Friday, July 31, 2009

Where are our priorities?

I have been sitting here all day just feeling empty inside thinking about the lack of Biblical priority in the church. That emptiness is turning into white hot anger.

Prepare for a rant…

I don’t have statistics in front of me, but I am confident that a huge percentage of the budget of an average church goes to pay for staff salaries and buildings. We expect pastors to spend upwards of 15-20 hours a week reading and then telling us about what they read and the average church gladly pays them to do that. We have meetings ad nauseum about this program or that, about the budget, about all manner of inane stuff. I recall very recently reading something on a church webpage (I won’t name the church) and I about went through the roof. This is copied directly from their “fast facts” about their "church":

■ Located on 140 acres with land and buildings of current net worth near over 50 million dollars
■ 3,000 parking spaces on about 30 acres
■ Worship Center has seating for over 5,500
■ Pipe organ has 118 ranks; 6,737 pipes
■ Annual budget over $17 million
■ Give approximately 1.5 million per year to missions, the largest contributor of any Southern Baptist Church in the U.S. (my note: that means that 8% of their $17,000,000 budget goes to "missions")
■ Membership—15,000
■ Average Sunday morning Bible study attendance: 3,800
■ Over 300 Bible study classes for all ages.
■ Approximately 7,000 in worship attendance on Sunday mornings in three worship services
■ About 140 full-time staff, plus about 215 part-time
■ 24 pastoral staff
■ Purchased former RC Cola bottling plant, adjacent land, Fall 2001; over $3 million given in two months

What kind of a twisted view of the Gospel ministry would make someone put a list like that out in public and think it reflected well on them? The same sort of mindset that would print up matching T-shirts for over 300 people to wear when getting “baptized” in a circus atmosphere. This is not some postmodern, seeker sensitive megachurch, it is a conservative Baptist church. Is that list supposed to make me want to go there on a Sunday morning? I read that list and wondered what exactly the object of their worship is. It certainly is not a sign of God's providence, it is a sign of idolatry.

Meanwhile….

There are missionaries sitting around the states who are not going to the world to bring people the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of a lack of funds. Cults like the mormons make missions a priority, meanwhile we can’t be bothered to talk to our neighbors about Christ. Before we spend one nickel on an unnecessary building project (and most building projects are unnecessary in my opinion) or hire one more staff member, we better make sure that every Biblically sound missionary who has raised their hand and said “send me” is on a plane to minister to lost people overseas or right here in the states. Let me go even further. I would challenge pastors to step down and the rest of the men to step up so that staff salaries could go to missionary work. We shouldn't have to pay men to do what the rest of us are called and capable, but too lazy, to do ourselves.

There are innumerable families who desperately want to adopt children but cannot because of red tape and exorbitant costs and there are on the other side innumerable children in horrible situations that are waiting for a family to adopt them. In my time in banking I can tell you without hesitation that many churches are sitting on enormous sums of money, saved up for a rainy day. They save this money because they have such huge fixed costs in the form of buildings and staff. The church in America is enslaved by money. I am just sick inside when on the one hand I think of the gleaming, brand new “churches” in every town in America and on the other hand all of the orphans waiting to be adopted by someone, anyone, who will love and care for them. They don’t want a blackberry or an x-box, they just want a roof over their head, food to eat and to live each day and not be in fear.

There are Christians all over the world that don’t have Bibles in their own language and cannot afford to buy one. They are starving for the Word of God and vulnerable to false teachers and we buy $125 calfskin study Bibles. I probably have more Bibles on my bookshelf than many churches in China have in the entire congregation. We put Bibles in the pews for people too lazy to bring their own Bible to church that sit unread all week long and our brothers and sisters risk life and limb to smuggle Bibles to those without.

There are widows who are lonely and waiting to be visited, but no one does because “that is the pastor’s job”. We subcontract ministry to one or a few men and expect them to minister to everyone else. See the above challenge to “step down and step up”.

