“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7
As I get older, I am more and more amazed at the choices I made. I worked very hard a long time for a company that performed exceptionally well. I was working primarily for money but also for position, power, and recognition. I was full of energy, despite my bad habits, and was able to give extraordinary effort for the things I valued most.
I suppose that all changes as people get older. We realize money doesn’t buy the things we had hoped it would. Certainly, money buys shiny things, but shiny things don’t stay shiny by themselves. Shiny things take A LOT of work to keep looking impressive. Besides, the one most impressed by my shiny thing was me. Don’t get me wrong, I still have shiny things, but the reason I have them is different than before. Much different.
At some point, time becomes more valuable than money. Once again, we find the same types of choices. What is it that we desire to do once we have all the time we hope to have once we retire? Do we buy more shiny things? Do we dream of playing golf or fishing all the time? Here’s one thing I’ve observed of people who retire early – their friends don’t. All the time in the world is of no value when you are playing all alone in your sandbox.
I’m starting to sound like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, but there is something to all his talk of vanity. What is it that truly fulfills us? I believe it is revealed to us in scripture, by men like Paul, in a deep commitment to Jesus manifesting itself in the sharing of the gospel and discipleship of others.
It is my thinking that the early church must have looked much different than it does today. Honestly, our churches today are so similar to commercial businesses that it is frightening. First, we see a big difference in size. The vast majority of churches are very small. They struggle. Financially, they are barely getting by. Many don’t make it. There always seems to be new churches popping up, but they are only replacing those that fail. Why do they fail? Lots of reasons, I suppose, but one of them is that the members don’t tithe. Very few people do.
On the other hand, you have a handful of churches that are growing like wildfire. They attract a lot of people – from other churches and from the street itself. But, it’s easy to look past the boasting to see an infrastructure that is incredibly weak. Charming pastors become wealthy pastors. Soon, their wealth far exceeds that of the average member. You can tell by the clothes they wear, the traveling they do, and the things they talk about. It’s no different than the small business owner who works hard and smart and then becomes rich. And greedy.
Infrastructure becomes necessary with growth. Before long, it takes a tremendous amount of money just for the organization to exist. Jobs become specialized. We start to see signs of excess spending in some areas while other areas suffer tremendously. All the while the main dude gets wealthier and wealthier. Even so, all this is justified by increasing numbers of Sunday visitors.
At some point, however, growth cannot sustain itself. In business, profitability must exist to support growth. Certainly, many businesses grow without it, but there comes a time when the band must be paid. Likewise, this is true with church. Unless the members start coughing up lots of money (tithe), growth cannot be sustained. The fact that “customers” aren’t willing to pay the true price of operating the church shows that something is wrong. Let’s not kid ourselves, folks, “rich” churches are just as desperate for a big collection plate as small churches. Sure, here and there you have a church that is fiscally responsible, but the vast majority are just like any other business, just getting by, if that.
Let me tell you this, I have been a banker for over thirty years. I have seen all sorts of businesses in all sorts of industries. Big, small, and everything in between. It was my job to analyze in detail their operation to determine if it was worth it to invest money in their company. I needed to ensure that I got my money back. Most of the time, I understood their financial condition better than they did themselves. Heck, I would say that was almost always the case. So, when I say that growing businesses are often financially strapped, I know what I am talking about. The fact of the matter is growing businesses are extremely risky.
Why? Because there are so many moving parts that it is very difficult to get a clear picture of what is truly going on. Decisions are made on gut feelings rather than profitability. Incompetent people are hired by an owner who is in over his/her head. Sometimes things work out, but not without a lot of pain. There is always lots of pain. However, a huge number of times things don’t work out. How many times have you heard that a church decides to buy/build an expensive building and say that they are acting on faith? What almost always happens? They struggle greatly as soon as it’s done. Decisions were made on gut feelings. Don’t kid yourselves, folks. Even if a church pays cash on hand for it, there will be financial burdens down the road.
Could it be, my friends, that the church sees itself as a business? Businesses equate growth to wealth. They view wealth as the primary motivator. What about the church? We see growth as proof that we are doing it right in God’s eyes, don’t we? Shrinking and stagnant churches are obviously doing something wrong, right? Growth is proof of God’s approval, is it not? After all, the more bodies mean the more people worshiping God. The more bodies, the better we must be doing.
What about all those bodies? Is that what is important? Do we think that more people are coming to Christ because we are growing? Is that the measure we are using?
Newsflash. You or I have nothing to do with someone’s salvation. Yes, we may be present at someone’s conversion. Then, again, probably not. God alone is the one who saves – not some polished pastor in a big church. Yes, we are to share the gospel; but if we think we are converting sinners, we will one day be surprised. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
I’m beginning to see things much differently than I once did. Honestly, I’m really questioning the “profitability” of church growth. As would any business owner who is making less the more his business grows, one has to wonder what all the effort is for. If big churches were truly full of people aflame with passion for the Lord, tithing would be a given. In reality, it isn’t. The fact of the matter is very few people trust the Lord enough to tithe. If tithing is a problem, could this be an indicator that something is wrong?
I have a suggestion for you. Many, if not most, of the letters in the New Testament have a paragraph right after the opening verse that offers thanksgiving to God for those to whom the letter is addressed. Read these and see what it is that the writers are thanking Him for. Hint: it’s not in praising the church for all the new buildings.
Father, show us what is truly important. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers