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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Issues of Matthew 18 and the Corporate Church

Immediately after parting ways with a Christian organization I had been with for many years, I sent out an email informing everyone on my mailing lists of my departure. Knowing how the organization would have dealt with it — never saying anything about it publicly in hopes that eventually all their constituents would forget about me ever working for them — I wanted my friends to hear it directly from me, without the spin. Within a few hours, I received a reply from an angry pastor wanting to know why I had informed him of my departure and if prior to my leaving I had followed the Matthew 18:15-17 process where Jesus said:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Ever since receiving that email, I have wanted to write on this subject, but kept postponing it until recently when a dear pastor friend asked me the following question in an email:

Before I read your blog, I was assuming that you did go through this process (Matt.18) before you left. God put it on my heart to not assume, but to ask you, my brother in Jesus, a few questions: how did the process go? If you did go through this process, where did this process break down? Was the offence(s) expressed clearly? When it was not received one on one, did you bring two or three witnesses? If you DID bring two or three witnesses, you did right, brother. And if they ignored the two or three witnesses, then they will be accountable to God for refusing what Jesus said is the way to deal with offences.
What you see in the above paragraph is the heart of a man whom, like most followers of Christ, desires to do what He is expecting of us. However, in doing so, we tend to become as harmless as doves, but not as wise as serpents like Jesus wants us to become. Let me tell you what I am talking about.
A few years ago, I remember coming back from lunch with the then vice president of my old denomination. While driving back to the office, he said something that made a lot of sense to me. As we pulled into the parking lot of our headquarters, he pointed to the building and said, “Many people confuse this building with a church and expect us to behave as such. This is not a church, but a corporation.”
In the above passage, Jesus is talking to a community and not a corporation. The process involves me and my brother and not me and my corporate boss. “Isn’t your Christian boss your brother in Christ?” one might ask. In theory, yes! In reality, heck no! He is your boss first and then your brother in Christ. This is how the corporate chain of command works. He is the head-honcho and you are the peon.
For the most part, within today’s corporate church, Matthew 18 only works when it is directed from the people in charge toward those under them. It hardly ever works the other way around without any repercussion since, in confronting the peon, the boss is never in danger of losing his job, but God knows the peon is if the reverse were to happen. The first time I made the mistake of asking my boss a question regarding a decision he had made, I had his office door slammed in my face so hard that eventually a carpenter was called to dislodge the door so he could get out of his office. Oh, he also threatened to fire me.
Do you realize how difficult it is to find two or three witnesses to confront your corporate boss when your potential witnesses know they are very well in danger of losing their jobs, or at least losing favor with the boss? Of course, in a corporate setting, you are supposed to take your grievances to HR. But again, at least where I worked, for the same reasons, the HR people were just as powerless as my witnesses.
What was even more frustrating was when I took my issues to my boss’s peers who were quite aware of the situation and would even agree with me, but would not do anything to rectify it lest they lose favor with their boss. In fact, one of them simply told me, “If I were you, I would go find me another job.”
So, my dear brothers and sisters, let’s get real: Unless you are willing to lose your job, be careful in following the above mandate when it comes to confronting your corporate Christian boss. I had the guts to do it and ended up without a job. Hopefully you’ll fair better if ever in the same situation.