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.