Money and Congregational Reputation
I hear stories. Having been in the blogosphere for several years now, I’ve made friends who wrestle with problems.
There’s a congregation I know of, a congregation I’m proud of, who is going through a time of crisis right now. I’d rather not mention their name, because of my love for them, my deep respect for their leadership, and my utter unwillingness to draw negative attention. Some of what I’m about to say might be construed as criticism, so I don’t want anyone to think I’m angry at anyone or grinding my ax in their direction. I just want to offer a recommendation on a strategic level.
So here’s the situation:
The economy has put a dent in some good works this congregation has had planned, and one of the older brothers there had an idea. He wanted to collect jokes and stories from all the folks in the church, compile them into something like “Down Home Stories from Street Name Church of Christ”, and send it to be published. He wanted this congregation to order a large initial run of copies (almost twice their membership), and sell them in the community to sponsor some church work that had been postponed due to the economic downturn.
Here are some problems with the situation:
1) the dear brother didn’t discuss with the rest of the congregation (particularly the elders) the plan to publish a book in the congregation’s name, nor did he discuss his plan for the congregation to foot the bill for the initial run of copies. Poor communication is a killer at every level of Christianity.
2) There are definite copyright issues that ensue when compiling materials for publishing and sales. Plagiarism is ethically unacceptable for Christians.
3) In many communities, and his is one of them, churches are seen as local outposts of televangelism. “A fella gets himself a building and a suit and starts talkin’ about Jesus. Soon enough he starts passin’ the plate, and the next thing you know, he’s drivin’ a Cadillac and livin’ in a big ol’ house.” I’ve had several versions of that conversation with people in this church’s community. This is *not* urban legend stuff.
The elders at Street Name Church of Christ decided that the church couldn’t be part of this particular effort, as originally designed. Instead, they would like their brother to continue to collect the materials, and to continue to compile them. But the book is to published in-house and given away for free. The brother who had the idea is understandably frustrated (who hasn’t been frustrated when told that their baby needs plastic surgery?), and now just wants to drop the idea altogether.
Here’s what I want to say. Elders have an amazing responsibility to shepherd their people and to continue the expansion of the kingdom in the local community. I believe elders are gifted by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the calling laid before them. I’ve never seen a unanimous decision of an eldership of the church fail. On a side note, I think congregations led by one person, and/or congregations led for long periods of time by “one man, one vote” style of leadership, have lots of perils lying in the grass for them. Elderships are different (not flawless or infallible, but different) — but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Someone remind me to talk more about that in a future blog.
God’s Word holds some serious warnings for people who defy the leadership of their elders. And God’s Word holds dire warnings for leaders who lead their flocks astray. I don’t believe anything like that is happening in the above situation. As the title of this blog suggests, I’m mostly concerned about how this situation relates to a church’s public relationship with money and their local community.
I think that the reason so many congregations need to be so careful about selling things with the name of the church on it is because they haven’t been on mission. They’ve been either “keeping the big givers seated and content” or they’ve been narrowly focused on aspects of Christian living that do little to make the name of Jesus famous in their community. So while I fully agree with the elders in this situation, I pray that they (and elderships EVERYWHERE) will reorient their congregation on a path to really impact their community, so that when someone sees “Street Name Church of Christ” on a book or a yard sale or a community event that might charge admission, they’ll know that *those* people use their money for Jesus and not for themselves. At its core, this has everything to do with a shift from institutional thinking to missional thinking. Churches simply must to a better job, a whole-hearted job, of making the real Jesus really famous — letting people know He is still alive and well, ruling and working and transforming lives and communities in the power of the Spirit. Christians have got to get outside the walls where the hurting people actually are, and stop being afraid of what other churches will think. Donald Miller well said, “If there’s one emotion that will lead to a life of boredom, it’s fear.” Not only boredom, but vanity, hopelessness, and stagnation.
Getting back on mission will unify congregations, will focus energies and efforts, and energize our brothers and sisters to live courageously for Jesus!
I pray God’s richest blessings on “Street Name Church of Christ,” on her leaders and on her community.
in HIS love,