If you are involved in a church that meets in an old building, or in a school, or someplace else, don’t give in to the prevailing worldview and go into debt to buy a building that will sit empty all week. Use what you have. If you want to plant a church, don’t wait for a paid minister to come to town, just open your home to the saints. It worked 2000 years ago, it still works today. If your congregation is sitting on $25,000 or $50,000 or more in the bank for a “rainy day”, ask yourself what you could be putting that money to use for that would advance the Gospel.

I am glad Christ cared more about sacrificing Himself so that we could be adopted into His family than He was about building glorious temples to Himself. I wish we had that same level of care for others around us.

10 comments:

Debbie said...

Much of what you say here is valid. But as they say, any time you point a finger there are four pointing back at you. So regarding the issues in your post, we each need to ask ourselves: How many neighbors did I speak to about Christ today? How much have I given to missions - and by the way, why aren't I on a plane, heading to the mission field? Who have I given a Bible to today, or what missionary have I sent Bibles to lately? How many widows have I visited lately, to help with her needs or just to be a listening ear? What have I done to help hurting, needy kids today?

There are many things you didn't bring up that we need to ask ourselves, too.... Which has gotten more of my time today, things (internet, tv, books, etc.) or my kids? Am I a Christ-like model for my kids? Have I been kind of the spouse today that the Bible says I'm supposed to be? Did I reflect Christ to everyone I came in contact with today? And so on....

When Christ looks at His bride, He doesn't see a building or groups of people. He sees each one of us individually, and we are individually accountable. Ouch!!

Debbie
(who would have put each "I" in the questions in bold type if I was a little more patient with the HTML tags...)

Steve and Paula said...

This is why I love the fact that we meet in a home.
There may be 80 of us, if all are in attendance, and its quite crowded, but we are not burdened by all the STUFF that comes iwth buildings and paid staff.
And truly, anything outside of what the Scripture states as Church Principles, are burdens!

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie,

All true. We all could do more, and must do more. I would say that you have a mission field at home with your kids. We are not all called to be missionaries overseas. I am not saying we all need to be superhero Christians who do it all, but I do think that as a body we have prioritized many, many things that should not be priorities.

Steve Martin said...

I know of small churches that are idolatrous and not faithful to the Word.

It is not how big or small a church is, but whether or not it is faithful to the Word.

Where the gospel is proclaimed in it's purity, and where the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel (and the people believe it)...there is the church.

steve s said...

Arthur,
Brilliant blog. Thank you for your courage! I was beginning to think that I was the only one who felt this way.

Debbie said...

Arthur,

I was talking to John about this and he pointed out that we have no idea what they are doing with all that land, money, etc, and that's it's not our place to judge - it's God's.

As we were talking, I started thinking about a church that used to bring a group of inner-city kids to the camp where I worked. If they posted their info online, it might look similar in numbers. How were they using all the money, land, and employees they had? Daycare, so single moms (often underaged) could go to school and/or work. Programs to feed the poor (many of them!) in their area. Addiction rehab programs that focused on God, not just a "higher power." They owned a thrift store and a couple restaurants, where they hired kids/former addicts/etc no one else would, to help them learn how to work and give them job experience. I've seen other churches that run orphanages (where the kids live in houses with couples hired to live with them and mentor them), schools, nursing homes, and more. They probably have huge budgets, chunks of land, several buildings, and many employees. Just looking at numbers and saying that a group has messed up priorities is pretty presumptuous.

I also wonder if some of those part time people indicated by the church you referenced are like me.... A while ago Ray started giving me a check each month to cover my gas for the driving I do for the pantry. Would getting that check cause me to be listed as an employee by that church's standards? Hmmm......

Debbie

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie,

"it's not our place to judge - it's God's."

I think that is completely wrong. Is it never the place of us to judge? Should we look the other way at all manner of ills and just shrug and say it is up to God? Should we look at sin within the greater Body and not speak up? I think that is a hard case to make.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1Co 5:11-13)

The context here is in a local gathering, but the point is valid. I am not calling for church discipline for this organization, I am no position to do so and in fact the point of the post was not to cast daggers at that group. That is why I didn't name them. They are just an example. You are John and smart people, you can certainly see the difference between programs like you are describing and two dozen "ministers" focused on that local church.

