Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Money, money, money, mo-ney.... MONEY!

I once had a guest speaker in a business class in high school talk to everyone about how ridiculous it is that "the Bible says that money is the root of all evil." Of course, he didn't wanna listen when I told him he had that verse all wrong and he went on about his little speech. But the verse actually says that the "love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." That's an entirely different scenario. Still, money can be a real sore spot in lots of conversations.

I work for a church. My salary is paid by people's tithes (ie, donations). In other words, people who attend Broadway pay me to do what I do. I struggle with that. Its like carrying weight around sometimes. I mean, the economy isn't in the greatest shape ever. I don't make an outrageous salary--in fact, I'm right on the dot for median income for a male in Warren County. I don't have a problem sharing that because I'm not in the position I am to make money. I do it because I love what I get to do. But it still weighs on me that my salary comes from a church budget.

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with it. At times, though, I feel like I'm perpetuating an unhealthy system. My whole job is to get Broadway involved and active in the local community. I oversee everything from a mentoring/tutoring program to a needs assistance fund, and from a grocery assistance program to a furniture donation program. My whole job is to get people involved in healthy, active ways outside of the four walls of our church. But I question whether or not I need to be paid to do that.

I feel like we've set up a system where we convince people they have to have a pastor, minister, or leader of some kind in the church. Then the responsibility sets on them (pastor, minister, or leader) instead of the church member/attender. I know that's not how everyone feels, but I certainly think there's a large percentage of the average church congregation who feels that way. And that's not how its supposed to be. We are all supposed to carry that responsibility. We are all, as followers of Jesus, supposed to be the ones seeking out "his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth..."

In times like these, when money can be short, I just think we should be about doing the best possible things with our money. The government wastes hundreds of billions of dollars every year--on war, on bailouts, on employee salaries, on God knows what else. People are incredibly critical and analytical about where that money is going--and we should be. (Maybe we should be even more.) Why? Because its our money that the government is spending. Its everyone's money. Its our tax dollars. In the church, its a similar scenario. I would venture to say that there are hundreds of billions of dollars wrapped up in church budgets across our country.

Hundreds of billions.

And we should be concerned with what happens with that money. I have a friend who says that "a budget is a moral document." I can't agree with him more. What we do with our money and resources says a lot about us. I'm not saying that tithing is a bad thing or paying chuch staff is a bad thing or having designated leadership is a bad thing or having structured church is a bad thing. Not at all. I'm just being honest about what goes on in my head at times. I wonder what could be done if there weren't so much overhead involved.

Some people would probably insist that the church as an institution should cease to exist. That it should die. That the American church is way off from what Jesus intended it to be. Those feelings certainly have some merit and I can understand why people would feel that way. There are days when I think we should just burn it all down and start from scratch. But I've been at Broadway for almost 2 years now. I can honestly say that so much good has happened and so much change has occurred because there's been voices encouraging it to happen. If people weren't part of the system to critique it and nail their theses to the front door, would there be any hope? Could the system devolve into a self-perpetuating country club? Aren't the voices demanding change needed? Aren't the things that are hard to hear at times good for us in the long run?

I remember when I first read Shane Claiborne's book "Irressitible Revolution." It changed my life--for lots of reasons. But I was shocked at the end of the book. He had spent a lot of time critiquing the institution of church and talking about the areas in which it was lacking and how we needed to be about pursuing the way of Jesus and not the way of American religion. Yet, at the end of the book, he encourages everyone that is part of the church to remain part of the church and to not leave it out of frustration. I think that I am finally beginning to understand why he made that point. Without the folks who voice their frustrations and concerns, the future of the church would be lost. We need critics. We need people pointing out where we fall short as the church. We need to know where we suck. We need people pushing for change. We need people constantly reminding us of why we're here.

So, at the end of the day, I'm still unsettled about things. I still have questions and concerns about the system I'm very much a part of. But I'm not ready to abandon it. All is not lost. Hope springs eternal. So, for now, I continue to work here and do the best I can. I also seek to be part of the church and not just go to church--the former is much more important to me. I also seek to be an active part of a community of friends who are active in their love for eachother and local community.

This is rambling. Hope it makes some sense. Maybe I just need to type this out at times to confirm that I'm a conflicted human being. I realize there's brokeness and problems within a system. I also realize the potential for beauty and change from that same system.


td shoemaker said...

I too struggled with this tension when I was a paid student minister. I went back in forth in my mind about whether I should be doing it cause I loved it, doing it because I loved it and needed to support my family or was it just a job.

I still struggle as the leader of a para-church organization that could do quite a bit more if it did not have to pay for me. (or could it do more?)

This history of this discussion is rich throughout Christendom with proponents making strong cases scripturally from both sides of the argument.

I do like still like the Quaker statement that takes a different angled approach. Let's not do away with the clergy, let's do away with the laity. What if we were all in a sense employed by the church? What if we did follow the early church structure of commonwealth?

I think that it comes down to the particular community and how they deem to approach the topic. If one says that our pastor/preacher/priest/minister will be bi-vocational or full-time or part-time or volunteer, then let it be. No one is right on this topic.

I agree that we need to better distribute our money, whether that be government or organization or family.

word verification: cabibluc

Anonymous said...

"I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with it" either. But those are good thoughts and questions. And a good reminder that leaders aren't the only ones meant to be actively making a difference in the community. I like when people feel comfortable enough to post random or conflicting thoughts.

Sheffield said...

Totally understand the weightiness of being paid working at a church. When I quit my internship there was still a considerable amount of money budgeted out to pay my position...I just couldn't handle the feeling of not being confident that I was doing something worth getting paid out of money people gave as a part of their religious practice.

The more and more I've thought about that time, I remember all the good and bad, and wish that I could have done a lot more for the people at that church while I was there. I guess you live and learn right, but money does complicate things...the idea of doing religion as vocation has been troublesome to me.

I know and love a lot of people who are on church pay roles, and I don't envy the pressure that such positions carry. I appreciate that you carry a burden about something like this, it at least shows you care about what you are doing.

Anonymous said...

man, i can resonate with every one of those thoughts. it's a struggle i roll around in constantly. i love your third/fourth paragraph about church leadership and how it can easily perpetuate a culture where leadership holds the responsibility and leaves the attendees without responsibility aside from the responsibility to criticise the leadership when things aren't going as they should. same holds true in government. where's the personal motivation and movement? i wonder what the church could accomplish if we all diid as much as we possibly could. heart gets tight writing about all this again. thanks for stirring thoughts, jd (and terry).

and terry! i noticed you wrote the word from the word verification! a friend and i have been working on a project for about a year where we're defining those words and writing nonsensical children's poetry from them. i'm glad to see someone else is fond of them :)