Sunday, 30 August 2015

Overhead: Killer of the Church's Real Mission?

I saw this meme the other day and it sparked in me an old pet peeve and something that I've wondered about for a long time: Has the modern western church become a little confused in her values?

Perhaps George Barna said it best when he wrote: "The average church allocates about 5 percent of its budget for reaching others with the Gospel, but 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. At a time when the poor and aged are pleading for help, churches in America are spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year on new construction." (Source: The Frog in the Kettle). We would do well to stop and think about that for a moment or two. Have we become a little confused in our Christian values? Do we really need mega-church buildings when there are so many poor and hungry all around us? Consider this:
"The church edifice demands a vast wasteland of money. In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today amounts to over 230 billion dollars. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18% of the 11 billion dollars that are tithed to churches annually. Point: Modern Christians are wasting an astronomical amount of money on unnecessary edifices! 
"There is no good reason to possess a church building. In fact, all the traditional reasons put forth for 'needing' a building collapse under careful scrutiny. We so easily forget that the early Christians turned the world upside down without them. They grew rapidly for 300 years without the help (or hindrance) of church buildings. 
"In the business world, overhead kills. Overhead is what gets added onto the 'real' work a business does for its clients. Overhead pays for the building, the pencils, and the accounting staff. Overhead kills because it prices out the business of the market without adding the 'real' value the workers deliver to their customers." (Source: Pagan Christianity?).

Does overhead kill churches too?

I've heard it asked, instead of building mega-churches, how about we build mega-homeless shelters instead? Now there's an idea! Imagine if Christians in every community came together for that kind of a building project? Yes, imagine if instead of erecting more church buildings, we erected more homeless shelters instead? And while we're at it, imagine supplying each of those shelters with soup kitchens or other means of providing nourishment? What would our communities look like if the church took housing and feeding the poor, the homeless, and the hungry a little more seriously? Hmm, I wonder.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' ... 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'" (Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 25: 40,45; NIV).

I do not wish to be contentious about this, but dollar for dollar, how much genuine "doing" for the poor and needy happens in fancy mega-church buildings? Obviously many Christians do take an active role in caring for "the least of these," and praise God that they do. However, imagine how much more could happen without those edifices and their associated overhead? Hmm. Something to think about. Peace.

You may also want to see: Has Hollywood Invaded the Church Service?

Photo Source: Unknown (via Facebook)

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Business of Missionary Layoffs?

How do you layoff someone who believes they are doing the Lord's will? Apparently it's possible.

An article in Christianity Today (CT) caught my attention this week. It reported that the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptists are planning to cut between 600 and 800 missionaries and support staff from its payroll. Apparently it needs to do so in order to make up for a $21 million deficit for 2015, and which over the past 6 years, translates to spending approximately $210 million more than it brought in.

Now, please understand, I do not mean to be overly critical. However, running up a $21 million deficit through the first three-quarters of 2015 is bad enough, but with a $210 million deficit over the past six years, one would think that there would have been some red flags long ago. I can scarcely imagine the interest dollars attached to that kind of whopping debt! This is stewardship? How does one answer all the good people, many of whom no doubt have sacrificially contributed to this ministry, if they should happen to ask where their money is really going? It would be interesting to see what percentage of contributions actually makes it to the mission field as opposed to the banker's interest coffers. In all fairness the current president has only been in office one year, and kudos to him for doing something about the problem, but where was the past leadership? Dare I say what many are no doubt thinking; can you say, Mismanagement? (Ouch!)

Of course we're called to go into all the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 18-20), and Jesus himself told his disciples that the harvest is plentiful and to ask the Lord of the harvest for more workers (Matthew 9: 37-38), but with a debt like that, I cannot help thinking that the IMB ran ahead of God on this one. Did they really stop to first consider the cost?
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate to cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" (Jesus, as recorded in Luke 14: 28-30; NIV)
Is that what's happened here? The foundation has certainly been laid, but it seems that it cannot be finished as planned. How sad, especially since it was all done with the good intentions of proclaiming the Gospel to the furthest ends of the earth.

