WORDS FROM W.W. January 7, 2010

At the monthly gathering of our neighborhood pastors on Wednesday we were all commiserating about our congregation’s financial status at the end of 2009. We all felt a little near-sighted trying to see where our church’s financial vision said we should be. I don’t know if any of us left the meeting feeling any better, but we at least knew the boat was crowded.
And then there’s Rick Warren! He pastors Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and has become a leading figure, perhaps THE leading figure amongst evangelicals today. In the final days of 2009 he put out a plea to his congregation about a $900,000 deficit that was needed to fund some of the church’s special ministries like a food pantry, homeless ministries, support groups, and other things. His appeal brought in $2.4 million!
That would take a while to count!
The news came too late! Why hadn’t I thought about asking people to bring an extra contribution as we were falling 10% short of our goal?
You can imagine how many pastors and churches are studying what caused such generous giving to happen. Sadly, as is often the case, you can also find a number of people making negative comments equating Rick Warren as a servant of Satan, a false teacher. Just google his name and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
What can we learn from Rick Warren’s too-late news?
Well, first of all, there’s not another Saddleback Church, and when we compare our situation with a 20,000+ church is ludicrous. Each church has its own DNA, its own rhythm, systems, and culture. My sister and brother-in-law are members of a small American Baptist church 200 yards away from the Ohio River in a more rural depressed area. Their church, that four years ago was down to 4-5 people, has experienced a rebirth. It’s one of those churches that have a small cemetery on the church’s property. What has worked in other places would be an effort in futility there because it is a completely different and totally unique situation. Their secret: teaching and preaching the scriptures, allowing church to be fun, and a spirit of God-infused hopefulness.
Second, people give to mission and ministry. This is especially evident in the twenty-somethings. Testimonies about what is happening in mission outreaches, and children’s ministries, and youth retreats, and neighborhood outreaches will be increasingly vital for the church’s financial health. Excuse the comparison, but reality TV shows and talent shows like American Idol have brought an element of “participatory expectation” into our culture. That will become more evident in financial matters. It’s interesting that in our church we partnered with Audubon School to take care of 20 families at Thanksgiving, and we “adopted” 12 of their students for Christmas, while at the same time hosting four homeless families for the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and collecting food for our food pantry. Our “giving” was unbelievable during December for those special needs, even as our giving to the church budget was falling short.
That should tell us something, and the answer is not “Pastor, why don’t you preach a message on stewardship and tithing?” It should tell us that in the midst of economic hard times people will still step up to help with causes that they believe will meet an apparent need. (It will be interesting to see what the recent Salvation Army report will do to their income!)
Some might say “But Pastor, there are still bills to pay, utility bills to take care of!” I’m not disputing that at all. I’m just saying we have to figure out how to better connect participatory giving for mission and ministry to the budget of the church. It needs to be seen as participating in the life of a living organism and less of supporting a structure.

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  1. Shirl Streukens Says:

    Our “sermon” on Sunday was a video of Dave Ramsey.
    He talked about how churches need to stop preaching about tithe and start to preach on how to get out of debt and how to live within your means. The tithe thing will come when the other two kick in.

    I say write the first check to God and he will help pay off the rest of the bills.

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