There is a Persian parable about the ostrich, which is called the camel-bird in Farsi. The parable goes something like this:
One day the camel-bird was asked to carry a load and he said, “Why should I? I am a bird”. They said, in that case, “fly” to which he responded, “I can’t. I am a camel”. The same parable applies to many of the Christian organizations today, which can’t decide whether they are a spiritual entity or a secular corporation. If they are expected to act like a corporation, they are quick to tell you, “We are a church.” However, when asked why they are not more Christ-like in some areas of their operation, they are quick to point out, “We are a corporation.” Let me give you a couple of examples.
I heard, recently, a rather large Christian organization announced to her staff members that they weren’t going to get any raises for the next couple of years. Apparently, due to the lack of income, the denomination has been running a deficit for the last few years. As it often happens, after the above announcement, one after another, the leadership of the organization admonished all staff members to be good Christians and work sacrificially by taking on more responsibilities due to the future downsizing. So, in reality, each staff member was asked to work harder for less money, something that I whole-heartedly agree with. As followers of Christ, we ought to be exemplary imitators of our Lord. If we believe in what our Christian employer stands for, then we are bound to give it all we have got to accomplish her mission in this world. My wife, Karen, and I tried very hard to live up to that conviction.
I left a good paying engineering job to become a pastor of a 50-member immigrant church because I believed that was what God wanted me to do. There were days when Karen had to look behind the cushions of the living room couch in the hope of finding some coins to buy milk for our kids. To support our family, Karen, who is probably one of the best executive assistants I know, had to eventually go to work at a mega-church. She worked there for twelve years.
In all the years my wife faithfully worked there, she was only given a one-time raise of $100. As badly as we, at times, struggled with our finances, she never considered looking for a better paying job somewhere else. After all, we felt it was more important to serve God than to seek a better paying job somewhere else. We were taught that if God wanted you to work at that church, you should be willing to receive whatever they offered you. Karen would have probably still been working there if she were not forced to leave. After she accepted a position in a secular company, the pastor of the church personally apologized to me and said, “If I knew Karen was leaving, I would have done all I could to stop her. Letting her go was the biggest mistake our church made this year.”
Having worked for couple of different churches for many years, Karen had never had the luxury of demanding a certain salary. She always took whatever the church offered her. After all, over and over again, we were taught working for God meant money should not be an issue. So, when her new company asked her what kind of salary she expected, She didn’t know how to respond. Needless to say, she took the job and has never and will never look back. “But, what do these two examples have to do with our camel-bird?” you might ask.
In the first case, it is interesting that the same leadership which is encouraging their staff members to make sacrifices—to be camels and carry the load—never demanded the same from themselves because that is not expected of the executives of a cooperation—they act like birds. In the midst of their financial shortfalls, these leaders have continued to remodel their offices, fly first class and give themselves over 100K per year salaries.
In Karen’s case, in 2005, two years after working for the secular company, several people from the above mega-church and the Christian organization I used to work for approached her in the hope to get her to work for them. There was no way Karen was going to leave a job where she had been rewarded so well for her skills. But out of curiosity, she wanted to know what kind of salary these Christian leaders were going to offer her.
In every case the response was, “What? Money is an issue?” In one case I was told, “I don’t know what the salary is. It is somewhere between X and Y amount. Why don’t YOU go to the HR and find out what her salary might be?” Please consider the arrogance that hides her ugly head under the pretence of being spiritual. The man wanted my wife to leave her well-paying job where she was appreciated and compensated accordingly and become his assistant without us having to even dare to ask what her salary might be. For to do so, is considered unspiritual. As a couple of Christ’s camels, we were supposed to feel ashamed and guilty for turning down the opportunity to serve God’s Kingdom because we desired to be adequately compensated for the gifting that God has given Karen. Yet, to every one of these leaders—the birds—the expected Christ-like sacrifice is only for the camels and not the birds. Otherwise, they would willingly give up a few of their luxuries such as remodeling their offices and flying first class to ease some of the financial burdens of their organizations.
Any organization would like the most talented and capable people working for them. Christian organizations are not and should not be any different. However, not wanting to forsake their spiritual obligations as Christian entities, the employees of these organizations are expected not to consider their salaries an issue and instead work for God—basically, get paid next to nothing. On the other hand, when it comes to the executives of these organizations, money IS an issue. While they constantly announce to their constituencies that Christ’s task (preaching the Gospel around the world) cannot be accomplished due to lack of fund, they are all handsomely paid and get to spend God’s money without any accountability because, they say, “This is how a corporation should treat her executive members.”
Having said all the above, please note that there are many churches and Christian organizations who do good by their employees and at the same time are great stewards of what God has given them. By no means am I bringing an indictment against everyone, God forbid. However, to those who are caught in this camel-bird game I say, at the time when more and more Christians are losing their trust in the Church and leaving her, try to win their trust back by, once and for all, making it clear if you are a church or a corporation, a camel or a bird and then act accordingly.