Yet we really cannot look at the financial messes of businesses (Yes, IMB is big business and the CT article even speaks of "how the IMB does business") without also considering the personal financial messes many of us find ourselves in too. How many of us also have mismanaged our own personal finances by building our lives without first considering the cost? Individually we also are often guilty of spending more than we bring in. Yes, I'm preaching to myself as well.

The fact is, "the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7), and since "no one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24), for me it begs the question as to how much of a servant of Jesus Christ we really are if we are also servants to the financial institutions that carry our debt. Hmm. Maybe many of us also need to tighten the proverbial belt and consider some sort of "layoff" ourselves - layoff spending more than we earn, and "layoff" living above our means. Maybe in doing so we would also find ourselves that much more free to really be a servant of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

That's the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Story Source: Christianity Today
1st Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
2nd Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Watching the Wheels: An Interpretational Remix

"Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted."
(John Lennon)

Well, now for something just a little bit different. Please do not take this post too seriously; it's just a random musing.

I confess, in my past life I was a huge John Lennon fan. Recently, perhaps for nostalgia's sake, I purchased another Greatest Hits album on iTunes of this hero of my youth. In addition to the old 8-Tracks, 45's singles, full vinyl albums, cassettes - and now digital iTunes - I sure have bought a lot of the same music over the years. LOL. As I listen to my latest purchase, I feverishly drummed my fingers on the side of my laptop as I sang virtually every song by heart. The roll back to yesteryear was strangely therapeutic, given some recent events in my life that I won't regurgitate here. It occurred to me that, all these years later, it's really quite amazing how much Beatles pop culture continues to have an effect on me, even now, almost 35 years since the musician's death in 1980 at age 40. But I've already digressed from what I wanted to talk about in this post.

"It's weird not to be weird."
(John Lennon)

One of the old Lennon songs in particular had a strange, almost spiritual, application for me as I listened to it this time around, which I found really bizarre. I certainly didn't think of its in any spiritual sense before. As I listened to "Watching the Wheels" I suddenly had this weird thought: This almost sounds like John is singing about my institutional church past and my current post-evangelical season in life. Yes, you heard that right, but I'm not sure what to do with it. Weird, huh? As I looked back to where I came from since leaving my last pastorate, I too found myself "watching the wheels" of institutional religion that I too was once involved with, but one which some fourteen plus years ago, I too realized that I "just had to let it go."

Of course, John Lennon had something else in mind with that song than my spiritual pilgrimage, but for me personally, suddenly the man who once claimed to be more popular than Jesus, strangely had an almost prophetic (if I can call it that) message for me; "watching the wheels" of religion go round and round.

Think for a minute on the lyrics, and if like me you've also become a post-institutional Christian, continuing to love Jesus but no longer finding man's institution relevant, I'm willing to bet that you too can insert some of your recent faith experiences in between the lines of Lennon's tune.

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin.
When I say that I'm OK they look at me kind of strange,
“Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game.”

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me.
When I tell that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall,
“Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?”

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

Ahh, people asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem, only solutions.
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time.

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.
I just had to let it go.
I just had to let it go.

Again, please don't take this too seriously, for I am not either. However, did you catch some of the parallelisms?

Do well meaning institutional church people think you're crazy for leaving the church?
Do they tend to give you all sorts of warnings to save you from (spiritual) ruin?
When you say that you're OK, do they look at you kind of strange?
Do they give you all kinds of advice, designed to enlighten you?
Are people asking you all kinds of questions, lost in confusion?
Do they shake their heads and look at you, as if you've lost your mind?

And what about those wheels; those religious wheels? Once you're out of the system and looking back in, it really is as if you were on a merry-go-round. Yes, I'm still mesmerized, now almost fifteen years later, I still do "really love to watch them roll." I still pray for my institutional brothers and sisters, and I still fellowship with them whenever possible. But as for me, I'm "no longer riding the merry-go-round, I just had to let it go."

