(we’re also going to link this to the North Point News…so you may get this twice for a while. Sorry.)
i hope you don’t take a hiatus from reading. the topic of money is seldom anybody’s favorite…especially when the dialogue is coming from a preacher. we have pretty crummy reputations when it comes to church and finances, you know.
when i was just a young youth pastor, wanda’s dad didn’t think much of me and my chosen career. growing up, he definitely had some pretty bad experiences in the church and with church leaders…and those experiences spilled out on to me. because of his past, he believed that ministers were money-hungry and made a habit of, as he called it, “dipping into offering plate!”
he was not unlike many people who believe that church is all about money.
and as convicted as i am about the connection between money and spiritual maturity, there is always a part of me that is uneasy when i talk or write about the subject. i can never fully escape the feeling that my words will be seen as self-serving.
the reality? i have spent the majority of my adult life living off of what people put in the offering plate. there have been a number of seasons when “the plate” has gone through times of difficulty…when salaries and program budgets and facility upkeep and helping people in need have had to be seriously cut back, because there is nowhere else to turn for funding, except to the people we call family.
i have been part of churches that beat people up with financial appeals. these days, i deeply understand when people say to me how refreshing it is to be part of a church family that isn’t constantly talking about money and building campaigns and having to listen to every other sermon be about finances. i get it.
i remember how turned off i was, as a young church leader, when it seemed like everything we did, said, prayed about, prepared for, and pointed to, was motivated by the desire to have more money. oh…we justified it and soothed our conflicted consciences by always connecting our need for more money with our goals of getting bigger…but it always left me pretty hollow.
i look back on our move to texas eighteen years ago (when i was a pretty experienced 40-year-old minister and church leader) and concluding my official “interview” with the north point elders with a monologue that went something like this:
“if you guys have a big building and fund-raising program in your future that you are not telling me about, i really need you to know that i’m not the guy you want to hire here. i would never do it on purpose, but i guarantee you i will find a way to sabotage it! not because i disrespect you or because i’m against buildings and growth and all that. it’s just that i have lived through so much pain and dissatisfaction and spiritual darkness due to the pursuit of money in the church, i’m afraid my heart will never fully be connected to fund raising…even if it’s for a great purpose.”
i can still remember the looks on their faces. they were looks of compassion and agreement. i knew i was coming to the right place.
a lot has changed in eighteen years…even as much has remained the same. i always maintained that i wasn’t cut out to be the senior ringmaster of a church family. first…because i made a 37-year career of making fun of them, while believing i would never be one! (be careful what you tell god you will never do!)
another reason was because of the financial responsibility that falls, at least in part, at the feet of the senior dude. in all of those 37+ years of youth ministry, i never really looked at…or even cared much about…the weekly offering. i just figured that whatever was put in the plate was going to be enough. and even though i basically still feel the same, i see a bigger picture…and feel the weight of responsibility in ways i never did before.
we have more salaries than mine to be concerned about. we have multiple staff members. we have missionaries that depend our financial support. we have a mortgage and utilities to pay each month. equipment wears out and needs to be replaced. we have vehicles to insure and two buildings that need regular upkeep and repairs.
we live in a community deemed “at risk” by the state. that means we have a higher percentage of low-income people living in our neighborhood and children going to our public schools. we are surrounded by folks with enormous financial pressure…both inside and outside our front doors.
as a church family, we have dreams and ideas and hearts full of hope and possibilities for doing more with what we have. and much of it is connected to the need for financial resources. and i am aware of that need pretty much every day of my life anymore…
so i figured i would write to you about it.
don’t be put off. don’t feel like the “shoe” has finally fallen. don’t think we are turning into one of those kind of churches. and please don’t think i’m becoming one of those money-obsessed preachers my father-in-law suspected me of being. not true.
i’ve always believed that good friends could talk about most anything. so let’s give it a try…