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.

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22 thoughts on “The Issues of Matthew 18 and the Corporate Church

  1. Shah you are absolutely correct in stating that Matthew 18 was intended between brothers and sisters. It is not intended to be between a person and an organization. The New Testament Church setting was not an organization setting but a familial setting. Your boss was acting as a representative of the corporation and not as a brother. Another mistake is when Christians want to apply Matthew 18 to the world setting. This was intended for the Christian community where there was intimacy and personal knowledge of each other.

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  2. I thought it was funny how people follow Mt. 18 so closely. Maybe I didn’t grow up in a very bible-following environment. It’s really sad to hear about how they treated you, and their attitudes.I think it’s good that you’re out of that organization. Although you were probably doing a lot of good through your job there.Did you have convictions about working there?

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  3. Manny, so well put. Excellent! Why did it take us so long to learn what you just said. May God forgive those who use Christ’s teachings as a means to control his flock rather than leading them to freedom.

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  4. Lydia, people follow the scriptures the way they do because they have been taught to do so without ever questioning it. Yes, I was convinced that the Lord wanted me there even when I begged him to let me go. The Lord told me very clearly that He wanted me to be an anchor in that place.

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  5. Thanks, Shah, for this post and greetings. Thought-provoking as usual. Definitions are all-important, aren't they? The presupposition in your post (shared by you and your critics, I think) is that the NT reveals God's will in all situations (a view that is consistent with 2 Tim 3:16&17, although that passage does not separate the NT from the OT). Given that, it seems to me that there is a more fundamental question: What is our God-given mandate for creating/supporting/working for any organisation, other than the local Church or for recognising any authority in any ecclesiastical area that is over the local Church? If we do create anything other than the local Church, it's only legitimacy is if it exists to serve the local Church(es), if it is always under the authority of local Churches and accountable to them. If that is all set up and working as it should, in your situation, you would have been able to go to people appointed by local Churches who did not have the fears that your fellow employees had and who would have been able to hold the parties at fault to account, no matter how senior within the organisation they were.IMHO, If the organisation you were part of had no local Church accountability, given that it's objectives were kingdom orientated rather than commercial, neither you nor any other Christian had any business working there. It has no biblical mandate to exist.The NT (and OT, correctly interpreted, for that matter)are not meant to be treated in a pick-and-mix fashion by Christians. We are meant to reflect it all in all that we do.When I read things like your blog, I'm so glad I don't live in the US.Ian

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  6. Just re-read my earlier comment & I don't like the not very humble way I stated my IMHO! Apologies. It's not for me to tell you what you should do. I believe what I wrote to be true but it needs saying more gently. Apologies again.

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  7. Hi Ian:It’s always good to hear form you. There is no need to apology for your remark. I have known you long enough to know that you mean well. Unfortunately, emails are one of the most inefficient means of communication since it conveys no human emotions or expressions. I would like to answer your remarks one at the time. I have placed you questions in italic.…If that is all set up and working as it should, in your situation, you would have been able to go to people appointed by local Churches who did not have the fears that your fellow employees had and who would have been able to hold the parties at fault to account, no matter how senior within the organisation they were.When a denomination (corporation) oversees about 2000 churches, which one of the the churches should the corporation be accountable to? These are the churches that the denomination planted. To which one of the local churches should I have gone for reconciliation?… given that it’s objectives were kingdom orientated rather than commercial, neither you nor any other Christian had any business working there.I absolutely agree with you. However, If you always know what kind of people you will be dealing with way a head of time and can read people’s motives and hearts without any interaction with them first, then you have a much closer relationship with God than I do. I started working for that organization because I thought I could make a difference. It took me a few years to realize what I was dealing with and even at that when I begged the Lord to let me go, He very clearly told me to stay where I was to be an anchor to my co-workers. I stayed in that place and took a lot of abuse till everyone of my co-workers who had been hired around the same time as me was gone.When I read things like your blog, I’m so glad I don’t live in the US. Are things any better in England? To which local church is the Anglican denomination accountable? If an Anglican has a grievance against the Bishop, to which local church does he/she turn to? Ian, I used to be an idealist, but today, I am more of a realist. The Church will always have issues and will never be perfect till Christ comes for her. However, that doesn’t mean we should not challenge the status quo in order to make things more Kingdom like. How is your son? How old is your grand child? As you know, my son is a 2nd Lt. in the USAF and loves it.

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  8. Manny, more and more I realize how many of us Christians-I was one of them-get our macro and micro mixed up and try to apply some of Christ commandment to every possible situation regardless of it’s context. Like expecting the US to turn the other cheek after 9/11.

