Monday, December 12, 2011
I don't remember much useful from seminary.
It's kinda like the old pastor with a growing church and no formal education told me just after I arrived in town (Parkesburg, Pennsylvania) so freshly ordained with my academic hoodie to serve a church that had been dying for a decade, "You can't give away what you ain't got for yourself."
True...for pulpiteers and pewsitters.
That's a big clue as to why so many churches are closing shop.
It's worth repeating...and then looking in the mirror: "You can't give away what you ain't got for yourself."
Anyway, I'm reminded of one of the few things that has stayed with me from those heady days in seminary.
A guest preacher in Miller Chapel caught my attention with this opening sentence, "A trustee went to see the pastor because the church couldn't afford to pay its bills."
I thought, "Yo! This is Princeton, man! We don't talk about stuff like that! We're into Barth, Rahner, Moltmann, and, uh, Chavez! This is so...proletarian!"
We were and maybe remain such arrogant little...
Well, he caught my academic attention because he was so, uh, practical and I hadn't heard too many practical things since...
Be that as it was and may remain, he continued, "The pastor said to the trustee, 'I'm a scholar/theologian/pastor and, ergo, I am only concerned with the spiritual problems of the church. I don't concern myself with financial problems. You need to talk to the rest of the trustees and elders about this."
"The trustee returned to the pastor after meeting with the other trustees and elders," he went on, "and said, 'Pastor, we have a serious financial problem in our church. It's so bad that we may not be able to pay your salary!'"
The pastor asked, "Why didn't you tell me it was that serious? But as you know, I'm a scholar/theologian/pastor and, ergo, I am only concerned with the spiritual problems of the church. You need to bring up this financial problem at our next board meeting."
At the start of the next board meeting, the trustee stood up and addressed the pastor, "We've got a spiritual problem in our church."
I'll never forget that.
There are no financial problems in churches; especially American ones.
Financial problems expose spiritual problems.
Another quip from that old pastor with a growing church and no formal education: "People don't give a rat's ___ what Cyril of Alexandria said. They want you to tell 'em what Jesus has to say about being one of His children."
O.K., that may be true; but it could blow the posing cover off those...
The preceding came to mind as I consider our current renovation and expansion on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois.
Aside from the tough economic climate, I've never served a church with so many financial problems.
Uh, I mean...
Despite the fidelities of many who get it/Him, our bills exceed our expenses so much that we've had to almost exhaust our endowment to finish off the renovation and expansion.
Or as I mixed metaphors for a receptive elder on Sunday night, "We've been trying to satisfy champagne diets on a beer budget."
That doesn't work well with teetotalers.
I'm talking in reference to Acts 2:14ff.
A friend who is pastor of a poor church near Kansas City called last Saturday.
Overlooking/forgetting/ignoring/disrespecting the context of his ministry, I whined about exhausting our endowment to pay the remaining bills of our renovation and expansion.
We go way back; so I anticipated some comforting and caring counsel.
Instead, he said, "What's wrong with you? Where in God's name did Jesus ever say we're suppose to store up treasures on earth like latter day Scrooges? Doesn't your Bible include Matthew 25? And what about His confrontation with the rich young ruler? You should be happy God is removing the sin of storing up a pile of money so you can get your church more prepared to meet the increasing needs of people in your neighborhood. It's not about money anyway. It's about being missionaries in your community. Didn't I read that in your bulletin the last time I was with you? Beacon! Safe haven! What's wrong with you? Praise God you're being faithful and using money for Him rather than stockpiling it like rich old..."
As a matter of recollection, the churches that I've served that didn't have financial problems didn't have endowments.
That's gotta mean something.
Our Lord never said money was the root of all evil.
He said the lust/idolizing/greediness/stinginess that we often have for/about $ is at the root of all evil.
I look back at our endowment - looking back 'cause it's almost gone - and realize I liked it because there was always a cushion to pay salaries and pretend we were more mission-minded than we are as we'd use interest off dead people's $ to...
I liked it because I trusted it.
I trusted our endowment for our security.
I trusted the generosity of dead people to pay bills when expenses exceeded...
How, uh, unfaithful.
Trust is suppose to be in God alone!
Trust is suppose to be in God alone through people who know trust is to be in God alone!
I may be wrong; but the corner of Lincoln and Main is in for one of His greatest, uh, disclosures/exposures in a Matthew 25 who's your real daddy/Daddy kinda way.
Advent 2011 is more about preparing for His final advent as glorious King of kings than celebrating His first advent as Babe of Bethlehem.
Part of the preparation is stewardship of what He's entrusted to us.
Did He bless us in order to put it in a bank for use at some later date?
Did He bless us so we could gloat in the growth of our portfolio?
Did He bless us to live off the interest?
Did He bless us for trickles or rivers?
Did He bless us in order to spend it, depending upon our frail human judgments, in ways that will honor Him by being a beacon for Him and safe haven for His?
Did He bless us in order to act like the antithesis of the rich young ruler?
Did He bless us so we could say so gleefully with the young tart hawking electronic books on TV, "It's more blessed to receive than give!"?
Did He bless us to be safe in the harbor or...?
Did He bless us to pick up fruit from the ground or go out on the limb for...?
I'm not sure.
I don't pretend to have all of the answers.
I'm only human.
Yet I remember another story about the stewardship of investments.
Paraphrased punchline by Peterson: "Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this 'play-it-safe' who won't go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.'"
Which is wiser?
Storing it all up for someone/something for some use, uh, later on?
Giving it all up for Jesus now for then?
I'm not sure; but I'm gonna try to figure/pray it out before His next advent.
I don't want to be on the wrong side of the, uh, ledger.
Blessings and Love!