Monday, May 3, 2010

Congregational Bromides: "We Have Financial Problems"

Maybe it's because I serve in Oldline Protestant congregations. Maybe it's because I serve congregations in transition. I've served as pastor and consulted with numerous congregations, and not one of them hold a primary impulse to be hopeful or positive about their financial resources. Every congregation I have ever known lives in the midst of problems, issues or shortages related to money.

I long for different perspectives related not to Prosperity Gospel or scarcity thinking, but something hopeful and faithful. Walter Brueggemann offers the best biblical theology background on the way I look at resources as a Christian, yet I still find myself trying to persuade people that their thinking and related actions lead to their own demise. Even the congregations I know that are flush with cash (usually because of a huge bequest) end up fighting about money. This says to me that resource struggles have less to do with money (though how we understand money and possessions are important) and more to do with mission and attitude.

Mission will be related to a discussion around another congregational bromide at a later date. Let us share some thoughts about attitude. Is money or lack thereof a barrier to do the ministry to which we are called? I look at the simplicity of Jesus' words to his disciples that they didn't need to take anything with them in their ministry, completely relying on the hospitality of others and the relationships that they build and the help they give (Mark 6: 6b-13). I think it's important to make investments in ministry, but are those investments a requirement to do ministry? If I trust that God has already given to me and my community of faith abundantly, then I feel disingenuous going for what can appear to be an annual money grab because we "need" money for ministry (I'm not against stewardship campaigns, I'm looking for a better way of life). Money is not as necessary to start ministry as we think. If we think in this way, giving does not become the need, response or joy of the giver, but the means to an end. If money is merely the means to an end for ministry, then for what reason do we need God?

I think the next time I hear a congregation tell me they have financial problems, I will stop listening. I have yet to hear a unique congregational financial problem.

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