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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Money and Churches

I have lost count over the years how many people say some variation of this line to me: "My church always seems to talk about money. I don't like that." This issue seems to have been around since Jesus told the "rich, young ruler" to "sell all he had," and he didn't want to, so he left. This time of year, as most congregations finally have enough money to pay bills, is a good time to review the basics of money management for congregations.

First, learn to add. According to Bob Sullivan of the "Red Tape Chronicles" (one of my favorite blogs, see redtape.msnbc.com) only one in 15 Americans knows how to add well enough to pay the check at a restaurant. Time and time gain I hear congregations imploring people to give 10% (traditionally a tithe for Christians), and offering absolutely nothing to help people know what 10% is. Hence, most congregants don't (literally "can't) give 10%, and the vicious cycle continues. If Sullivan's information is correct (and it comes from our US Dept. of Education), most congregations would improve their stewardship immensely if they did nothing else but offer math classes and financial help to people. I'm guessing some of those 14 who can't do math would actually give 10% if they knew how much that was.

Second, talk about what money "is," not what money does. Nowadays it is very popular to rail against "consumerism" in Christian churches. So I will go to a congregation that implores me to abandon consumerism, but then in asking for money shows me what money can do. How is that not consumerism? Showing me what my money does (feeding the hungry, housing the poor, contributing to "intangiable spiritual benefits") is no different than the millions of advertisements and commercials I see each day of my life. To rail against consumerism and then use consumerism's most potant weapon (advertising) is the height of hypocrisy in my book, and people should abandon congregations for that move. (Admittedly, there are many Christians congregations that are fully aware and embracing of their consumeristic tendencies, and they will advertise away...)

Talking about what money "is" gets to the heart of what Jesus seems to be doing with money in his world. It is, at best, a symbol of power, but whose power? The one who makes the money or the one who makes possible the making of money? Congregations which talk about money in a way that lifts up what God does in the world in order to make money possible seem to be getting at the heart of the matter.

Prairie Table Ministries gets by on the generous donations of many people and other congregations. We thank the ELCA and the Department of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission for a major funding grant; Faith Lutheran Church, Bismarck, ND for money to help pay insurance, Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA for adminstrative support, Legacy (formerly First) United Methodist Church, Bismarck, ND for space to gather, and for the countless people who offer time and energy to our community. Like most, I suppose, we don't have as much money as we want, but we seem to have all we need...didn't Jesus say that? Happy New Year, may wealth and prosperity...sorry...may God's vision be your guide.

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