>Time to Turn Cartwheels of Joy

>This was the first thing I read.

After a financial meeting this morning.

Honest.

This is it.

Really.

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>An Atheist Look at Church Giving (The New Tithe)

>This is found over at “The Good Atheist” and is interesting how it looks at church giving.   It makes it sound like we’re rolling in dough and, I think, equates all churches with the megachurches (which, to be honest) get all the press.

Their article states:

I can’t imagine a bigger waste of money than giving it to churches. Seriously. It would actually be more productive if you threw it away in the garbage, since at least in this instance some poor homeless guy might actually find some of it.

Here’s the video:

What do you think?

(HT/ Christian Nightmares)

>"A Good Thing" — What Took Place in Worship This Sunday

>Cheque sample for a fictional bank in Canada. ...Image via WikipediaLast week I sent the following e-mail out to the congregation.   I sent it with some fear and trembling, recognizing that I was asking a lot when we’re having some economic difficulties (to say the least).  But I sent it out believing that it was a faithful response a need from the community — that I really can’t say too much about.

Here it is:

Friends,

We have a need in our community that has come to light just recently.  This is a financial need in the amount of $1,300.  In order to protect the privacy of those involved I cannot reveal much more than this.  I know that my vagueness might make it difficult to get behind this request.  I understand this.  However, I hope that my 11 years here has built up some trust and you understand that I wouldn’t ask the people of our church to get behind a local mission need if I didn’t believe that it was the right thing for us to do as we try to faithfully witness to Christ in this place.  This is so particularly in light of the financial realities we have as we live into our new facility,

I have been in dialogue with __________ and _________ (two of our financial leaders) along with some of my clergy colleagues in Anchorage.  We have talked about how to best meet this pressing need while allowing the greatest chance of resolution of the current problem by maintaining the anonymity of those involved.  We also talked about how best to phrase this very email, recognizing that it was a difficult thing to do.  Please know that, beyond the financial component, other steps are being taken to help.

This is a leap of faith…faith in my judgment and faith that God can use our collective gifts to help bring healing to a troubling situation.  The identities of those being helped may or may not be revealed at some point in the future.  It will be up to them.  This is hard.  But, perhaps, as we try to pay off debt, as we make improvements to the building as required, as we look at heating bills and lighting bills, etc….perhaps this is a way for us to really BE the church.

If you can help in any amount, your gift will be well-used.  It will be used to help a very local mission situation.

Thank you.

We’ll take up a special offering this week.  Please pray about how you can help meet this very real need.

Remember our mission:  “Love God.  Love others.  Change the world.”

Peace,

Jim

Well, on Sunday, I made the appeal again recognizing that it was asking a lot of the congregation.  I know persons are more inclined to give when they “know” where the money is going.  I know it helps to see the faces and hear the stories to make it personal.  But it couldn’t happen this time around.

And the congregation responded very well.  I asked for $1,300.  $2,150 was given.  And the persons to whom the money will go are relieved…for now.  There are other issues at hand and we’re trying to hook them up with the resources they need.  And, hopefully, we can start to meet some of the immediate needs in the day-to-day running of the church (e.g. light bill, mortgage, construction bills still needing to be paid).

But this was a time “for the church to be the church” giving because it is good to give.

It was a good thing.

It was a God thing.

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>When Benchmarks Become the Goal — A Pedometer Parable

>PedometerImage via WikipediaYesterday I got up dutifully with my son to make sure he got to the bus at 6:10 AM.  Then I was on my way to the gym to work out…something I’ve been trying to do for a few weeks now to lose weight (because I need to) and get healthy (because it’s a good thing).  I can’t say I’m always ready and willing at that hour, but I was good to go yesterday and I was looking forward to some time on the elliptical trainer and some weight lifting.

