Wednesday, July 22, 2009
"I'm a bottom line kinda person," the man said to me. "Just cut to the chase and give me the bottom line..." Maybe you are a bottom line kind of person, too. Sometimes when I try to explain things to my kids or described what is wrong with my wife's car, I get from them the look that says, "Just tell me what you want me to do..." or "I just want to know how much it will cost..."
Business needs bottom line kinds of people -- not the ivory tower folks but the bean counters who can tell you at the drop of the hat how much the widget costs, what would it cost to change it, how long it will take to set up the factory and ship to retail, and how much they can expect to make on each widget. I understand that. But in the Church, the bottom line can confuse and distort who we are and what we are about.
Some have tried to make the chief concern the bottom line. Every year I send a summary of Grace Lutheran Church to the national office in St. Louis. Most of the information they ask for is "bottom line" sort of info. How many members do you have now? How many did you start the year with? How many new members? How many members lost, died, transferred? How much was your income? How much were your expenses? How much for at home needs? How much for missions?
Church meetings are often about the bottom line. How much money do we have to raise? Are we ahead? Are we behind? Do we have money left over at the end of the year? What is our attendance? Were there more at Christmas last year than this year?
Of course we need to be concerned about these things. But can the life of the Church be summarized simply by numbers? Can the whole the Church's life be defined by how much money comes in the plate or how many folks were there on a given Sunday? Let me explain a few things.
We live in a highly mobile culture and an even more highly mobile community (Clarksville). I recently looked back over the last dozen or so years at how many new people came through the door and how many left. I was startled to find out that if 2 of every 3 people had stayed right here in Clarksville and not moved, we would have some 900 people on a Sunday morning instead of under 300. Every year we need to bring in some 30-40 families each year just to keep the same size -- all due to the high number of those who move (due to military and industry).
Naturally it is my goal to increase our average attendance every year... but the reality is that you cannot simply look at the bottom line to see if we grew or not. There are other things we much take into account.
Add to that questions of faithfulness -- were we faithful in preaching the Gospel, in sharing the faith, in using His gifts, in administering the Sacraments...
If the bottom line is the only thing we consider, we could get rid of objectionable parts of the Scriptures and proclaim only what is popular... We could turn the focus of worship from God to us... We could transform from being participants to spectators... We would stop talking about sin and death and start talking about happiness and pleasure... the bottom line would improve but at what cost?
Faithfulness requires many things... it means faithful labor and work... faithful teaching and truth... faithful participation and service... And the promise underneath this faithfulness is that if we are faithful, God will do as His promises and His Word will bring forth the fruit He intends... Maybe not when or where we see it but in His time and according to His will... And this is true not only of the Church but of our daily lives as Christian people.