The Bottom Line

Two years into my stint as a children’s minister for a medium-large church, I found myself in our prayer room crying out to God for answers and relief.

My question to him: “Why is this so heavy?”

His answer: “It’s consumerism.”

Next I asked him, “How can we combat consumerism?  It’s everywhere.”

He replied, “It’s the general fund.”

He showed me how undesignated giving gives birth to an entity which vies for its own survival to the detriment of the goals God has for the church.  The institution becomes a codependent parasite draining the vitality from the body of Christ.

“Is it even possible to do church without a general fund?” I asked.

Then he proceded to show me how Christians could meet in smaller numbers.  Because the groups would be smaller there would be no need to build or rent meeting spaces. They could be led by proven people who could develop and endorse more leaders.  These leaders could live on faith, support themselves, or do a combination.  Minus a staff and facilities, the need for a general fund would dissipate.  Without a bottom line to maintain, leaders would be released from the pressure to please and placate and be liberated to lovingly confront.  Appeals to give could be heard as “Give to them.” rather than “Give to me.”  People could be challenged toward real generosity out of compassion rather than minimal giving out of rote obligation.  In short, we could quit “doing church” and start making disciples.

This vision haunted me for four years until I finally gave in and quit.  After three months of uncertainty, God brought me to serve with another church.  So what’s the difference?  Our elders have embraced the preeminence of making disciples.  We’ve acknowledged the danger of survival thinking and we’re moving forward to make disciples rather than maintain programs.

We have a building.  I draw a salary.  We have a general fund.  But we’re launching groups and developing leaders which have none of these things.  We’re getting as lean as we can to make way for these groups to be born and multiply.  We don’t want any group we plant or resource to send money back to the mother ship. This approach will probably affect our organizational bottom line but that’s okay because our eyes are on God’s bottom line – more people becoming more like Christ.

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Finding the way, telling the truth, living the life.

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Posted in Autobiography, Bible, Church, Outreach, Religion, Spirituality, Theology
8 comments on “The Bottom Line
  1. I’m always curious about these kinds of conversations that Christians claim to have with God – and it seems everyone gets angry when I ask how it works. It seems to me that you’re just thinking to yourself to me, but you feel God is speaking to you like in a conversation. How do you know?

    • Great question! I wish I had a great answer. I get it wrong sometimes. I usually vet what I think I’ve heard from God through Scripture, experience, and the counsel of others. Perhaps its a conversation with myself and my bias causes me to interpret it as God. Or perhaps it’s God and your bias causes you to interpret it as all in my head? Hmm.

  2. I was going to comment about the ‘god talking to me’ section but I’ll leave that for now as another point caught my interest. H.L Mencken once said “Sunday school is a prison in which do penance for the evil conscience of their parents”. I note you mentioned you’d worked with children. Do you not think it would be rational to let a child grow up regardless of religion or indeed atheism and then reach their own conclusions and make an informed decision on which way they want to go in life?

    • That’s a very insightful quote! As you can see, someone beat you to the punch on the talking with God thing. Though, I’d be happy to discuss it more with you.
      Regarding child-rearing, I don’t think the situation you propose is even possible. Every parent will always raise their children in an environment designed around their deepest-held values. Some who claim to be Christians are really materialists and so they will send their kids to Sunday school but raise them to be materialists. You get the idea. If and when you have kids, you’ll know what I mean.
      For the record, I don’t think atheists have much to fear from Sunday school. It teaches kids to compartmentalize their faith. You have much more to fear from adults who shuck Christendom to truly follow Jesus outside the walls of the establishment with their children in tow. We’re coming for you 😉

  3. Adam says:

    Just one more straw, and the camel’s back is getting pretty bowed. I’ve been gorging on Organic Church (or as your grandpa called it, “Church”) videos for about 24 hours. You’ve just about done me in, Nathan. Looking forward to coming up there next weekend.

  4. I have to agree on your point that raising kids in the way I mentioned can realistically look fairly impossible, but it’s also very possible when approached practically. The problem is parents think they are doing the right think when raising a child, it’s ‘their’ child after all and they will raise it how they see fit. That in itself is a hard point to contest but the roots of it lay in being selfish. We mould a child subconsciously in what we want them to be, how we want them to turn out. To you raising a child as an atheist may seem wrong, to me raising them as a christian seems wrong. In an ideal world parents could still easily teach their kids morals without the bible because kids differentiate between what is right or wrong on guidance of their parents, even before they are aware of the bible. All this said we’d be debating all day on the right way and wrong way to raise a child.

    If I had children then I’d certainly make ALL information accessible, even the bible and I’d certainly let my kids question and explore without any religious indoctrination or cramming my atheist thinking down their throat. That said, it’s not that impossible after all is it?

    My parents gave me freedom to choose and make up my own mind regarding big questions and I don’t really think I turned out all that bad.

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