I recently had a conversation with someone who has quite a bit of influence on the radio. When I told him I resigned as a pastor, he asked if I go to church I skirted around my answer, but he interrupted, “Me neither.” While taken back, I felt like I had an immediate confidant. He quipped, “churches are good for the economy because they provide jobs.” What?!
I mean, I believed in the local church as the hope for the world. But as he said it, I thought he had a really good point. He argued we ought to be serving those in need more than serving ourselves. He said we need to give to the poor and downtrodden as Jesus seemed to indicate. Just serve the poor and those in need! Paul certainly encouraged giving to the ministry (his and other house churches), but are our churches serving the poor like Jesus longed for us to? Or are we serving ourselves?
I’ve heard of a number of churches that give to the poor and those in need out of “suprise money,” seemingly masked by the churchy word, “faith.” While I believe God can provide through those means, shouldn’t we be first giving to the poor out of what we have to begin with … and then to the church (check out Luke 11:42)? I mean, how many churches’ budgets are mostly designated to the poor those specifically in need? Very few churches are “poor,” and even less have a lot of poor people attending them. So is the church really serving the poor and needy locally, regionally and globally? There are more needs than just physical and spiritual – emotional, relational must be included – especially in defunct America. And I know churches are doing what they can to meet those needs, but now looking from the outside, I just wonder about efficiency and effectiveness. I guess I’ve always questioned this (and I know it’s probably a huge relief to some that me and my issues are no longer present).
So much donated dollars goes to overhead costs. The percentage of our money is rarely 50% actually going to those in need. Especially in churches. And church salaries are such that many pastors make more than their congregants (and again, the parishoners are not necessarily poor).
According to salary.com (and I’ve seen many other resources, too), the median Pastor’s salary is over $85,000. Particularly in my area, it’s $90,525. Really? Having served in ministry for 12 years and aware of this, I’m still flabbergasted. The median salary for California is $59,000. So . . . good for jobs? At least for pastors. Admin Assistants’ median was $13/hr & youth pastors/children’s directors was $40k ($27k for women – and that’s a whole new discussion)/$30k respectively. All this depends on on size of church and location, of course, but I tended to look towards the Northern California region and size of the church in which I served.
Hmmm… this all seems interesting when you compare those numbers. Granted you can argue that ministers are so sacrificing and use their own money for ministry dollars, but even still . . . I just have a hard time with all of this. I have been blessed by the Church in many ways, but I constantly struggled with these numbers even as I served. It even became a huge contributor in my stepping down. I couldn’t justify the money I received yet was told, “You’re not getting enough.”
Now that I’m out of church ministry, it has caused me to really question what the church is about and what it’s really doing. I mean, are we just serving ourselves? I think of not only salaries, but events, bills, rent, etc. It’s mostly all going to the flock. And how many needy join the flock on a regular basis? Certainly churches vary on their effectiveness of this, but I wonder: is a church supposed to have a budget similar to our personal budgets? I like the idea of saving at least 10%, giving away at least 10% and operating on 80%. But even that seems peculiar personally. If a church uses this model, is it best? I’ve heard it argued by some great leaders that churches ought to not cross the 50% threshold for staff. And I’ve heard from others that growing churches put 70-80% of God’s money towards staff. I honestly wrestle to the point of strongly disagreeing and questioning intensely all this moneyspeak.
Some say that the church is all about money. I would definitely disagree. I’ve never been a part of a body that was more focused on money than another pure-hearted motive. I’m sure there’s some out there, but I’ve not experienced it. I think I get more frustrated because for so many different reasons we don’t make the tough decisions monetarily and fall into some sort of trap either justifying, rationalizing or stressing about it and so overemphasizing it. Money is necessary for every ministry & a worker ought to be paid (pastors love to quote 1 Tim. 5:18). And ministry service is tough. Very tough. But I do question the discernment and system of figuring out wages for people, ministries, events, etc.
What about bi-vocational ministers and churches that truly serve with an amount that reflects outreach more than inreach? I’m a bit more prone to feel comfortable with this model, but even with that I wonder how many other resources (time, energy, money) are used to, again, mostly serve ourselves? Is this right? Biblical? We do need to spend time on ourselves, I’m not dismissing that. Personally. Organizationally. Communally. We need to think through this, though. How? How much? And when we do, are we patting ourselves on the back for something that was actually more about us than the heart of the gospel?
When I first started giving money to the church in junior high, I took it very seriously as if it were going into God’s hands in heaven; it was a holy act. It is. I think we need to seriously consider the church’s budget, God’s money, with that perspective. I went back and forth in my obedience to this as a minister. I don’t like the idea of tithing as much as giving of firstfruits (probably one of my favorite messages I relayed was on this idea. It’s lost it with all the others on my hard drive.) Sadly we go from giving faith like a child to more “educated,” seeing and judging where the dollars are distributed. While it’s never perfect, we often have concerns. In fact, I guarantee no leadership has ever agreed completely on any church budget if you were to look in their heart of hearts.