The greater issue here is one of priorities. I would say that at your church, the priorities are more in line with what should be going on than in many other places. But you have to admit that there are a lot, A LOT, of churches where that is not the case. I have sat in far too many beautiful, ornate buildings to say otherwise. I have browsed the webpages of too many churches with a "Minister of this" and a "Pastor of that". I have seen too many banks with enormous sums of money in the bank or with large loans to pay for unnecessary buildings.

I was with Ray when the decision was made to start giving you that check. I supported it then and I support it now. There is an enormous difference between helping to defray costs and paying an employee. You pour an enormous amount of time and energy to run that food pantry, and you do it for free. The check you get is a love offering, not a salary. The difference is that you would still have done the pantry if we hadn't started giving you that check and I would presume you would keep doing it if the check stopped coming. How many pastors would say the same?

Josh Gelatt said...

We must be very careful when we begin to say "we are not to judge"--as Arthur pointed out such statements can very easily become anti-biblical. Our pagan culture has picked up on the lingo of "do not judge" and sadly we have adopted a very pagan and anti-Christian view of that message. Scripture clearly COMMANDS us to judge fellow believers--but we must remember we can only do this imperfectly and always in a spirit of grace and love--and with the ultimate hope of correction and restoration.

With that said, I'm not fully in line with the post (though I think I am in full and complete agreement with the underlying philosophy).

I am for paid clergy...I am against enormous staff budgets.

I am for buildings...I am against plush 'religious' complexes.

I am for church programs...I am against the mindset of 'program over people'.

I am for pastors and teachers...I am against the "professionalization" of the ministry that strips leadership and spirituality from the fathers in the home.

I could go on, but suffice to say I agree with the philosophy that Arthur has articulated. Thanks for this post.

Debbie said...

Arthur,

I probably didn't state what I was trying to say very clearly. Maybe this will work better.... I can read all those numbers and think they look pretty ridiculous, but I am not there to see what all the staff are doing or what all that money is being used for. I do not know their motives or their hearts. We absolutely are to judge other Christians' actions and behavior. That's not the case here, because we don't know that church's actions. If I see or know of a Christian engaging in the behaviors listed in the passage you quoted, I can flat out say that he or she is doing wrong. They are easily defined actions. Indeed, I'm required to confront the person's sin. But if I just look from a distance at someone's budget or staff numbers, I don't know their actions and therefore can't know or say if what they are doing is godly.

Thanks for thinking John and I are smart people! :) My point in talking about the other ministries I mentioned was that from a distance, they might look just like the one you copied. They must have many staff, a huge budget, land, etc. They might even give their staff "churchy" titles that sound rather ridiculous to others (like us). We just don't know the details, because we are not there. Without that information, we cannot judge whether they are sinning.

Yup, I would keep doing the pantry if the check stopped. I was trying to point out that in that other church, which obviously has a more sophisticated accounting system than we do and is probably more thoroughly audited, the fact that I get a check might make them count me as a part time employee. Again, I just don't know, so I can't assume anything there.

I absolutely agree that many, many Christians - and therefore many churches, also - have messed up priorities. I think where we differ (and what I tried to express in my first comment to this post) is that I believe we need to focus more on making sure our own priorities are right than on what others are doing. If every Christian really focused on loving God with all his/her heart, soul, mind and strength and on loving others as himself/herself, everything else would fall in line. We wouldn't have to worry about how our congregation is set up or what our worship service looks like or whether we pay a pastor, or what our budget is, or.... See what I mean? If we love God with all of us, we will constantly seek to please Him and glorify Him, and He will guide us to do that, no matter how it looks to outsiders.

Hope this makes more sense,
Debbie

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie,

When I said Christians have messed up priorities, I certainly included myself at the top of that list. You know me better than almost anyone else who reads this blog, so you know how true that is. Where I am coming from is that a lot of what we do in conjunction with "church" is inhibiting being pleasing to God and living out a pattern of life in our homes and in the local gathering of the church that is God honoring and Scriptural.