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  9. Hello Shah: Well, I got on your blog and I just kept reading and reading, VERY GOOD…. you brave heart! I can not communicate as well as you do, but I just want to say WOW.As I read your blog, I could relate…. I thought of our my last year with an awful principal which caused me to finally resign. And our female Children’s pastor whose salary was half that of the male youth pastor for years. Until finally a godly business man came on the church council and refused to allow one thing to be approved until they doubled her salary! She’s very grateful!!If I could pick any other time to live I would of picked the civil rights movement time. Thank God for Martin Luther King and all the other brave people who stood up and thank God for a county that finally got the message (for the most part). I just finished a book “Warriors Don’t Cry.” Written by a lady who was one of the Little Rock Eight. She wrote of her experience as one of the first black girls at Little Rock High School. Bless you Shah…

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  10. you are soooooooo correct in your analysis of the corporate church… but I bet you catch grief for this ;-)they want to have their cake & eat it, too – playing the corporate game but pulling the spiritual wild card when it suits them…ouch – I could catch grief for this, too 😉

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  11. Italics is a good idea but I don’t know how:-(Shah: When a denomination (corporation) oversees about 2000 churches, which one of the the churches should the corporation be accountable to? These are the churches that the denomination planted. To which one of the local churches should I have gone for reconciliation?IJ: As I read the New Testament, the only entity that, ‘oversees’, the local Church is Christ. If Churches align themselves to a denominational structure, the business of that structure is to serve the Churches by making available gifts and expertise that may not be present in each local Church. The Church/denomination relationship should be structured in such a way that the denominational officers are always accountable to the local Church. In a situation like yours, where the denominational constituency consists of too many local Churches for each one to have a role to play, the Churches should elect a group of people who hold the denominational structures to account. You would then have gone to that group of people (which is not to say they would have agreed with you or done the right thing, of course).I’m far more comfortable with Churches associating to carry out specific tasks/projects than I am with the concept of denominations. The former we can see in the book of Acts. The latter is not there.Shah (quoting IJ)… given that it’s objectives were kingdom orientated rather than commercial, neither you nor any other Christian had any business working there.Shah: I absolutely agree with you. However, If you always know what kind of people you will be dealing with way a head of time and can read people’s motives and hearts without any interaction with them first, then you have a much closer relationship with God than I do. I started working for that organization because I thought I could make a difference. It took me a few years to realize what I was dealing with and even at that when I begged the Lord to let me go, He very clearly told me to stay where I was to be an anchor to my co-workers. I stayed in that place and took a lot of abuse till everyone of my co-workers who had been hired around the same time as me was gone.IJ: The phrase you omitted from my comment is essential to my argument. I don’t claim to be an especially discerning individual and the future – even only one day ahead – is always an unknown, as James tells us. However, it does seem to me that scripture gives us certain safeguards, such as the one we’ve been discussing. Also, scripture is realistic in its expectations of people, even Christian people, which is why passages like Matthew 18 exist. Denominational structures should always, therefore, function in a context in which passages like Matt 18 can be applied to them. If they do not, as in your case, we are called by scripture to separate ourselves from them.I realise of course that we can only start from where we are and, for historical reasons, we may be in situations that are not as they ought to be (to some extent this is true of every Christian in this fallen world), feeling nonetheless that our role is to stay there and do what we can (which may be a great deal). That’s why I apologised. Nonetheless, some structures cannot be reformed and in those cases our role is to separate from them at some point.Shah (quoting IJ) When I read things like your blog, I’m so glad I don’t live in the US. Shah: Are things any better in England? To which local church is the Anglican denomination accountable? If an Anglican has a grievance against the Bishop, to which local church does he/she turn to? IJ: The Anglican Church is, by design, a mixed denomination. As such it is not a New Testament Church and believers should separate from it if they are going to obey 2 Cor 6:14-18.I realise also that generalisations about a country as vast and diverse as the US are bound to be challengeable. The impression I get is that many in the US are wedded to pragmatism, corporate culture and the marketing ethos. Certainly, that’s what tends to get exported from the US into Church life over here, The Purpose-Driven Life being the prime example. I acknowledge that one country can only export what another country wants to import. Nonetheless, it is possible, in fact it is a vital part of marketing, to create a perception of need where sometimes none exists.Shah: Ian, I used to be an idealist, but today, I am more of a realist. The Church will always have issues and will never be perfect till Christ comes for her. However, that doesn’t mean we should not challenge the status quo in order to make things more Kingdom like. IJ: The right blend of idealism and realism is important. My contention is that the Bible gets it exactly right and that usually when we think we know better than God, we come to regret it.Shah: How is your son? How old is your grand child? As you know, my son is a 2nd Lt. in the USAF and loves it. IJ: I’m sure he does – Oh to be a young man again and make much better choices than those I did make! I’m so pleased for him.Simeon is awaiting further ophthalmic surgery. The surgeons have removed the initial blast damage from his eye (it looked a bit like a scab) but his eye has scarred over. That’s also been removed once, but it’s come back again. The other eye, also blast-damaged but not in an operable way, is very little use.His next job is back at the Commando Training Centre, as 2nd in command of a company (3 troops) whose job is to rehab recruits who have sustained injuries in training. He’s looking forward to it and should be able to empathise with the frustrations of those he’s commanding.The grandchild arrives in March, DV.Keep blogging!