An added driving force is this new pedometer I have through “Virgin HealthMiles.”  It’s something through our insurance company where there’s cash and other bonuses for folks who are taking their daily steps, with challenges against other clergy in other areas and personal challenges.  And, let’s face it…it’s a good thing.  Getting clergy active, considering our generally poor health record, has got to help.  Last time I tried to set up one of the pedometer accounts it wasn’t compatible with Mac Computers, so I didn’t sign up.  That’s changed now and I’m counting my steps…and trying to get 7499 steps per day (I don’t know where the number comes from.  But it’s a goal.

Yesterday after my son was on the bus I made my way to the hotel, slid across the ice in the parking lot (since I had forgotten my grippers in an act of poor planning), and made my way to the hotel.  As I got to the door my heart sunk because I realized I had forgotten my pedometer at home.  But…but…but…I was going to miss all of those steps on the elliptical trainer!  I was going to miss all of those steps on the long walk to the health center in the hotel!  I was going to have trouble meeting my pedometer goal for the day!  Literally, my heart sunk.  I could feel it.  And I actually questioned, for a brief moment, IF IT WAS WORTH GOING THROUGH WITH IT AT ALL!

What a silly thought.  Even after just a short time with the pedometer in my life, keeping track of the benchmark of the number of steps taken through the day I had, for a moment, mistaken the benchmark for the goal.  I had placed my recording of steps in front of the ultimate goal of getting healthy.  I had forgotten to keep the main thing the main thing. 

Benchmarks are important.  They are measureables.  I think keeping track of steps is a good indicator of health.  But there are other ways to get healthy and this is just one of the factors. 

I think benchmark testing in schools is a good thing.  It gives an indication of how education is going across a large spectrum.  But it’s possible to come to the realization that some teachers end up teaching to meet the benchmarks and not to educate the children.

And benchmarks are important in church life, too.  What is membership like?  Is it going up or down?  What percentage of a church’s budget is going to missions?  How many persons were baptized last year?

But sometimes clergy and churches try to protect their benchmarks to the detriment of ministry.  Many a pastor has kept long-gone members on their membership rolls to pad their membership numbers.  And I was told about a pastor of mine who, when counting attendance on a Sunday, used to add about 10% for all the people he believed were in fellowship hall getting coffee.

As our church deals with some financial realities about being in our new space, we have some benchmarks of our own.  They’re dollar figures.  And I confess that, with them looming over our heads, it can be tempting to think of ministry as “HOW CAN WE MAXIMIZE OUR INCOME” and not “HOW CAN WE MAKE MORE DISCIPLES FOR JESUS CHRIST IN THE WORLD.” 

For instance, yesterday at a clergy gathering, it was mentioned how Girdwood Chapel has taken one or two Sundays “off” each year to engage in service projects in our community.  It’s a way to be reminded of our community and also, through service, to be reminded of how Christ has served us.  And we’ve done so willingly, with lots of participation.  However, it has meant a hit to our finances…no offering collected.  One of the other clergy asked if we were doing it this year and I said that it will be a challenge because of what our finances look like.

In other words, our need to show an increase in income was getting in the way of faithful ministry.  Our benchmark may be getting in the way of the goal.  We might be forgetting to keep the main thing the main thing.

That said, I’m gonna keep my odometer on me today.  Sure, I want to be healthy.  But I also don’t want to lose any “steps” along the way.

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>Some Things I’m Learning About

>ABC LearningImage via WikipediaI saw a couple of blog posts last week from clergy type folk talking about what it is that they are learning about at this point in their ministry.  I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’m learning at this point.

1)  MISSIONAL THEOLOGY — How the church participates in the MISSIO DEI — The sending of God.  This is looking at the church as a place from which we are sent.  You have the church gathered (on Sunday AMs for instance) and the church sent (as we go from that place).  So primacy is placed on how people are the embodiment of Christ on the “other” days of the week.

2)  COMMUNITY BASED MINISTRY — I think this comes before the missional theology.  For the last few years we’ve been working to turn Girdwood Chapel outward and be a place that is involved in ministry in the community.  Now that we have a new building, we’re looking at how that space can be used to “be Christ” to the community and how we can love our neighbors through that space.