"The more I see, the less I know for sure."
(John Lennon)

"The more I see, the less I know for sure." Sometimes I feel that I can echo those words as well, which really shouldn't surprise me. After all, as the Apostle Paul said, "Now we see but a poor reflection ..." (1 Corinthians 13:12). So while I occasionally still find myself "watching the wheels" of religious institutionalism, I've long since stopped dwelling on what I perceive to be wrong with the church, but rather through love and relationships, focus on what's right with it. For more on this, please see my post Celebrate What's Right With the Church. So while "I just had to let it go," I've also come to discover that I can still go and sit on a pew from time to time and be OK with it. 

Anyways, thanks for stopping by and listening to this old former pastor's random rants and musings. Peace & Blessings.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Church of the Holy Smoke?

This morning's scan of the online news feeds once again provided me with an opportunity to say, "Hmm."

It seems that there is a pastor in beautiful White Rock, BC (near Vancouver) who heads up the Church of the Holy Smoke. The "smoke" in question is none other than marijuana. Yes, you heard that right.

The church boasts 10 members locally and 600 nationally. The good "reverend's" messages can be heard and subscribed to on his YouTube channel.

I gave Pastor Robin the benefit of the doubt and clicked on a couple random videos on his YouTube channel and listened for a couple minutes. Other than a passing reference to "Mother Earth," I heard nothing deep or theologically profound about faith or church, but then again, I'm not really surprised.

Apparently Pastor Robin Douglas has gotten himself into a little bit of a scuffle with the City of White Rock over his erecting "worship service" (pot smoking) tents in the backyard of a beachfront property. Again, this isn't really a surprise. The media article went on to say that lawyers have now been consulted by the church to assist in their struggle with the city.

Those wishing to make a contribution towards the church's fight with the city can do so; they're accepting both cannabis and cash donations (I kid you not; see story source link below).

Well there you have it; yet another instalment from the weirder side of religion. In the end, the Church of the Holy Smoke reminded me a little of another religious story that made the headlines a couple years ago that I blogged about: The Snakes that Charmed the Church. As the old adage says, "To each their own."

Finally, and at the risk of being completely facetious, maybe one day the media will report of the Why is the Rum Gone Church. Hmm, sorry, couldn't resist.

Photo Credit: Adrianna Broussard, Flickr Creative Commons
Story Source: Church of the Holy Smoke

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Are You A Berean?

I saw this cartoon on Facebook the other day and it gave me a good healthy chuckle. During his tithing sermon the pastor tells his parishioners, "Actually, the Greek word for tithe means 25%." The caption then says, "Dr. Sheldon takes advantage of his congregation's lack of knowledge of the Greek language." Too funny!

But seriously, the implication of this cartoon is that there are some pastors who are deliberately deceptive. Other than a bonafide 'Wolf in the Pulpit,' I have a hard time with that. Sure, some preachers might be deceived themselves, but I believe that the vast majority seriously believe that which they preach.

This does, however, raise another question for me from the other side of the pulpit; the pew. There is, perhaps ironically, this age-old tendency for Christians not to know their Bibles and simply be told what to believe. Granted, since the Reformation days, we're doing better, but as I look around in my little corner of the world, I still see an attitude among some believers reminiscent of those old days when Bible reading was discouraged. I wonder why that is.

I just cannot fathom why this lethargic attitude towards the Scriptures prevails. God has revealed so much of Himself within its pages that one would think that every Christian would daily spend time examining it for themselves. Unlike the suggestion in the cartoon, we don't have to have a knowledge of the Greek language either in order to know that something coming from the pulpit is true or false; there are plenty of good English versions to guide us in our quest for biblical literacy. Please understand, I do not mean this as the proverbial 'guilt trip.' This is just my own humble musing.

