Thursday, March 29, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Sacrificial, Frugal, and Transparent

So far, the items on my list of the attributes of a serious Church include, “Purposeful”, “Holy”, “Non-Manipulative”, and “Introspective”. Today, “Sacrificial”, “Frugal”, and “Transparent” get added to my list.

Sacrificial: Do the leaders and members of a Church live below the rest of the people in their community? Do the leaders and members of a Church tithe before they shop or do they shop before they tithe? Do leaders of a Church live in homes nicer than the Church facilities or are the Church facilities at least as nice as their homes?

Believers can’t buy everything their neighbors buy, own everything their neighbors own, wear everything their neighbors wear, drive the same cars as their neighbors, vacation like their neighbors, and do everything their neighbors are doing if the believers are tithing a sacrificial amount of income to their Church. Non-believers who do not tithe will always have more disposable income.

Members often complain about the amount of resources that are spent constructing and maintaining Church facilities. Their argument is based on the belief that changing the hearts of others shouldn’t require buildings or facilities. Families shouldn’t require multiple bathrooms, multiple cars, multiple televisions, backyards, parks, and all sorts of other external items, but we do, and so does the Gospel require an appropriate external representation of the People who belong to a Church.

Church facilities do not need to be elaborate, but every building, every vehicle, and all other Church property should be built, cleaned, and maintained as if honored guests were coming for dinner, because they are. Every visitor to a Church is an honored guest.

Serious leaders of serious Churches maintain appropriate facilities by sacrificing some of their own comfort and personal desires. Churches with leaders who live in houses nicer than their Church facilities are not serious.

Frugal: Do the leaders of a Church who are responsible for budgeting and spending treat the financial gifts to the Church as holy resources? Do the leaders of a Church sweat the financial decisions of the Church even after an appropriate time and amount of prayer? Do the leaders of a Church honor the contributions coming from those living on minimum wage or fixed incomes?

“Spend it or lose it” is the mantra within government organizations. Every leader of every government agency knows that if they don’t spend their allotted budget, they will have less to spend the following fiscal year. “If” to spend is never even considered. “Where” to spend is the only question that most government leaders ever ask themselves.

Most Churches aren’t much different than most government agencies when it comes to budgeting and spending. Leaders spend every penny that is offered and then hope for more. Wouldn’t it be great to be sitting in Church on a Sunday morning when the leaders give some of the offering back because it isn’t needed? Crazy fantasy, I know!

Frugal does not mean cheap. Paying the lowest price rarely results in getting the best value. Churches that spend the appropriate amount, at the appropriate time, for the appropriate purposes are serious Churches. Churches that spend what they get when they get it are not serious.

Transparent: Is the Church open and honest in all matters or does the Church hide the reason for a decision or the outcome of a decision in order to avoid embarrassment or conflict? Do believers in a Church confess their sins openly and honestly?

Churches are comprised of humans who, like all humans, hate to be embarrassed and tend to avoid conflict. Leaders want to be perceived as less mortal, more right, less inclined to making mistakes, and above criticism. Church leaders carry the extra burden of high moral and ethical expectations from the regulars at their Church. When leaders want to be perceived as pure, and followers want to perceive their leaders as pure, lots of dishonesty and secrets transpire in order to maintain the illusion of purity.

As a young Catholic, I had regular meetings with a Parish Priest through a confessional window. I confessed what I thought were my sins because I was expected to confess my sins. My confessions and the absolution of my sins were not particularly meaningful to the rest of my life because I knew God already knew what I had done. Later, as an adult, a Priest explained to me that he was representing a community of believers during the sacrament of confession in order to allow believers a way to confess how they had sinned against the community. Confession isn’t about telling God what he already knows; confession is about the health of a community.

Protestant Churches don’t have formal confessions or regular confession time. Perhaps regular or formal confessions would conflict with my “Non-Manipulative” attribute, but Protestants are expected to confess their sins to one another.

Serious leaders of serious Churches are honest and open about their decisions and their mistakes. Serious leaders ask for forgiveness when they hurt their Church. Churches that maintain an illusion of purity are not serious.


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