcing, offshoring, age-ism, and so on—are based in short-term Darwinian thinking and not in a holistic Christian worldview that looks beyond a three-month chunk of time.

Apart from an expedient view of business, other odd things happen when a company lives by a Darwinian worldview. One of those oddities is that it renders Christians who work for a Darwinian company surprisingly mute at the most inopportune moments. In the city near me, one of those large companies came out in favor of a morally-questionable piece of local legislation designed to improve their recruiting pool. And while the company itself has many within it who are the bastions of their churches, those bastions did not speak out against the proposition. Worse still, they supported legislation elsewhere in the state that went against the company line, but they would say or do nothing locally to jeopardize their careers. Is this the example we should be setting for the generation that comes after us?

These examples are ultimately factors in the dichotomy that all Christians in the work world must face, yet the Church’s deathly silence on work issues is startling. Most people in a church spend eight or more hours a day doing their jobs, yet American Church leaders never speak to work issues. More often than not, those Church leaders are shown hobnobbing with folks like Lay, Ebbers, and Kozlowski. And though the name of the CEO here escapes me, a recent business leader who talks about his born-again Christianity was making the rounds of churches before his fraud trial, preaching from the pulpit. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And as for all the gladhanding too many Christian leaders give to corrupt business leaders, an old Southern aphorism is, “If you lie down with dogs, you get their fleas.”

The extension of this silence is that those who do stand up to corrupt business practices and pay the penalty for it are too often shunned by their churches. Congregants in many churches feel an unease when too many unemployed people start showing up around them. Yet if we Christians are to stand up to devilry in the marketplace we have to start rallying around Christians who take a stand against corporate corruption and the steamroller business trends that have their source in Darwinian thinking. It is one thing to tell a congregation that God does not care about image, yet if honing that image keeps a person in his job, what do we say to him when he stands up against that honing and winds up in the unemployment line? Remember, God takes care of the widows and orphans and can feed them from heaven with manna if He wishes, but He chose the Church to be His hands and feet. Yet what is the Church in this country doing to help Christians who take a stand and run afoul of Darwinian business practices?

This is the environment we face today, and though some think worldly answers like Sarbanes-Oxley will hold businesses in check, the only way to get past the brutal short-term Darwinian thinking that infects the majority of the business world—even within supposedly Christian businesses and organizations, as Nancy Pearcey so rightfully notes in her book Total Truth—is for Christians to not just lobby for a room to hold lunch-break Bible studies in, but to dig out the corrupt Darwinian foundation underlying business and install a Christian worldview. Christian leaders must refrain from endorsing business leaders who operate out of Darwinian principles even as they are reaching out to help pull down Darwinism within corporations. Christian leaders must start speaking to work issues and also offer businesses some incentive to endorse Christian means of running their businesses. God’s original call to work by “subduing the earth” should never mean “leaving a wake of Darwinian destruction behind in the process.” Let me tell you, God hates that kind of short-sightedness. If we cannot make the case that a Christian worldview trumps a Darwinian one when it comes to long-term health of businesses and the communities around us, then God help us all because the scandals and broken lives that result will only increase.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at several business issues being ignored by American Church leaders and what we can do about righting them. Tune in to The Redemption of Corporate America coming up soon.

Previous post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #6: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 3

Next post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #8: The Redemption of Corporate America