Getting back to the cartoon, I wonder if the Bereans old old would have fallen for such trickery. Notice what Luke tells us in Acts 17:11. In the NIV it reads,
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (emphasis mine)
The point is, the Bereans did not just blindly take Paul's word for it; they looked it up for themselves. As such, I doubt they would have fallen for "a tithe means 25%." Taken one step further, would they have believed that the tithe (10%) even had a place at all in the church if they heard a preacher trying to convince them to part with a prescribed portion of their income? Some still preach that Old Testament law today, and try to twist it into the New Testament church. And some non-Bereans still buy into it. (For more on this, see my post: Tithing: Is It Christian?)

Perhaps this explains why there are so many "dissensions and factions" (Galatians 5:20, acts of the sinful nature according to the previous verse) in the church today; some Christians are like the Bereans whereas some are not. Some test what they hear from the pulpit against the Scriptures, and some just blindly accept what they're told without question.

Are you a Berean? Something to think about. Peace.

Cartoon Source: Unknown (via Facebook)

Monday, 20 July 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

I was thinking a little this morning about things that stir up anxiety and stress in us. It seems that there is no end to possible stressors; health concerns, finances (will I ever be able to afford to retire?), employment (both the lack of and the wrong kind), enemies (both foreign and domestic), to mention but a few.

Lord knows; we’ve all got more than enough on our plates to get our blood pressure rising!

As I thought about that, I was reminded of those who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, and despite the great opposition of the surrounding peoples, they undertook the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall. Imagine trying to build something and having a buddy stand guard while you do so that you don’t get killed in the process by your neighbors, people who aren’t as enthusiastic about your building project as you are. That’s essentially what the building process looked like for them. Talk about stress!

How does Nehemiah encourage the people? He simply says to them, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome …” (Nehemiah 4:14). I like that. "Remember the Lord."

What are you going through today? What are you afraid of? Is stress getting the better of you? I'm preaching to myself here; it seems that there's no shortage of stress in my life lately. Still, Nehemiah’s words ring true. “Don’t be afraid of them [it]. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”

Meditate on that truth; take a moment to really think on that and let it sink in. The God of Nehemiah is the same one you and I worship and call Lord. God hasn’t changed and He still can be trusted to help us through all those anxieties and stressors, just as He helped the people rebuilding that wall long ago. Though we often tend to forget Him, He has not forgotten us.

Call on Him. “Remember the Lord.”

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Hoarding Church: Not A Part of God's Plan

Perhaps one of the most beautiful illustrations in the New Testament of the early church is that of a sharing community. People spontaneously gave from what they possessed to help meet the needs of others, and so much so that the Bible says that "there were no needy persons among them" (see Acts 4: 32-37).

Are there needy persons in the church today? (No guilt trip intended). Hmm. Maybe we'll just leave that question alone.

This attitude of concern for those in need wasn't limited to only the local faith community either; they gave to fellow believers in distant places as well. The point is, whenever and wherever there was a need, the true church responded to help meet that need. To be sure, they also had in their midst conniving spirits who were less than honest in their giving, such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira, but God swiftly judged and passed sentence on their dishonesty and duplicity. Likewise hoarding was not a part of God's plan for the church, as seen in this post's meme above.

Let's Change Gears

My wife and I have been talking lately about visiting a lawyer and renewing our Last Will and Testaments. It's not that we have a lot of earthly treasures that require a careful post-death distribution plan, for we don't, but we would rather have control over what does get distributed to whom than allow the government to one day make that decision for us.

Still, wouldn't it be something if one day, when they bury the last surviving member of this marital union, there's nothing much left to bequeath because while we yet lived, God had imparted such a concern in us for the needs of others that most of the estate had already been given away? No, we're not there yet, and maybe we never will be. Maybe this is an unrealistic utopian idea. But in the end, doesn't it all come down to our attitudes concerning our worldly wealth and riches in relation to the poor and hungry, both in the church with us, and in the communities around us? Do we really care about them and their needs? Jesus does.

What if this very night our lives were demanded from us? Then who will get what we've prepared for ourselves? (Luke 12:20). Something to think about. Peace.