Who doesn’t like a good conversation about church and money? Steve Lewis [spiritfarmer] and Jason Evans [a51t15] and a bunch of other folks have been conversing via their blogs about the broad and complex issues of church, money, and sustainability. Why is this an issue? Well, I can think of three main reasons [amongst several] why this is an issue:
- one. Stewardship is always an issue. To be a disciple is to be steward of all things – including finances.
- two. Jesus thought enough of the danger and gravity of money [mammon] that he sees it as a legitmate challenger to the worship of God when He declares, “You cannot worship both God and mammon.”
- three. Money is an issue because whether we like it or not, we’re going through a recession and things are going to get worse before it gets better. And while most middle and low income folks are going to feel the pinch, it will be nothing compared to the world’s poor who are going to suffer the most. And if it affects people, it’ll affect the church and the church’s capacity to “sustain” their ministries. Subsequently, churches may need to reassess our model of sustainability.
[During my current sabbatical, I’ll be reposting some old posts for your reading pleasure.]
In response to the numerous entries I’ve glanced over, I’ve got some random thoughts to share in no specific order. I’m exhausted right now so if it doesn’t make sense, sue me.
1] Bivocational and Bilingual. I think it’s great that there are pastors and ministry folks that are willing to be bivocational. I would just say that we have to be careful that we don’t think that one way is better than the other [bivocational versus full-time]. People need to think, wrestle, pray, and wisely make the decision that best serves their context and situation. Some folks choose the bivocational route because financially, it’s the only viable option for ministries – particularly in the beginning.
During the first year of Quest, I was not paid a salary at Quest. I volunteered my time and worked as a custodian in the early mornings. I hated it. It was an incredibly difficult time. But I had no choice. And since my wife and I was committed to planting Quest, we knew we had to be creative with our finances. The problem was that I discovered that my resume was worth crap to the larger world. I’m useless. I was rejected by every single job employment opportunity I sought including Starbucks and here’s the worst: Toys R Us during the Holiday season when they had that big banner declaring: “Hiring Now.” People looked at me really funny.
But I do respect women and men that choose to work various jobs to care for their families and free their ministries from any difficult financial stress. It takes guts. But whatever route we take, we really also need to do a gutcheck about our personal stewardship and make changes. That takes more guts.
Bivocational is also good because let’s be honest…most full-time ministry workers are so consumed by ministry and the culture of ministry, they rarely engage and interface with the larger world. It’s a double edge sword because while ministry workers are regularly calling the church to love their neighbors and engage the culture and the world, they’re rarely doing [or able] to do the very thing they are preaching. And consequently, many ministry leaders grow to be monolingual. They can only speak one language – the language of the church. And in the long run, there will be a disconnect and it’ll become a detriment to the missional purpose of the body of Christ. All ministry leaders need to be bilingual and multicultural as we engage, exegete, and communicate with the larger culture and context. Beware of the bubble of the Christian sub-culture [think Truman Show here]. I attempt to maintain some balance through my work with our non-profit/non-religious neighborhood Q Cafe, the humanitarian organization, and just being part of the neighborhood where we live. I love being a pastor but there’s also something about being functional and conversational – while being missional and spiritual. Be a good neighbor and not just a good pastor.
2] What about the church? During the current or impending recession, churches will feel the financial pinch. Our church’s budget in the 1st quarter of 2008 was down 9%. Is it too early to tell? Maybe. Are there other factors? Maybe. But my hunch with all the doom and gloom news – housing markets, massive layoffs, soaring gas prices, escalating food prices, etc – is that people are buckling down. And it’ll likely grow worse before it gets better.
But interestingly, I think it’s the larger churches and megachurches that are going to be most affected because having worked at a humongous church before, there are so many financial obligations. They are like big corporations and eventually, there may be some painful layoffs. Smaller churches have the potential to thrive and be more sustainable because they are much more flexible in their infrastructure and decision making. Mobility is a great asset and ought to be utilized.
