June 17, 2009
The Sometimes Surprising Price of Success
What happens when our people do what we ask?
No, this post isn't about growing pains as your church gets bigger and bigger or what to do with the budget surplus all that extra tithing is leaving you with (though if your problem is the latter, email me).
I've been thinking this week about the cost we pastors and our communities pay when people actually begin to do what we're asking them do to: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
So far this year, we've had a hard time making budget just about every month. And as a smaller church, that matters. As I looked at the numbers, I began to wonder what was happening. Were people giving less because of the financial crisis? Were we angering people and provoking a "hold back" response in giving?
But as I tried to see the big picture of where our community is, I realized we're actually just paying the price of success.
Recently we've sent some wonderful folks around the world - One family to Glasgow, Scotland, for church planting. One couple to Sudan to do medical and relief work for some of the poorest of the poor. Another couple to Bangladesh to rescue women from the sex trade and to help people begin businesses that will enable them to pull themselves out of poverty.
All these people have taken with them not just the hearts and prayers of our community. They've taken our financial support and the financial support of many members of our community.
In other words, giving isn't down. I have a feeling that, on the whole, we're actually giving more. It just doesn't show up on our books.
We started a Kiva group to enable Evergreen people to participate in micro loans to the poor around the world and so see the standard of living of some of the world's working poor increase. What can a $25 or $50 dollar loan do in Africa or South America? A whole lot, it turns out.
But that's $50 that won't come through our church's budget, right?
Of course, the cost isn't simply financial. These folks we've sent out represent some of the most committed, most Jesus-loving people I've met yet. We recently sent one of our elders to be the teaching pastor of a church in another state. Another is working in Pretoria. For each, a unique hole has opened in our community. Our community won't benefit from these wonderful, Jesus-and-people-loving folk anymore. But other communities will.
And there's more. I began to realize that often the reason we have a hard time getting folks out to things, to commit to serving here or there, is that they are already busy serving elsewhere, here in our own city. Our people are running community gardens, they are helping establish low cost counseling centers, providing medical and dental care for the poor. Beyond serving in places as far and wide as Haiti and South Africa, they are praying and working for the peace of our city, right here. Looked at that way, it becomes a bit harder for me to ask the question "When are we going to DO something?" We're already "doing" a lot. Just not in a way our church may be able to take credit for.
We ask people to love their neighbors. But what if that means they need to be less involved in church activities? Is that okay? Of course it's okay. But for us - internally - is it okay?
I remember a lot of talk in seminary about the 80:20 problem. You know, 20 percent of the people do 80 percent (or more) of the work in a church community, leaving the other 80 percent doing...not much. It had been my hope in starting Evergreen to do church in such a way that turned the 80:20 thing on its head. The picture in my mind was of a community where 80 percent of the people did about 100 percent of the work of ministry and the other 20 percent was comprised of new folks on a journey towards Jesus and just getting started, people recovering from significant hurt, or in some other situation that made our community say, "Just rest right now. Don't feel like you have to do anything."
It's a great mental picture, but it's just not reality. Why? Because the fact is many of those people you consider part of the 80 percent of folks in your church who don't do much are someone's 20 percent. That is, they may be in the 80 percent of folks in our community who don't make much happen, but that's probably not true in every area of their lives. Whether at work, in their extended family, in school or civic organizations, I'm finding these folks are doing a lot that matters there. And that means they can't do it here. They are out there, living out the love of Jesus in very practical ways. And more and more I'm realizing that it is okay. In fact, it's fantastic, and I'm trying to find ways we as a church community can highlight, support, and celebrate missional living by our people.
If you are truly successful as a church, the result may not necessarily be "more people" and "bigger budgets." It may even, at times, look like the opposite.
Jesus describes the Spirit like a wind that blows where he wills, and blows us where he wills. Sometimes he blows people into ministry within the church "walls." And sometimes he blows them (and their money) out into a needy and broken world.
Be careful before you challenge people to follow God out into that broken world to "live missionally." They may just take you up on it.