by Dave Gibbons
I imagine you may be paying more attention to the market news. Our 401Ks have turned into a 201Ks! The markets are in transition. Most likely this recession will not be quickly fixed with bailouts and the lowering of interest rates. The unraveling of our security seems to be happening at unprecedented speed, leaving many disoriented and stressed.
This is affecting churches too. Giving is down. Layoffs are happening not only among our members but also our church staffs. I spoke to one friend who said their giving is over thirty percent below what was expected. Many of us in church leadership are facing hard decisions. To avoid some of these hard choices by closing our eyes only delays the inevitable pain.
When chaos happens it's easy to just hunker down, think of quick strategies to get out of the mess, or make rash choices. But perhaps slowing down for a season of reflection would do us well. What might God be saying to me, to our country? While we gravitate quickly to happy endings and stories of inspiration, perhaps a period of confession and repentance is also in order. Could this be a disciplining from God?for America?for our churches? for me?
Sure it's easy to shamelessly wag our finger at Wall Street bankers, traders, and lenders. Their avarice, greed, and ostentatious ways are notorious. But before we strain our finger, let's not forgot who they've been working for. We're also involved in their trades, their transactions, and the thirst for MORE. The hard reality is, we are Wall Street. We are the lenders, we are the traders, and now we are the debtors.
The church is not untainted by this. I understand a need to be a healthy and purposeful church, but have we gone overboard with our focus on formulas, numbers, size, influence, marketing techniques, and branding? Have we forgotten what makes the church the church? At the end of the day, are we really driven by God's heart? Are we really motivated by Christ's love and not the money or the numbers?
Of late the church has become increasingly "cause" focused. Justice and advocacy is our mantra, but how much do we need to pour into advertising this? I thought the right hand wasn't supposed to know what the left hand was doing? How much do we really need to be spending on self-promotion within the church?
While in Thailand, the Muslims we worked with on one of the southern islands were sick of the Western "help" they received. They said after the tsunami, "western Christians came to give us things without asking what we needed, and then they took pictures with their banners and left." Their conclusion, "The Christians used us."
Perhaps just as these economic times reflect the greed and lusts of our capital markets, they also shed light upon the darkness of the church. I'm writing this in an airplane knowing that I too struggle with affections that cause me to drift away from my God. Given to my own thirst for material items and the good life, I too can forget the true wealth I have in Christ.
Then I remembered this mystical, unexpected encounter of the Spirit from earlier in the week. I had a sacred moment that came upon me and overwhelmed me with emotion. Two young men shared with me some temptations they were dealing with. In that moment as they were sharing, I was quickly reminded of what my father-in-law told me twenty years ago before I entered the pastorate. He said, "Dave, be careful of the big three: money, interactions with women, and pride." As I recalled his words with these two promising leaders whom I deeply love, the words from I John 2:15-17 flooded my soul.