“It’s not personal; it’s business.”
I first heard that cold phrase in the 1972 movie The Godfather. Mafia hoodlums would assure the fellow they’re about to “off” that he should feel better about being “whacked” since the aforementioned whacking is “not personal; it’s business.”
I’m told that business tycoon Donald Trump uses the phrase on his so-called “reality” TV show The Apprentice. No surprise.
But “the Donald” quite aside, it’s clear that in our culture, all a person has to do to be considered a “success” is to have a lot of money, regardless of how it is made. So what if it involves legalized “whacking”? Crawling to the “top” over rivals’ bodies and disdaining integrity is “not personal; it’s business.”
With the Mafia, and with cut-throat business, we expect ugliness. But let me tell you where we should never expect it . . .
I’ve seen some odd and interesting mottoes or slogans below some of the church names on church signs, but I’ve not yet seen anything quite this obvious: MOUNT SINAI HEIGHTS CHURCH: Where It’s Not Personal; It’s Business.
No, I’ve not seen it on a sign, but I’m afraid it is all too often the unspoken motto of churches that have sold out to our consumer culture and thus burned incense to our society’s most popular gods.
Eugene Peterson once wrote a letter to a pastoral colleague who was flirting with leaving his present flock for a very large church that was “more promising” and where he could “multiply his effectiveness.” (All the usual pseudo-sanctified buzzwords.)
Be careful! Peterson warned. “Every time the church’s leaders depersonalize, even a little, the worshipping/loving community, the gospel is weakened. And size is the great depersonalizer.”
Peterson didn’t deny that there is a time for ministers to move. He didn’t deny that real spiritual maturity (the Christ-like kind counter to our culture’s values) can grow in large churches, but “only by strenuously going against the grain.” Size makes spiritual growth harder, and not easier, he wrote, because real spiritual growth always takes place in community, not in a crowd.
We easily fall, he warned, to the temptation Christ repudiated as Satan urged him to cast himself off the temple so that angels might save him and crowds might marvel. When we go for the glitz, orchestrate excitement, and play to the faceless crowd, the ecstasy we seek from the crowd is as deadly to our souls as any false high we might seek through illicit drugs or sex. It’s not the joy of God; it’s false joy. And chugging its poison is tempting. It is much easier than adopting the way of the cross. It’s much easier than actually living with, walking with, and caring for sheep who have faces we know.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, knows each of his sheep intimately and by name. Pastors and church leaders should, too.
Thank God, Christ’s church is not business; it’s as absolutely personal as a Father’s tears at the death of His Son.