Gary Derbyshire

5 Signs You're Treating Your Church Like a Nonprofit

Gary Derbyshire
September 12, 2017

This is the third installment of the What is a Church series! Let’s get right to it.

In the New Testament, a local church was a "called out assembly" or ekklesia, of people, whose foundation was Jesus Christ the Son of God and goal was to magnify and reproduce the glory of God. Certainly, local churches express this definition a little bit differently depending on their cultural and even geographic context, but the goal is the same. In part due to the thriving of parachurch organizations, I believe many Christians in Western cultures often confuse the local church with something it is not and it is having a drastic impact on the health of their churches.

As Christians lack a biblical understanding of what a church is, they end up treating the church like something it is not. Here are five ways for you to know you are actually treating your church like a nonprofit:

1. You believe that as long as a person has the gifts to perform a certain task for the church, he or she has the calling to do it. I’ve seen a lot of people thrown into roles in the church simply because they were “good at it.” That person is good with kids, they should run the preschool. Or, he’s a professor, he should teach Sunday School. While living overseas, my missionary parents hosted a mission team who brought someone on a church planting trip that wasn’t even a Christian simply because she “liked Asian people.” They were shocked to learn she was steeped in sexual sin and did not like the idea of Asians becoming Christians.

2. When we describe church activities to people outside the church, we only describe their impact on the common good. Just take a minute to think about how you talk about church to outsiders. Do you describe your church’s Sunday gathering as a place with “great music” without mentioning worship or the Bible? When you went on that mission trip, did you come back and tell people you delivered food boxes, taught English, or passed out free medications, without addressing the Gospel? If we only tell people to expect carnal things, they will be less likely to understand why we gather, not more. The common good is not always the Kingdom’s good.

3. You don’t know the difference between missions and humanitarian aid. In church missions, even building wells, starting schools, running hospitals, and helping the poor are a means to an end. In humanitarian aid, those things are the end. Once, a teenage friend of mine came back very excited from an overseas mission trip with his church. He told me that he and his team had built a bunch of houses and painted them for a poor tribe in North Africa and that the chiefs thanked them at the end. I asked him about the religion of those chiefs. He didn’t know. I asked him about the state of the Christians in the country and what his job had to do with the spread of the Gospel there. He said they were all very nice people, but he never really talked to them about God or asked his leaders why they did what they did.

4. You only donate to special causes within the church, but never to the church itself. This is a very sensitive topic, but it needs to be addressed. If every member only donated to their church’s mission to the Dominican Republic, for example, their church would have no place to gather and other essential ministries and functions of the church would be neglected. Church members need to give according to the entire mission and vision of their church, not part of it.

5. You believe as long as your church is meeting physical and emotional needs, it is meeting spiritual needs. Just because your church or program you like has a good reputation in the community, does not mean it is reaching people for Christ. I am not saying you should refrain from helping individuals and institutions unless they agree to join your church. That is wrong too. However, if a local church pours its resources and manpower into something and has had no people changed by Christ and no one baptized, its people probably need to change direction.

This is not meant to be pessimistic or overly critical. However, if a church’s members don’t know what a church is, it will become sick. A local church is a called out assembly, whose foundation is Jesus Christ the Son of God and goal is to magnify and reproduce the glory of God. If that is what you are trying to be a part of in your church, you will take your church one step closer to being healthy. If you don’t, be careful, you and your family may just be attending Christian Food Bank.

Gary Derbyshire

Gary is the Senior Pastor of Apollo Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona. Gary's biggest life influence is his loving parents, who originally taught him the Gospel and biblical exposition, and still live as missionaries in Asia. The next biggest influence is his loving wife, a gifted worship leader and evangelist to their children.

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Gary Derbyshire