One of the reasons that I love my church is that we operate on 1/3 to 1/2 the budget of other churches I know that have similarly-sized congregations. While that might seem like a silly thing to love, I love that it constantly keeps on the edge – the edge of overwhelming success and complete failure –
and that it forces us to constantly have hard, honest conversations about where to follow the Spirit and choose the best things over good things.
For that reason, when I think about the looming financial problems facing my denomination (the CRCNA), I don’t get overly concerned. In fact, it sort of makes me smile. Not because I want anyone to lose their jobs or because I am mad at any of the folks who spent their careers building things up, but rather it is because we have been stuck for several years in a laterally-building lull. Churches or organizations can often get stuck in lulls when one of their resources is so constantly plentiful for so long that they forget how valuable that resource really is. Our church’s isn’t money – it’s musicians. We’ve just gotten used to having great musicians and singers around, having two full bands and some great young, worship leaders. For many of my friends who pastor churches, even those who do have money, this is not a luxury they could buy even if they wanted to.
But for the CRC, money has often been an assumed resource and, thus, was often the answer to many of our questions. Similar in some ways to the federal government here in the US (except for being able to go trillions into debt), problems were often answered with programs or hirings rather than investigating and dealing with the root of the issue.
It’s an easy mistake to make.
Wrapped up in that need for large amounts of financial resources has been a system of supporting our denomination called “ministry shares” which, by it’s very name, implies that the ministry done with that money will be a shared venture. And, even while many churches do not support at the requested levels (or some at all), most folks will point out that ministry shares are by far the most efficient method for raising money. And they’re right – it is the most efficient way. But efficiency can often be an idol (just ask me) and, while we continued to bring in efficient financial resources, we failed to build participatory ownership in churches. The efficient system itself got taken for granted – forgetting the very hands that gave.
And that’s beautiful.
Ultimately, financial belt-tightening is a spiritual discipline. Not just because asking God for guidance with finances is a good thing, but because peering over the edges of financial cliffs often induces the sort of reliance on God and the unifying of the group that faith and unity of the body of Christ are literally grown anew. I look forward to a reorganized and re-thought-out version of CRC governance and ministry. Fact is, without our current financial situation, we might never have answered the hard question of, “what is essential for us to do in 2013?” and “where is God so clearly moving that we can choose those things over things where it is less evident that the Spirit is moving?” We’ll get some stuff wrong, the financial gurus will be stressed out, but my guess is that we’ll come out with a better ministry that, if done in honesty and reliance on God, will produce faith and unity.