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.