3)  MONEY —  We are in debt as a church.  I’m learning about the various ways we got to where we are and am part of conversation about how to get out, knowing that we need to continue to be involved in ministry as we do this.

4)  SMALL GROUPS — Yeah, I’ve always known they are important for “disciple-making” and support, but it is taking on an urgency as I question how good a job we’ve been doing at making disciples.  And since I’ve been around over 10 years I can’t say I haven’t had time.

5)  ADMINISTRATION — You don’t go through a church-building process and not learn some of this.  There is a whole lot of coordination that has had to happen to get us where we are.

6)  RELYING ON THE POWER OF GOD — The longer I’ve been in Girdwood, the less I’ve felt like I have the tools, the gifts to make stuff happen.  When I first came into ministry in 1994, I was pretty sure I could do this all myself.  I don’t have that belief anymore.  I am dependent upon the power of God to do anything.

7)  TAKING CARE OF MYSELF — I’m 41 years old, gettin’ on 42 (where I think I’m supposed to learn the meaning of life, the universe, and everything).  I’m overweight.  I’m in a high stress job as I enter into people’s pains and have administrative responsibility for a 1.5 million dollar facility and the care of the spiritual lives of about 75 persons, not counting community responsibilities for those who won’t ever come to church.  Our family’s been struggling with schedules with our 5 kids.  I haven’t been real good at delegating.   I need to do better at taking care of myself. I’d like to be around for a while.

8)  JESUS — Yeah, not a bad person to learn from.  But I’m finding the current sermon series on the person and work of Jesus to be refreshing.  Tough stuff.  Good stuff.  

I’m sure I could think of others if I took more time.  I’ll probably do a little more reflection on this over the coming week and come back with some revisions. Now I need to go and get ready for worship.

God is good.  All the time.

And he ain’t done with me yet.

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>Setting The Pastor’s Salary

>money rollphoto © 2007 zack Mccarthy | more info (via: Wylio)
Setting my salary has always been a somewhat uncomfortable affair.  From a worldly sense, I know that I could be making more money elsewhere…you know doing something that’s NOT what God called me to…like, I don’t know…acting or graphic design or something with computers…wait…take off acting…too many struggling actors.

Anyway, I always find it difficult to ask for money from a congregation that doesn’t have much expendable income when, really, I can’t see myself doing anything else anyway.  What was it that I was told way back in the early days of exploring ministry?  “Don’t be a pastor unless you can’t do anything else!”  (In other words, “don’t be a pastor unless this is what God and persons have called you to”…not “don’t be a pastor unless you are totally unskilled or gifted in any other area.”  I like what I do.  I like the intimacy.  I like the worship.  I like the study.  I can be a little uncomfortable around the financial numbers when they’re about me, though.

So, when it’s time to set my salary at Girdwood, (which it was last week) I’ve appreciated that there’s not much wiggle room.  We don’t have much money, so they aren’t going to pay me much more than the minimum.  And “the minimum” is set.  So, this is not a tough bargaining arrangement.

But, this leaves open what type of framework should we use when discussing salary issues with our pastor.  I found the following over at The Resurgence helpful in this regard.  I hope to use it next time I need to sit down and discuss salary. It, at least brings the discussion along Biblical lines.

Scriptures that the senior pastor should bear in mind:

  • I am not doing this for gain (2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Tim. 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:5; Titus 1:7).
  • I am free from love of money, and am content trusting God (Heb. 11:5-6).
  • I am above reproach, and at pains to do what is right in the eyes of God and man (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Cor 8:21).
  • My followers owe me nothing—I will gladly spend myself for them (2 Cor. 12:14).
  • I consider devotion to me as if to God; I will pour it out to the Lord (1 Chron. 11:18).

Scriptures that those who help set the pastor’s salary should bear in mind:

  • My leaders are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).
  • My aim is to make their lives a joy (Heb. 13:17).
  • I can be attentive to their needs, and quick to try to help, and alert to give them support and encouragement (1 Chron. 11:18).
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