Thursday, August 04, 2005

Compare and Contrast

First: there is going to be a strong need in these posts to keep in mind that "judgment" involves two sometimes contrary positions: discernment, and privilege. I will try to err on the side of discernment, and avoid the position of privilege (i.e., standing apart and claiming no connection to the item held in judgment). The fundamental teaching of Christianity, to me, is that we are all servants, no one above the other, no one fit to sit in judgment on the other. Still, we have to be discerning, to distinguish good from bad, God-sent from deceptive. Examples from the stories of the Desert Fathers will fit into that theme, and I will come back with them later. But first, let me mention this link from the Houston Chronicle before it fades behind a "subscriber's only" firewall, a link courtesy of leah in the comments.

Ironically, I receive still an unsolicitied magazine directed at pastors, all about the "business of your ministry." The one think I never thought of my ministry as, of course, is a business. But Joel Osteen knows otherwise, and concludes that business=stewardship. Perhaps it does.

From the article, we learn this:

"We have to be good stewards of God's money, so we run it by sound, solid business principles," said Osteen, who this year stopped taking his $200,000 salary from the church and instead lives on profits from sales of his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, which has sold 2.8 million copies.

The documents show revenue for the 2004 fiscal year of $54 million, including $3.4 million from the church bookstore, which sells religious videos, CDs and books.

Records also show:

•It owns and operates KTBU Channel 55, "The Tube," a local television station that features religious shows and retro programming like Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy.
•Employees have access to retirement plans.
•It has had a multimillion-dollar line of credit at Northern Trust Bank and has seven-figure investments in securities..
•Lakewood structured a sophisticated $60 million construction loan with Bank of America to revamp its new home at the former Compaq Center using collateral pledges from its members, a deed of trust on its northeast Houston campus and a life insurance policy for Joel Osteen.
•The church has successfully sued to protect Joel Osteen's name as a valuable trademark.
•Osteen, who lives in a home appraised at $2.3 million in the ritzy Tanglewood neighborhood, is listed as president of Lakewood Church, a nonprofit organization. (A spokesman for the church noted that Osteen paid $380,000 for the home when he bought it, though it has since been remodeled.)
If Lakewood is to be compared to a business, there is no doubt it is family-run:

Osteen's wife, Victoria, his mother, brother, sister and in-laws all play central roles.

Kevin Comes, who is married to Joel Osteen's sister, Lisa, who also is a pastor at the church, is the administrator who handles the day-to-day business. He attributes much of the success to penny-pinching.

"We have an incredible budgeting system," Comes said. "We budget all the way down to hot chocolate."

Comes said Lakewood has done "significant analysis" that shows the church will increase its revenue by 42 percent, from $54 million in fiscal year 2004 to $77 million in the current fiscal year, 2006. At the same time, annual operating expenses will rise from
$45 million to $75 million.

Comes said the increased revenue will come from a sharp increase in weekend attendance — already at 30,000 strong before the church moved into the former Compaq Center. Worshippers are encouraged to tithe 10 percent or more of their income annually.

Now, the compare and contrast, which, admittedly, is a bit unfair. But an example, then, of how it "doesn't have to be this way." Other choices are available. And since our culture honors bigger and richer as better, Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church here in Houston is a good example for this comparison. Here is their mission statement:

* First, our house shall be called a house of prayer. (Matthew 21:13) Prayer guides our major policy decisions as well as our everyday lives. Our Partners in Prayer commit to fulfilling our goal that every member be prayed for every day.
* Second, in obedience to Christ's teaching, we are committed to a Dollar-for-Dollar benevolence program. Since our beginning in 1954 and continuing to the present, we annually set a goal of matching the money spent in the operation of the church and its programs with giving to those in need in the community and the world.

You might want to browse their website. They have a large campus, which I have visited because my daughter's school is nearby, and she's had athletic practices on the church's grounds, and because it has hosted Boy Scout events I attended as a church pastor. It's a large, wealthy church in a very wealthy part of town. And, apparently, like many a large church, it is building a satellite campus. But focuse on that second part of the their mission statement. So far as I know, they are still doing that: matching every dollar spent on themselves, with a dollar spent on mission work.

Imagine if every church did that.

What does Lakewood do? The article doesn't say, but if it is the typical "mega church," most of the money it raises is spent on itself.

It's common for a megachurch to have annual revenue in the millions of dollars, and for most if not all of that money to be spent on construction, highly produced services, advertising, promotion and broadcasting, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The average annual income for a megachurch was $4.8 million, with expenditures of $4.4 million, according to a 2000 Hartford study.

I can tell you from my experience that a church with a full time pastor needs a minimum of $100,000 to operate, and half of that will go to pay the pastor (taxes, housing, salary, books, etc.). Usually a tiny percentage of what is left over is dedicated to mission, and when most churches get in financial trouble, mission is the first item reduced, because it is considered most expendable. Now, this isn't a question of judgment, or critique, but of discernment. We all tend to start from "home." Indeed, it is a recognized sociological principle that groups form around a central idea, and the protection of that idea is paramount to the group. Only when the central idea, the formative notion, is secure, does the group feel secure in reaching out to others. Threaten that core, and the group contracts, "circles the wagons," and fears for its continued existence. Non-denominational churches and churches with weak denominational polities tend to be most vulnerable to this kind of terror, what I have called elsewhere this mysterium tremndums. A mysterium tremendums because the core of any Christian church is God, the ultimate unknown, whose very call to us is to love our neighbor and care for them as if they were God. But does that care start at home? Or does care for home, start with care for neighbor?

Memorial Drive Presbyterian is not a monastery, of course, where the members voluntarily give up almost everything in order to serve others as fully as possible. But it is much further down the road twoard that goal than a ministry that sees itself first as a business, and only latterly, if at all, as a mission; or that sees it mission, as a business.

Or so it seems to me.

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