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  12. LOL… I am amused at how someone would think you could go confront your boss. Even in a church setting it doesn’t always work that way. I think people get authority and get really upset when people question that authority because of their pride of position.The mandate doesn’t seem to apply here anyway as it’s already been pointed out. I think sometimes people want to take what the bible says and stretch it any which way they want to.

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  13. Hello, old friend! I’ll try to send you an email with my real name, I’ve recently heard that you remember me. That means much. Thank you. You are the first person I have restored contact with since I fled our mutual former megachurch/Bible college several years ago. What a mess!
    My comments really apply to several of your posts, but I’ll combine my responses here in this one.
    Those of you who haven’t worked in this sort of psuedo-spiritual environment don’t understand: confrontation of ethical (or other) wrongdoing is NOT an option. I know. I tried it on many occasions and ended up branded a troublemaker for my efforts. I am a vocal person when it comes to hypocrisy and injustice, and there was only one occasion where an issue was appropriately dealt with and resolved. One. How I lasted there as long as I did without being shown the door is in itself astonishing!
    I, too, begged God for years to release me from serving there. I cried often from the burden of knowing what I knew. I longed for earlier days when I was blissfully ignorant of what really went on “behind the scenes” when the cameras weren’t there to see and the crowds weren’t there to respond to the show.
    There are separate systems in place for the executives than for the peons. A sense of entitlement exudes from those high up within the “corporation”. Those in highest authority consider themselves (and sometimes speak of themselves as) CEO’s, Generals, Apostles or whatever the latest catch-phrase is! As such, they demand to be deferred to and compensated for that role, and protected from the annoyance of interaction from what they consider their Lessers. The entourage surrounding these famous pastoral celebrities is astounding. And it is all funded by the very people they so carefully avoid! Thus we have million-dollar pastors living lavishly whose members can barely afford to feed their own kids and pay their own rent.
    Were you there the day of a certain Staff Meeting when The BIg Guy got angry and spent much of the time tearing into us all for daring to laugh and joke good naturedly that we must love Jesus very much to work for such very low wages? I can’t remember if that episode occurred before or after the time BIg Guy-in-training ranted that any Staff Member who made more than $15 per hr was robbing the Church. That statement obviously excluded The Big Guy, of course! Many didn’t even make that much, and those who did could’ve easily made double that amount in a secular position. Some did confront that rant. They then promptly quit and left to work for others who appreciated them. I admire them immensely!
    Thank you for writing candidly about this nonsense that’s destroying so many. The corporate mentality that has swept the Church across denominational lines is frightening. It may not be abusive, but it is extremely dysfunctional and unhealthy. No wonder members are quitting and congregants are leaving in droves! You are what I consider a true prophetic voice of warning.

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  14. Hey Mr. Dispatored, I’m sorry for responding to you so late. I hope you get to read this or at least drop me an email.

    I do remember two incidents when the big guy ripped into a group of people leaving the staff all at once. He got very angry when one of the women leaving said she was leaving because she wants to make more money. The big cheese got up and screamed at all of us saying, “you leave because God wants you to leave and not because you can make more money somewhere else.”
    Another time his replacement, had all the staff members over 50 stand up and told them, “I can replace you all with people half your age and pay them half as much, so be glad you have a job here.” Talk about Christian encouragements…
    Karen worked in that hell hole for 12 years and in all those years she got a raise of $100 per year.
    One of my friends is a mechanic and services most of the staff members at that megachruch. A while back when I visited him he showed me a bunch of beat up cars parked in his parking lot and said, “these all belong to the staff members of that church and many of these guys can’t afford to pay me to work on their cars. Doesn’t the church pay these people?”
    The leaders of these organizations are truly sleep at the wheel not realizing that with almost 20 million “out of the church Christians” the end of the church, as we know it in this country, is around the corner. And much of that is due to the way these elitist have been treating the people who work for them.
    I had an old co-worker read your reply hoping he could figure out who you were, but to no avail.

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