It's (not) about money

(A letter to my congregation)

The Big Question

A friend of mine realized that she only had one friend who went to church. As someone who cares deeply about the church, she wondered why it was. And so she began to ask them, “Why don’t you go to church?”  The answers startled her. It wasn’t what she was expecting at all. The number one answer that she received was, “I can’t afford it.”
Carol Howard Merritt, pastor and author of Tribal Church shared this in a recent blogpost.  As we enter again into “stewardship season,” where we take time to reflect on what we will pledge to the church in the coming year, I am reminded of her words.
She goes on to say that young people, with student loan debt and most of their money going to rent and taxes, don’t have much to spare, and many see church as something that requires money.  A pastor friend of mine heard a similar sentiment coming from her confirmation class. A couple of kids said they didn’t want to join the church because it would cost them too much money.
This intrigued me, because it says something about what they believe church is.  And it begs the question of all of us, What is church?  Is it a social club with membership dues and a building to maintain?  Is it a mission organization? For what?  To get people to believe the same way as “us”?  Is it a charity?  Or a middle-man who decides which charities your money should support?  If it is these things, no wonder people think they can’t afford it.  

In a difficult economic time, when money is tight, why would you want to join a social club with pressure to give money?  People have their own utilities to pay and homes to take care of, why would they want to be responsible for a church building, too?  And I suspect that if they are going to give money away, most people would choose a charity that supports something specific they believe in, and it wouldn’t be one that uses a large portion if its budget sustaining itself.
So here we go into another budget planning year, considering again the meaning of stewardship, and we are faced with some questions.  If the church is merely a social club, or a relic from the past to maintain for sentimental reasons, if it is a charity that only gives a small percentage of its money away, then I, for one, don’t want anything to do with it.  I want my money to make a difference and I want the things I give my time and energy to, to matter.  And frankly, there are better social clubs with more exciting benefits and relaxing activities.  There are charities out there with much more efficient and targeted ways of helping people.  And there are much less risky investments to be made.
But I write this as a pastor of a small congregation that perpetually and knowingly spends more than it takes in, sustained in part by the gifts of those gone before.  I write this as someone who personally strives to give generously, and sometimes does so nervously because it feels like more than I can “afford.”  I write this as someone participating, investing, committing, with my time, energy, prayer, family and money, to church.  And you are too.  Why?
So, I want to ask us a question.  I want to ask you a question. The question is not, Why do you go to church?  Because that means church is something we go to.  Church is not something we go to.  It is something that we are.  The question is not Why should do you give money to church?  Because if it is about where to give money, there are lots of other places to give it and even compelling reasons not to give it to a church, (and “should” questions rarely have life in them anyway). The question is bigger than these.
The question I want us to ponder gets at why we go to church, why we give money to church, and why we are part of this mysterious and strange thing called “church” that seems to defy cultural categories and logic.  I want us to think about why we are involved in this thing at all.  Why are we part of this collection of people committed to this thing that has something to do with God’s love, something to do with loving each other, something to do with loving the world? What is church to you?
It probably includes charitable giving, and I’m sure it involves socializing.  It likely has something to do with what the people and place have meant to you in the past, and wanting to care well for that which is entrusted to you.  But I suspect that for you to be here, willing to share your energy, intelligence, love, and your money, it is also much more than these things. 
I have deep convictions and faith about what God is doing and how we are participating.  I even happen to think God has this little congregation in this time and place for a reason – that we are right where God wants us to be.  I know that the Church goes far beyond our little expression of it in our little corner of the world.  And being the church with each other for the world goes far deeper than socializing or charity. I think we’re part of something gripping, life-changing and world-shaping, something sacred and beautiful in its ordinariness.  I’m committed. I’m in.  And most likely, if you’re reading this, you’re in, too.  I want to know why.
Over the next few weeks, I want you to consider, What is church to me?  We’ll be sharing our thoughts with one another in a few different ways as we celebrate and commit to another year of life and ministry together as the part of the Body of Christ called Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church.
~ Kara

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