February 4, 2007

God, Mammon and Ministry

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 4:43 pm

An interesting issue has come up at church. This is a happy problem, not one of those controversies that can rip a church apart, and no one’s threatening to leave the church over it. A cellular telecommunications company has offered us a tidy sum in return for installing cellular transmitters on our bell-tower, something like $20,000 a year.

When this came up at our annual congregational meeting a couple weeks ago, several people expressed concerns over potential health and safety issues. The choir loft is underneath the bell-tower, and some were worried whether it would be safe for those sitting there. We’re in earthquake country, so there were questions about what would happen to the transmitters in an earthquake. Lest anyone think these concerns are just due to an ignorant technophobia, one of those voicing these concerns is a rocket scientist. No, really, he’s a real rocket scientist, with a PhD in Physics from, I think, MIT. So these concerns are well-founded, valid, and not to be dismissed out of hand.

I spoke up during the meeting, though, with another view. After the meeting, I got an email from my rocket scientist friend asking for more input, and herewith my reply to him:

Thanks for asking for my input. Let me try to explain where I was coming from.

In the meeting, it seemed that everyone was pointing out the potential problems, the downside, as if they were looking for a reason to reject the proposal. I understand there are potential problems, and I’m not minimizing those, but I believe we should also look at the upside, which is the money, and money = ministry. For this reason, we should be working to find a way to make it work instead of finding reasons to turn it down.

I don’t have a preconceived idea of what the money should be used for […] But let me just give some examples to make my point. During Christmas we had that program where you could buy an animal for someone in the third world for Christmas. Think of how many goats $20,000 would buy! Or how many students [at our local community college where we help needy students with meals] we could help with $20,000! Or how many scholarships to [our church’s K-8 school] we could give! We need to remember that we are to be about ministry, and that takes our time and effort, but also money, and here is an opportunity to get some funding for ministry.

I’m sure if you and [another member with concerns] worked through the issues with the telecom company we could reach a deal that would work for them and for us, and would give us some money for ministry. That’s what I’m hoping for.

Thanks for asking.

Grace and Peace,

-Bob

Christians have always had a conflicted relationship with money. On the one extreme, there is the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and his ilk, or John Tetzel’s selling of indulgences in the Catholic church 500 years ago. For them, money is a way to buy favor from God. At the other extreme is the monastic vow of poverty or the Puritan condemnation of money as the root of all evil. Meanwhile, most churches struggle to balance their budget year after year, while a handful of megachurches are able to raise money for extravagant building programs. Christianity seems to have a love-hate relationship with money.

But we need to remember that it takes money to do ministry, and the more money we raise, the more ministry we can do. Not that we should ever put the health and safety of our congregations at risk, but neither should we be so risk averse that we don’t seize opportunities to expand our ministry. I trust that those in my church investigating this cellular deal will make the right decision. I just want them to remember that sometimes God and Mammon are on the same side.

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