Monday, June 7, 2010

An Attitude Worthy of Christ

While no one (well, no one in their right mind) would advocate Christians enter abject poverty in order to support the work of the Lord and His Church, there are too many Chrisitans who think of the work of the Lord and His Church last rather than first.  I did a quick survey of a room full of teens by asking what they would do with $10K if someone gave it to them to spend as they desired... Even though this was a group of good teens who are regular in church and the youth program of our congregation and their parents are regular and faithful, not one of them said anything about giving any of that money to someone else and none of them thought of the Church.  When I asked why, they quickly demurred, saying "Oh, Pastor, of course I would get you a big box of Bibles... or a new computer for your office... etc."  When I said that567 I had brought this up not so that they might think of giving me something but to ask in general how they saw the work of the Lord and His Church, they looked at me confused by my point.

My point is that we have come to a point in time when even good and pious Christians believe that the Lord and His Church are not worthy of the best (well, sure, they say that they are worthy of better but certainly not the best -- I mean, really.  Now I know that most congregations are fairly frugal with a dollar -- not because they want to be but because they have to be careful about how every dollar is spent since there are never enough of them to do everything.  I cannot recall a church meeting ever when somebody did not ask "But how much is that going to cost?"

My point is that even though we do not necessarily need to give the shirt off our backs to the work of the Lord or empty our bank accounts to support the Church, should we not at least agree that the Lord's Work and His Church are at least worthy of all our best?  I mean even if we do not follow through, should we not agree at least in theory that the work of the Lord and His House are worth the best we have $67 a square foot (this included a 60 rank pipe organ!!).  But even though we were frugal and, well, cheap, in squeezing the most from each dollar and continuing our mission support (even increasing it) all the while building, we got an anonymous note saying "Wouldn't it have been better to use that money to care for the poor rather than wasting it on such a lavish building?"

My point is that we no longer even agree in principle that the Lord should be first and foremost, that His Work and His House should come before anything else.  We agree in principle that speed limits are good and beneficial even though we break them everyday.  We agree that everyone should live a healthy lifestyle but we break this principle every day.  What happened along the way to sidetrack at least an agreement in principle that the work of the Lord and His House should come first?  I mean, I know we will still need stewardship programs and good PR to loosen up enough money to pay the bills but at least it would be nice to agree in principle that the work of the Lord should come first (though we all know a lot of good reasons why we do not follow through on this agreed upon principle).

This is not an appeal for money or for things, but for an attitude worthy of the Christ who gave His best for us.  Even though our sinful flesh will interfere with the follow through, the principle of the Lord first and all the best for His Church should be agreed upon, don't you think?  I mean is God worth less than our best?  Is the Church of Jesus Christ a charity case?  Does it not demean God that we beg for money to do His bidding?

Sometimes I think back to the many churches constructed during the Great Depression... the many folks who gave like the widow (all they had) because they knew that God was worthy of their very best... but now that we have so much, we find it even harder to give a little.  Statistics should that the people with the least amount of income are the most incredibly generous in their support of the Church and the work of God's Kingdom as well as community causes.  Since most of us have much more, what is keeping us from returning more?  It could be that we do not agree even in principle that the Lord is worthy of nothing less....  Unless we agree on this and strive to do better toward this goal, the Church of God will be forced to compete with the Girl Scouts and their cookies, the Heart Fund and its envelope trail, or anyone of a gazillion other good causes... and we will sit in judgment over their all and vote for the most worthy choice with dollar bills in our hands...

No, I think what needs to change is not a stewardship theme but a basic attitude of God first, the work of the Lord first, and His Church first.... When we agree on this in principle, then we can begin to put that principle to work... but unless we agree, we will have little to talk about about the exciting topic of what we are getting ourselves for our well earned paychecks... And that is a conversation both boring and pathetic... for those who by baptism have been given the key to heaven's treasure chest and have received grace upon grace for faith and life that has no end... 

Alas, we cannot even agree on this in theory.  Several years ago we built on 20,000 square feet and landscaped and furnished this addition plus adding on a new parking lot all for about $60 per square feet (including the cost of the 60 rank pipe organ).  We did much of the work ourselves (laying some 14,000 square feet of ceramic tile, finishing the wood for the ceilings, and all the painting).  Yet we got an anonymous note from one of the members suggesting that we wasted money that could have been used for those in need and complaining about the "lavish" building and amenities.  Go figure.

My point is this, you might think that we could agree in principle that the Lord, the work of the Lord, and His Church are worth nothing less than our best... but since we cannot agree, is it no wonder that the Church must compete as a charity, convincing folks of the good that is done, how little is used in overhead, and what benefits acrue to the giver!  And in the end the Lord ends up begging for our leftovers and too many of us do not feel anything is really wrong with this... because we no longer agree even in principle -- the Lord and His work first...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The funny thing about those notes complaining about how the "lavish" things could have been spent on the needy. . . they don't really ever seem to get spent on the needy, do they?

ErnestO said...

When asking teens questions one must be prepared for a secular answer they may not have anticipated.

Might it also be informational to know/research what number of the approximately 20,000 graduates of our seminaries over the last 170 years have given back to these institutions and what is the present trend.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that your perspective is a little to narrow. While I don't necessarily disagree with what you suggest in this post (and in fact, think you hit the nail on the head) I think you miss a critical point - and that is the involvement of other "entities" that 'compete' with the church. Oddly enough, I think the person your photo would see it the same way.

To put it another way, other entities and organizations, such as the Government, have increasingly taken on the responsibility of caring for others that was traditionally fulfilled by the church. As a result, more and more funds that may have gone to the church (or other private charities) are absorbed by the state. In fact, it becomes self-perpetuating. As more money is taken, the beast grows, requires more to be fed, etc. etc.

In a perfect world people would distinguish this social charity from the work of the Gospel. I venture a guess that if there was less Government involvement in social matters that you would see increased giving in Churches - and Churches filling a larger charitable role in society.

I suspect a similar parallel can be made with the absorption of funds from para-church "ministries" (i.e. Focus on the Family, Campus Crusade, etc.).