3] Financial recession. It’s going to hurt a great deal but in my opinion, it’s the best thing for the long run. We need to stop blaming the government, mortgage companies and lenders, etc. Individuals need to take a serious look at their own consumption. For example, why are we buying houses we can’t afford or living lifestyles we simply can’t sustain? The average American household has credit card debt over $9000. Crazy. Do people know that there are companies that make money off people’s debt. Their jobs are to get us into debt and deeper into debt? Even though people were freaking out in 2000-2001 because of the stock market crash and dot-com implosion, it was also a good thing that happened because folks were simply not thinking [or spending] straight. This is how I feel now – except for the concern how the world’s poorest are being impacted by escalating prices and food scarcity.
And on that note, churches also really need to take a look at their consumption. Where are we spending our money? Churches and ministries [and individuals and families] need to have a vision for stewardship. It will not simply happen by itself. The “force” of economics is too strong. It must be intentional and to use Jim Wallis’ words, budgets are moral documents. I define budget in these simple terms: How we earn. How we spend. How we save. How we give away. It has taken a great deal of sacrifice but our church is very excited to finally utilize our Three Foundations in addition to regular support for missions, community, and benevolence.
4] Grow up. While the conversation about bivocational ministry, church, money, and future is worthwhile, I think an equally if not more important conversation is that of stewardship. What do I mean by this?
I think many leaders are giving their faith communities a quasi-free pass in the area of stewardship. Are we challenging them to give joyfully, sacrifically, and faithfully? Statistically, isn’t overall giving amongst Christians about 2.2% if not less? So, while ministry leaders go the route of bivocational jobs, we can’t do it at the expense of not challenging our communities to love God with all our heart, soul, body, mind, [and stewardship].
I’m frustrated that many in the 18-40 generation are still living in what I perceive to be a glorified youth group mentality where they want the benefits of church [while also the staunches critics of church] but unwilling to make the financial sacrifices necessary for healthy communities and ministries to flourish. I’m not thinking big here…I’m thinking deep. In short, I would say we need to grow up.
And while I see great value in seeking support and help from connections and “outside support,” I worry that younger and emerging leaders are attempting to start and build ministries that are dependent on outside support and constant fundraising. If that’s the long term solution…count me out. Let’s exhort and challenge our communities to be sacrificial and creative.
5] Benevolence. I just finished teaching through Acts 6 two weeks ago and it was beautiful. The early church is flourishing and growing by thousands but the early apostles take time to listen and respond to the issues and concerns over the care and welfare of widows. Since we’re talking about church and money and the current economic climate, are folks also talking about how we need to prepare ourselves now and tomorrow for people within our churches that are going to need food and other basic necessities? On a small scale, it’s happening now at our church. What is our strategy for “selling their possessions to give to those who were in need.” How do you create, build, and distribute through your benevolence fund?
Tired and like many of you, still working through these things. I have no idea what I just wrote but what do you think?
Here’s what the bunch of folks have contributed to this dialogue:
- church, money, and sustainability « beauty and depravity
- NOT a Zero-Sum Game « aaron klinefelter
- Sustainability « Chad M. Farrand
- trampoline: viral conversation
- The Mustard Seed: Finding Allies
- Ordinary Community: Being Ready
- Church, Money, Future . . . still going « SpiritFarmer
- Rain Ramblings: The Future of Ministry
- Weblog » Emergent Village » Church/Money/Future: Exploring Ecclesial Sustainability
- “A New Mode of Ministry”? More Thoughts on Being Post-Congregational
- I’m “Bi” and proud « the kedge
- The Failing Economy of Church « Chad M. Farrand
- Now You Tell Me! « headsparks*
- The Conversation Rolls and Grows « SpiritFarmer
- A51T15: sustainable kingdom, sustainable church
- Church, Money, Future in the empire « SpiritFarmer
- Ordinary Community: Church, Money and the Future
- The Mustard Seed: The Jesus Underground
- ::: alancreech ::: home :::
- How then shall we live « aaron klinefelter
- Eyes Wide Open – Thoughts on Spirituality, Psychotherapy, Wholistic Health, Everyday Life » Blog Archive » Church Structure Breaking Down?
- starving ecclesial artists unite! «
- A51T15: church, money and the future
- Ordinary Community: This hurts