What are the roots of these economic consequences?
Some people believe that economic unraveling is purely a management issue. People will look to the President, the Chair of the Federal Reserve, the Chief Financial Officer, the Business Manager, the Pastor, the Treasurer, the Family Budget Manager as the source for leadership in managing financial well-being for any nation, organization or family. If the budget is tinkered with just so, if the investments are adjusted and organized properly, all will be well. I'm not so sure.
This reflection is not meant to lift up a particular ideology. I am not espousing communism, socialism or even capitalism. What is a wise understanding of ownership?
1. I believe that God owns everything. I am a steward of what belongs to God. I truly own nothing. I take care of what belongs to God. This knowledge affects my day to day decisions. This basic premise helps me do generous things, even though I am often selfish. It affects how I live with my wife, how we teach our children, and how we interact with others. Even with a steward mentality, stewards still make decisions about the degree of control they use. This is where management comes in to play.
2. Congregations have an interesting relationship with ownership.
- Some congregations are mortgaged with their facilities to their eyeballs.
- Some congregations have saved and/or used their own sweat and labor, worshiping God in a church building that carries no debt.
- Some congregations generously share their facility with the community; many groups from the area meet and gather for serving and being served.
- Some congregations lock up their buildings after Sunday mornings and make statements like "we don't want to have too much wear and tear on the building," or "this is God's house" as a means to decide which groups meet in the church building.
- Some congregations proclaim "the church is not a building, it's people." How this statement is lived out takes on many forms. Sometimes it means rejecting building ownership. Sometimes it means mortgaging a future so the congregation can do ministry for people in their building now.
4. The challenging aspect of ownership for many households and congregations involves resource allocation in order to be "owners." Even if debt-income ratios are judged as favorable, there is a significant loss of flexibility of both time and cash in many ownership situations. A building takes personal energy for both congregations and families, not only money. Meetings and labor are needed to maintain the facility, not only income. If a congregation or a household has a great idea or initiative that serves others in a powerful way, that idea is subject to the mortgage and the debt-income equation, and a calling to serve is often compromised.
I've learned a few things from this reflection. "The Ownership Society" was a dangerous proposition on a large scale, possibly because there were ulterior motives or other values were compromised in order achieve ownership. "Ownership" can be good to a certain extent (though there is no magic line that determines how much ownership is good, and having someone decide is foolish). The shakeout of household and congregational ownership is a matter of values and priorities. What do we value? How will we set our priorities? What resources do we need in order to live faithfully in accordance with our values? For Christians, the stewardship-ownership interface creates many challenges, but articulation of values and priorities create a reference point for daily action.
A few of the recent influences on my thinking:
- Richard Florida writes, tweets, researches, speaks often on variables related to ownership and creativity. I encourage reading his blog, books and articles. Check him out when he speaks on television.
- A blog post from a Forbes writer on home ownership.
The who decides question looms in the background, especially for congregations, but that is for a future post.