Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he…
This might sound like reckless, insane advice during the worst global economic crisis many of us have ever witnessed. But I’m not talking here about disregarding your family budget, irrational spending, or overreaching in your personal finances. Instead, my challenge is to those who decide how much they can afford to give, and then plan their mission according to that allowance and never going beyond that.
Like people, we have churches like this.
These churches never take a risk. They never dream of something far above what they have in terms of expected revenue, numbers of members, limited property, and the like. They:
-play it safe—all the time.
-live in fear that if they dream too big, try something new or think out of the box, somehow everything will fall apart.
-see God as a banker or loan officer rather than the Lord of the universe who owns everything everywhere, and who never runs out of anything.
Think of Jesus’ parable of the talents. In it, who is praised and who is condemned? Was it the ones who invested their master’s money trying to multiply it, or the one who played it safe and took no risk (Matthew 25:14-30)? Also, what is the apostle Paul getting at in Ephesians 3:20-21?
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus and Paul are both demonstrating the secret to the life of faith: since the Power of the universe is operating in and through Christians in the world, we should be raising our expectations, not lowering them, even in a time of economic and social crisis of global proportions. We ought to be dreaming the big dream, expecting great things, and imagining what could be, rather than wringing our hands in despair, living in fear, or anticipating the little that everyone else expects.
Look around and what do we see? Churches everywhere are cutting back, slashing their mission budgets to maintain their facilities, replacing old seats in empty sanctuaries, or socking their money away in case things get worse: “Let’s hunker down until the storm blows over.” We frame our congregation’s vision according to the local small-business model, and then repeat, “This isn’t the way business does it.”
But is this being responsible, or is it a failure of faith? Are we supposed to count our money and our membership, wait until things get better, and only then decide what our mission is? Or, do we discover what God wants us to do in the biggest economic crisis of our lifetime, and then figure out how much we’ll need to get there and trust him for it all?
I could be wrong, but it seems churches going somewhere, fearlessly serving others, and getting things done are in the second category, and those that are getting smaller year-by-year, and fading away altogether, are in the first. You can usually tell which of the two you’re in the minute you click on their web links or walk through their door. The vitality, warmth, and big vision tell us more about who they are than the church’s doctrinal statement.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”
When asked, “How is your church in Germany handling this crisis?” The tendency is to enumerate the ways we do “church!” You know, the worship service and other online activities. But the church is not the building or the virtual building. It is us—you and I. We are the church, and we can be sure of one thing: If we continue to do what we’ve already done, we’ll have what we’ve already got.
Now our church already knows what happens when even a small group of believers commits themselves to pray for God’s vision, and are ready to throw themselves wholeheartedly into it when he grants it. God has blessed us our church family! But is it time to reach deeper into ourselves, to pray more fervently, and to dream bigger for a hurting community? The result may never reach the newspapers, and it probably won’t lead to a mega-church, but we will honor God, be Christ’s hands and feet, and be a blessing to those around us.
To God be the glory!