Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Of course, no one follows them all. No one turns every Sunday into a fund raising appeal for this cause or that (at least I hope not). Every congregation picks and chooses (mine limits these to 2-3 per year of appeals that correspond to special ties within the congregation to these agencies or to this work). It is not like I think that the Church Year has been co-opted into a series of financial appeals (at least in most congregations) though I think that those agencies and endeavors which send out these appeals have no qualms about replacing the real Church Year with a string of financial appeals.
Once, not too long ago, I did watch a video of their Easter Sunday service from one of the largest congregations of Synod and in the middle of the sermon, the Pastor stopped preaching to ask one of the other staff members to put a plug in for a new program being launched there. One of the biggest parts of his commercial was a request for email addresses. Hmmmmm. Jesus has risen from the dead... but first, a word from our sponsor...
We as clergy say that pray, pay, and obey are not the only things lay folk are good for... but these Sunday financial appeals seem to say pray, PAY, and obey... It is no wonder that our folks have become cynical and callous when it comes to needs and appeals. I believe that most Lutheran Christians desire to be generous in their support of the work of the Lord and want to be good stewards of the many gifts God has entrusted to them. But the way we handle financing everything from scholarships and support of church work students to mission work seems to erode the good teaching of stewardship and distract people from generous and faithful support. Instead, it only instills the idea that this money is mine and, if your cause is good enough, I might throw a little of it your way. It is demeaning to the work of Christ's kingdom and it threatens the financial health of the congregation, District, and Synod.
There is another even uglier side of this. It detracts from what happens on Sunday morning when the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us with the gift of Himself in the Word that is His voice and accomplishes His purpose and the Sacraments that convey Him to us and all the fruits and blessings of His one, all sufficient sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. Jesus ends up playing second fiddle to this need or that, this cause or that cause, this appeal or that appeal. It is no wonder our people have lost the sense of the sacred or the holy that is Christ coming to His people through His means of grace each Sunday morning!
One of the things I look for from a new administration in St. Louis is some leadership and teaching to help wean our church body off the sacred sauce of constant financial appeals. I know it will not come quickly but I hope that this is one area in which President Harrison will lead us. Christ's Church and Christ's work should not be reduced to begging for money or competing with this good cause or that. Good stewardship and good churchmanship go hand in hand in this area.
Let's just say "NO." But, saying no does not mean we can ignore the work of the kingdom far and near in order to make sure money is spent at home in the congregation first. That would only prove the appeals method works and it is the only thing people understand. Faithful congregations will support the work of the kingdom beyond their own neck of the woods. Period. Whether large or small, we as Pastors and people in the congregations need to show that we are not two years olds with such attention deficit that if we do not have a bulletin insert, a pep talk, or a video about this need or that, this cause or that, we will forget about the work that God has called us to do -- together as well as alone.
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These financial appeals end up short circuiting the administrative processes and decision making processes of churches and the synod. The thinking seems to be, "don't have enough in your budget? don't tighten your belt and live within your means! instead, expend valuable energy and time and try to get more money by direct appeals--go around those budget monsters and get what you want anyway."
At my vicarage congregation I learned the pattern I still follow. The pastor only preached on tithing (when appropriate from the pericopes)--there were no additional financial appeals within the worship service. No appeals to support internal programs such as the youth group, and no appeals to support wider district and synod programs.
All programs were supported from the church budget. The church council budgeted support for congregational programs. Therefore, for example, the youth group was allowed no fundraising of any sort. They had to live within their budget.
Also, the congregation more than tithed to the district/synod and the expectation was that they would prioritize and support ministry from their budgets. This allows for an orderly management of ministry and helps diminish the "everyone for themselves" mentality.
I believe the money that goes to direct appeals could have been more profitably given to the offering plate. Let the allocation of funds be prayerfully determined by boards appointed for the purpose!
Focusing Lutheran stewardship on financial concerns is the small part of the larger nature of Christian stewardship. Everything belongs to God. He allows us to use His creation and intends it for our good. I pray Pastor Harrison will help us to once again define stewardship as -- our sharing our greatest gift the saving Gospel God has committed to our trust, so that with it and through it, others may be won for Him for all eternity (Mark 5:19–20).
> There is another even uglier side of this. It detracts from what happens on Sunday morning when the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us with the gift of Himself . . . It is no wonder our people have lost the sense of the sacred or the holy that is Christ coming to His people through His means of grace each Sunday morning! <
Yea, verily. Sacred and holy becomes defined what is most important to us, rather than what has been set apart by our Lord. And parts of the liturgy or sermon are further sacrificed for the sake of saving time.
As if time is worthy to be saved when spending too much of it in the presence of our Lord is onerous. But that's a whole other can of worms.
"Once, not too long ago, I did watch... in the middle of the sermon, the Pastor stopped preaching to ask one of the other staff members to put a plug in for a new program being launched there."
Been there; seen that! Gag!
And don't forget the promos of the usual causes on the video screens before the service and during the offeratory (unless there's a solo or the bell choir plays).
I'm waiting for the vestments to start looking like a race car driver's suit, covered with synodical sponsors' logos and ads.
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