Does the Church need to Act Poor?

While I was away on vacation, my brother sent me a link to the following article:

Why churches are poor—By Rebekah Simon-Peter

Simon-Peter makes a number of interesting points around the question of whether it is “theologically necessary” for churches to  “act poor,” by which she means allowing money to be the limiting factor in our ministries.  For example, she asks:

What if we were to pray that God direct the riches of the world to us and through us to bring about healing, reconciliation, justice and wholeness in our communities and world? I wonder what might happen then?

We need a new consciousness around money — one that allows us to be honest about our needs and the unlimited God we serve. Money is not in short supply. But if we believe it is, we will act, and ask, accordingly.

. . . .

Money makes the world go ’round. And churches need it as much if not more than other organizations. We have holy business to attend to: acts of justice, works of mercy, support of denominational initiatives, paying the salary and benefits of leaders, mortgages, heat, light, etc.

So why these mixed messages about money? Why awkward silences and the lack of clear direction or invitation? The truth is, many people want to express their gratitude to God, yet they don’t participate in the offering.

These are the kinds of questions we have been working to ask at Holy Trinity, not only with regard to money but also with regard to people and other types of resources.

Now at Holy Trinity we have no need to “act poor” in the sense of pretending. We are genuinely having trouble paying our bills. In recent months, however, we have abandoned some of the following behaviors where we found ourselves “acting poor”:

  • hiding our real financial needs from ourselves by refusing to look at the budget
  • hiding our real ministry needs from ourselves by allowing a few people to do most of the work, regardless of whether they are called to or suited for that ministry
  • spending whatever money happens to be in the checking account “because it’s there to be spent” rather than looking ahead to what our needs might be over the coming months
  • refusing to ask for pledges from the congregation or to teach about what a faithful pledge might look like

In the meantime, we have been adopting behaviors along the lines that Simon-Peter suggests, as we consider the work to which God is calling us on the West Side of South Bend. For example, we have been:

  • asking God to supply our needs, not simply naming those needs as a matter of honesty but also trusting God to meet them as a matter of faith
  • assessing the gifts that we do have—such as really amazing hospitality—and praying that God will direct us in using those gifts for the benefit of our neighbors
  • forming relationships with our neighbors as a first step towards bringing about healing, reconciliation, justice and wholeness in our community

Instead of responding to our financial crisis by cutting back on outreach, we have decided to expand our outreach ministries. For example, we have decided to to invite the other Episcopal Churches in the area, nearby churches from other denominations, and other civic groups to join us in Soup After School so that we can offer it every week instead of just one week a month. When we do a fundraiser like Holy Smoke! we make sure that our neighbors are welcome and fed, regardless of their ability to contribute financially.

We are, slowly but surely, dealing with our financial crisis. Thanks be to God, who is turning a shortage of funds into an abundance of blessing!

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