It’s faux pas to discuss money with religion. But it’s a huge hindrance for many and concern for almost everyone. It’s almost as if we want to know the details but simultaneously don’t. I am so thankful that I never saw who pledged, gave or didn’t at the church. Leaders should not be given those specifics. Those who “need” them may have some control issues.
Money is necessary for anything to operate. Churches need to operate and thus need money. It’s a tough battle within the context of each individual body. Many have left local churches, and even the faith, because of money. Some times it was probably wise. Other times it may have been emotional. No church is perfect. No church budget is. And it is tough (impossible without God) to handle God’s money as broken, sinful people.
One necessary part of a church you can’t do by yourself is: equally yoked community/fellowship. We need to gather as believers. Reading Acts recently affirms that big time, but is the local church how it’s come to exist in the 21st century what the early apostles would imagine it would become? I’m beginning to seriously wonder. You actually might be able to in the context of your home, work or neighborhood; you may even be able to include communal worship in this. Being with others is crucial, especially those who are like-minded. But again, is a church necessary to do it? Is church as we see it today just the best we’ve come up with over the course of history? Or is it just how it’s evolved? (I know, I just mentioned evolution, this is now clearly heretical!)
Now, I repeat that I believed that the local church is the hope of the world. But I think I stand corrected that Jesus actually is. And while the church can be a conduit of Jesus causing people to glorify Himself, I would argue strongly that the Church does far more for itself than it does for others. I know, despite this pejorative attitude, God does so much kingdom work through the Church: people are saved from their sins through Jesus’ love, the good news is preached, kingdom work is done, saints become equipped, and people are entertained. I simply question the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution it has become. Timothy Keller (who I consider my “pastor-teacher” at this time) says his church Redeemer’s goals are to help facilitate: personal conversion, community formation, social justice and culture changing. I like that. I think that’s a great goal on paper. Two inreaches and two outreaches. I don’t know how they carry that out, but it supports my concerns.
I used to think years ago that peaching would become a lost art in our fast-paced, MTV-quick-moving-camera-shot, impatient, can-only-sit-still-for-20-minute, culture. But as I’ve read Acts, preaching was a huge part in reaching the Jews and Gentiles who desperately needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus: love, sacrifice, love, humility, love, hope, love, eternity, love, God. Was there preaching to the believers as well? I imagine quite of bit of sharing could have come off as preaching – and maybe church leaders did preach in the context of teaching/training/correcting. But then again, they lived in a Greek culture following Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers. They discussed, debated and argued in that culture almost like entertainment (see Acts 17 for more on that & how Paul used it). Maybe you can argue we haven’t changed much in our debating and criticizing of others in the political realm today.
So, is preaching good? Is that why we should go to [a particular] church? I mean, the preaching/speaking/teaching (however you want to word it), is probably the number 1 reason why (educated?) people choose their church – they are inspired by some message and/or they have the correct theology on whatever points the congregant sees as “deal breakers”. As a result, the preacher becomes the “star” of the church. I know I fell into this mindset & was humbled (and continue to be), in desiring to be that “celebrity.” This was even a problem in the early church when Peter was worshipped. So is celebrity preaching a problem? Certainly it can be. It’s a heart thing. And the context matters. Even Paul utilizes this accreditation in 2 Corinthians when he says, ““With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Cor. 8:18). Paul understood that people need to have credentials and the communicator may be why some listen or not to what is being communicated. There’s a great article on this by a blogger Kevin DeYoung.
Conclusion of sorts
So am I just bitter in all of this? Am I reverting to my old anabaptist service-first-minded ways? Am I jealous because I’m not a celebrity? Or am I on to something? Having mentioned these thoughts to some really intelligent people recently, I tend to think the latter. But I have no problem if I stand to be corrected. It is an important dialogue. Clearly my conclusion is that a church, ministry, or worldview must first and foremost be one that seeks to glorify God and lift Him up, being simultaneously humbled through brokenness, encouraged and inspired by the Spirit, and service (particularly the needy). Any biblical organization communicates this in its use of resources, emphasis in its communication, and energy and time spent in praxis.
I’ve begun re-thinking my whole philosophy and someone very close to me seems to think this is part of the work God is doing in me. I’m not a big fan of the Church right now (as if you didn’t notice up to this point). But like Ananias who was called to heal Paul in Acts, Jonah who didn’t want to go to Nineveh, Jeremiah who didn’t exactly love his calling (and the list goes on), I won’t say that God won’t call me again. I guess I just know I’m a totally different person with a completely different perspective serving the same God in much different ways and worldview. May we continue seeking God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in hopes that we can do that exclusively and life not be about us first.