"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Monday, August 23, 2004 A week or so ago, I had to turn in our budget for ECM for 2005. It was the best I've ever felt about turning in a budget.
For one thing, for the first time it wasn't me putting together the budget but our student leadership. But more than that, it was the process (though somewhat rushed) that we went through to to get there.
We didn't start by talking about money. Instead, we did some Bible study and prayed and started talking about what we felt God was calling us to do and who God was calling us to be in 2005. My instructions to them were to come up with a vision that they were so committed to, that they were so sure what God had in mind for us, that they were going to commit to doing it no matter how the financial situation turned out or changed.
This made the budgeting process incredibly easy ... and it was only then that we turned to look at money. We figured out how much it would cost to accomplish what it was we're being called to do. And, operating from the philosophy that God never calls us to something without making the resources available, they figured out where it was going to come from.
The result was a budget that actually was a decrease in asking from the diocese from 2004 ... but included a $9,500 commitment on behalf of the students -- through a combination of funding from Student Union, donations requested for specific events, and tithing.
I write about this because I think the way we do financial policy -- particularly budgeting -- as a church is pretty backwards. In my experience, we look at the expected pile of money we have and then decide what we can do.
People trumpet this as good financial sense -- staying within your means, not running a deficit. I disagree. While it might be good financial sense for a business, it is just terrible for a church. Our mission is not to be smart "money managers" ... our job is to be faithful to God's call.
Assuming that we can only do what our expected money allows us is the exact same thing as saying to God "yeah, I know you are asking me to do these things ... but I don't believe that you are really going to provide for them, so we're going to say 'sorry ... can't.'"
I'm not talking about making grand and irresponsible plans and throwing money around carelessly. I'm talking about honestly discerning the vision of God's mission ... and then having the courage to step out in faith and commit to it.
The irony is, I think if we would do this, the money that would come in would increase hugely. Exhibit A is the one time in my memory that we actually did this in the Diocese of Missouri. Bishop Hays Rockwell was advised by the consultants and lots of other people that the late 1990s was the wrong time to do a capital campaign for our diocese. But he believed that the four things for which he was raising money were truly what God had in mind for us ... and so he went ahead and we raised $4 million -- $1 million more than the consultants' best-case scenario.
We are prisoners of our money. The tighter we hold onto it, the more of a grip it has on us. And because it holds us so tightly, we, who are so wealthy, believe we are poor.
That's right. I just came from spending 6 weeks in the Diocese of Accra ... a diocese that has exponentially LESS money than the Diocese of Missouri. But if you ask someone in Missouri what our financial state is like, they will probably describe us as being in crisis or at least in trouble. If you ask someone in Accra the same question, the answer you will get is "we are rich ... look at how much God has given us."
There are so many ways I fall short of God's hopes for me that I can't keep track of them. It doesn't upset me that we as the church are falling short ... we're human and even when we try our best, we're going to fall short a lot of the time. What gets me is that we are falling short and calling it virtue ... and convincing ourselves that striving for the kind of radical trust and faith that Christ calls us to is foolishness.
We are becoming the antithesis of what God calls us to be ... and congratulating ourselves for it. And it will only change when individuals and congregations do something different.
We'll see what happens this year. We've done the easy part ... all the stuff that's on paper. We'll see how hard we have to work to make it happen. I'll bet we have to work plenty hard ... and I'll also bet that'll be a really good thing. That we'll end up with a renewed sense of what God is capable of doing through us and what is possible when we trust.
| Mike at 8/23/2004 09:06:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."