Saturday, October 10, 2009
It Is A Shame We Talk So Much About Money...
Go to the average church meeting and much of the conversation ends up about money... Go to a Board of Directors/Church Council meeting and the treasurer's report is the most important piece of paper there. Talk to people about the health of the congregation and both leaders and followers point to the bottom line -- are we up or are we down.
For a long time I thought it was because we did not talk enough about money -- we danced around it but did not address it up front. Sort of like the way parents talk about sex with their kids but end up really saying nothing at all.
But I am growing increasingly sure that the reason the money issue is so difficult is because the ministry issue is so difficult to talk about. In the LCMS we are in the midst of a restructuring campaign that was begun largely because of financial issues but the more you read, the more you see that it is a mission issue. We do not agree on the purpose (mission) of Synod and District and so therefore its funding lags. What used to be the reasons for Synod and District, have morphed into other reasons -- not by decision but by "mission creep." We started things, we started doing other things and now the things that used to be our core mission have gotten lost (seminaries, training church workers, publishing, missions beyond our shores, etc.).
In the same way, the District was originally a rather lean crew of people to take care of the essential issues of calls, ordinations, and installations. Now Districts have staffs, programs, and budgets that have exploded to the point that most of the money coming in is spent in the District and instead of money going to colleges and seminaries, they provide student aid for "their" students in these schools. Part-time District Presidents (really Bishops) who served a parish as well as the District, have given way to full-time administrators and trouble shooters and vision casters who bear little resemblance to Bishops anymore (or Pastors, for that matter, they neither preside nor preach regularly nor do they have any specific people they are responsible for...).
And then there is the congregation... We have undertaken many things but forgotten the purpose. It is not that these things are bad, but they have fuzzied up the mission. Worse, they have detracted from the central purpose of worship, of bringing people into the worshiping community by proclaiming the Gospel, and of equipping people to share the love of Christ with neighbor, family members, co-worker, friend, and stranger.
Congregations have become filled with self-help groups that have no real purpose except to make us feel better. Church buildings have become homes for all kinds of groups that have no purpose consistent with the purpose and mission of the congregation (such as ballroom dancing groups for the Ablaze program and the like). At the same time, traditional mission agencies have declined -- like LWML, LLL, etc. We have increasingly catered to the self-interest of people and have gotten on the self-serving bandwagon of smorgasbord groups, ministries, and programs that are increasingly distant from what happens on Sunday morning. So it ought to come as no surprise that people come to these without coming to the Service of Word and Sacrament -- and they see nothing wrong with this.
Maybe we need to talk less about money and more about mission... less about resources and more about purpose... less about what people want and more about what Christ calls us to do and to be... Could it be that the reason the Church is losing out in the minds of many is that we find too little difference between the Church and the YMCA (to quote Lost and Found)? Where I am the churches that are growing and are models of cutting edge ministry have health clubs in their facilities, have sports programs, have dances for singles, wifi cafes for twenty-somethings, coffee shops like Starbucks, mall like campuses, multi purpose worship spaces, big screens, big bands (rock not Glenn Miller), and a good time is had by all... all that is, except Jesus.
It is not that I think my own congregation is so off the deep end in this, but clearly, that is where we are pressured to go -- by folks in our Synod and by the growing churches and Osteens of this world. Mission fuzz makes dollars all that more important to talk about... To that end, we are bringing up some proposals to the congregation to make mission front and center... like translating the Small Catechism and publishing enough copies to meet a foreign mission field need... to fill an African seminary library with Lutheran books (that they cry for and have so few)... to build buildings to house a congregation and its work in places where shade is considered home... to connect with a place that will remind us what is easy to forget in the US... it is about proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing and teaching, building a community of faith around the Word and Table of the Lord, and sending the people forth into their homelands to share what they have learned and bring these people to where Christ has promised always to be -- His Word, His Water, and His Meal...