As a little girl, I stood in line with the church people to shake hands with new members of our Baptist church. To join, they walked to the front, talked to the pastor, then the people in the pews voted them in. All the old church people lined up to welcome the new ones. I found out much later, there was more to church membership than that. And it included a letter.
Church membership is still complicated to me. I’ve read plenty about why we should join a church and plenty about why it’s not necessary. Wherever we are on the topic, let us agree on this: those of us in Christ are the Church; we are brothers and sisters. I am personally convinced of the necessity of gathering with my siblings in Christ, but I’m still learning what God wants that to look like.
This post isn’t about whether or not we gather. It’s about the ways in which Giant Church Inc does church membership and the growing use of two documents within Christian organizations, including Giant Church Inc. They’re called non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and non-compete clauses.
This Is a Problem
Partnership, covenants, and ownership are a few of the names Giant Church Inc uses to designate church membership, and sometimes different levels of membership. For example, Giant Church Inc urges new visitors or seekers to partner with them while the visitors explore faith, learn how the church operates, and serve on some teams where a deep faith and commitment aren’t required.
The next level up is ownership. Ownership requires a signed Ownership Agreement and a high level of commitment. Owners agree to give money consistently, serve and lead regularly, and come under the authority of the church leaders. Giant Church Inc uses the Ownership Agreement to tell owners how to spend their time, what to do with their bodies, and how to use their money for the purposes of Giant Church Inc. I was an owner at Giant Church Inc.
There are several problems with this model of church membership, but I will only name a few. First, it creates a separation between owners and non-owners. The owners are in, the others are out. This is on purpose. Giant Church Inc awards certain perks to owners: leadership positions, stage time, permission to go on mission trips, special dinners, and glitzy award nights.
The High Life
Instead of lifting high the name of Jesus and pointing to him, instead of making disciples, Giant Church Inc glorifies the high life of ownership. Following Jesus is reduced to signing a piece of paper and doing what Giant Church Inc says.
That’s another problem. The Holy Spirit is irrelevant in our lives if Giant Church dictates who we listen to, where we go, what we do, and when we do it. We can’t discern the voice of God when Giant Church Inc is screaming in our ears.
Lastly, the owner agreement is one-sided. An agreement between people who love one another and want good for the other, implies reciprocity, trust, and not only a willingness to receive feedback, but a desire for it to cultivate growth. Giant Church Inc trusts no one, will not tolerate questions, or receive necessary and helpful feedback. The unwillingness of Giant Church Inc to give back to the owners what they require of them makes it an unfair contract.
Speaking of Unfair
More and more, Giant Church Inc uses NDAs or non-disclosure agreements. Companies use NDAs to protect proprietary information like secret formulas, sensitive financial data, production processes, and other information that isn’t public knowledge.
An NDA is a contract by which one or more parties agree not to disclose confidential information that they have shared with each other as a necessary part of doing business together.
Another document going around Giant Church Inc these days is a non-compete clause. In an article called Silence of the Sheep in World Magazine, Emily Belz writes this, “Non-compete clauses, forbidding staff from going to work for other churches or ministries in the area, seem to be a particular sign of ill-health in a Christian organization. Former megachurch Mars Hill Church had required pastors to sign non-compete forms. Harvest Bible Chapel had a non-compete agreement for pastors, forbidding them from being part of another “church ministry” within 50 miles of any Harvest campus.”
Since when are other churches competitors?
Is this what Giant Church Inc calls ministerial work now? Doing business together? Competing with one another and preventing our siblings from ministering in areas near us? Aren’t leaders and partners and owners co-laboring for the Kingdom as we commune with God and each other? Church, we’ve missed the point. We’ve messed this one up in a bad way.
The Secret Life
To ask staff members or pastors to sign an NDA, Giant Church Inc is admitting there is information they want to keep hidden. To ask them to sign a non-compete clause is anti-Gospel. I’m not the only one who sees a problem with NDAs and non-compete clauses. I agree with Andy Rowell who recently shared this on Twitter, “Both are bad for the Gospel. NDAs coerce those who have seen wrongdoing from speaking out. Non-compete clauses also bully.”
The bullying is severe in most cases. Rob (that’s not his real name), wrote about how he was pressured to sign an NDA. You can read it here.
If you attend a church where these documents are used, find a healthy one with nothing to hide. Find a church who wants the name of Jesus to be lifted high more than they want their brand to be the only one within a 15 mile radius.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32 NASB