Wednesday, March 09, 2005

camels and the eye of the needle

i heard it again the other day; that dreaded statement: "the church just wants money." it's a statement/sentiment that i hear often in my profession. all the church wants is money. sometimes it is an excuse for people leaving church; always it is an excuse for not giving, for keeping what we think is ours.

i read somewhere once that Jesus talks about the topic of money more than any other thing in the gospels. i don't know if this is exactly true; i've never done a poll on my own, but i would venture to say that it is quite possible. Jesus knew that wealth, more than any other thing, was an impediment to having a relationship with God.

the funny thing is that i don't think the church spends enough time talking about money and wealth. most church leaders are afraid of doing so. what if we scare people off? what if they are offended and stop giving? what if i have to listen to what i'm saying?

and so members of congregations, in many churches, get bombarded sometime around the month of september (usually right before the church budget needs to be finalized) with guilt trips about increasing their pledge so that the church can stay open.

the church is doing a disservice to the people who sit in their pews sunday after sunday when this is how we deal with wealth. first of all, it is not the church who should be receiving our money. yup, that's right; we shouldn't be giving our money to the church. we should be giving it to God.

now, can the church be the conduit of our cash? it should be and many congregations are equipped to be good stewards of our gifts. but if churches only ask for money to pay the utilities and the pastor, well... there is a problem. because if the church is just using our gifts to pay bills and stay in business, then it goes without saying that the church just wants money.

we are afraid on so many levels. fear keeps us from giving out of our own stash and fear keeps the church from giving it out of theirs. and the fallacy with that fear is that our wealth really isn't ours. faith should teach us that all that we have is really from God. everything we got has been entrusted to us by God. that's the idea of stewardship. we are God's stewards.

now steward and stewardship are churchy words. they aren't used outside of church doors very often (except perhaps at the occasional cottage meeting organized by the stewardship committee). a more contemporary and better recognized word would be manager. the job of managers is to manage. simple, i know, but also accurate. God has given us everything and made us managers of the stuff we got. the idea being that we are to use our wealth to care for ourselves and to care for the world around us. but we often get stuck on the idea of taking care of ourselves to the detriment of caring for others and this doesn't make the boss (ie God) very happy.

the sad part is, most people understand on some level that God wants us to take care of others, even non-churchy folk get this. but fear often keeps us from managing our wealth in such a way that we all get what we really do need to live.

i have recently fallen in love with the Lord's Prayer. (that discussion can be saved for another post.) in the prayer Jesus teaches us to say, "give us this day our daily bread." when we pray this petition we do so believing that God will indeed supply us with all we need. in fact, God has given us everything we need, the trouble is we have trouble sharing.

we like the bread that God gives us, but it is not ours alone. the loaf that God hands down to us is meant to feed the entire world, not just us. and many of us have become fat from overeating while others barely make it on our leftover scraps.

both the church and individuals are guilty of this. we have become hoarders of God's gifts, the things that God entrusted us to share.

when the rich man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow him. and the rich man goes away heart-broken because he had so very much.

we have so very much. why do our hearts break when God asks us to give just a portion of it away?

it is time for the church to say something different about money; to strengthen the faith of those who sit in its pews and encourage them to trust in its managerial skills.

God's peace,


Sue said...

You're absolutely right cats. We're afraid to talk about money in case we offend and scare off another giver. Then we go into panic mode as we approach year-end, and we use the panic button to rationalize asking for money.

so we end up doing the asking with an unspoken apology ("Gosh folks, we hate to ask, but things are looking really bad") It becomes a problem to be solved instead of a faith to be lived.

I'm discovering some things about myself in ministry -- some things that may shorten my shelf life in the church. One of them is that I'm a lousy fundraiser. Ask me to speak on the subject of stewardship, and I'm in the zone, but ask me to fundraise, and forget it.

I'm also a lousy recruiter. I refuse to nag people into faithful service. If they are called to do it, they'll show up, but I won't beg. I'm okay with suggesting to someone that they may have particular gifts, but I simply refuse to apply pressure.

See what I mean? I can't raise money, and I can't fill empty chairs at committees.....hmmmm. All I really do well is preach the word and show up when people need support. Once this becomes known, I'm toast.


Jacklyn Hyde said...

I hate to knock the religion of my birth, but every synogogue I've encountered is much more blatant about collecting money from its members. There are actual DUES to join the congregation and they can be steep at times. For me, it is prohibitive since I hit my thirties. This means that I cannot afford a ticket to attend High Holy Days services, and these tickets are checked at the front door. Can you imagine turning away parishoners from Easter Mass because they couldn't afford to join your church?

I don't know if these thoughts actually help you, but it always made me want to contribute every time I was a guest in one of your churches. The open doors and open arms I'm sure your congregation enjoys are a gift from God. Donations freely given are like helping pay for the COD charges of that gift.

Please let me know if this makes any sense. I'm typing this at 3am and am not always very clear at this point of the night. Love to you and yours, and B'Shalom.

"and vivian followed."

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