In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. – Romans 12:5 (CEB)
When I was an Elder, we had the responsibility of following up on the annual stewardship campaign. Twice, this also included calling to discuss last year’s pledge and whether the member would be completing it or not.
I hated these phone calls.
I’m a CPA, so I get budgets, revenues, expenses, etc. But how I approached it at church was different. I still believe in fiscal responsibility, but I’m not sure that my fiduciary responsibility in the church was the same as if I were on a board. Why? Because I had vowed to discern the congregation’s fidelity to the Word and to lead and guide them in living out their faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Which responsibility was greater: balancing the budget or allowing the Spirit to freely lead us?
Having a responsibility to the budget, I dutifully made my phone calls. Why did I hate them? It wasn’t necessary having to talk about money or even asking for it. Part of it was because money was the basis for the calls. For people I didn’t know (it’s a large church), this was my only point of personal contact with them. I never called to inquire on their spiritual journey or to invite them to some new program at church. I was only tasked to call when they didn’t complete their pledge or hadn’t turned in their card.
For those I did know, I didn’t want to know details of their giving. Calling if they just forgot to turn in the card is one thing, but calling because I can see how much they pledged and how much they’d given to date was another. It was even worse when it was a friend because they thought I was calling for something completely different and then I’m bringing up the fact that they hadn’t completed their pledge.
Did I say I hated these calls?
Out of all the calls I made during the three years I was on Session, two stand out most in my mind. Both were with individuals I didn’t personally know.
- The first was with a man who sold cars for a living and this was the only job he really knew. This market had been bad for sometime, so when I called about him completing his pledge, it was clear he could not do so. I didn’t lay a guilt trip on him (nor were we supposed to), but just listened as he said how bad it’s been. I told him that I understood that circumstances change, and it was OK. Then he said that he needed a new job in a different industry and could I pray for that. So we did and then I hung up. But I don’t think I was really the Church to him. Why didn’t we know that he was having financial problems, or at least that it may be an issue given his profession? And how were we going to care for him now that we did know?
- The second call was with a couple who were long-time members and told me they were leaving the church. They had been worshipping elsewhere for sometime and had been meaning to talk with our senior pastor. I listened to why they were leaving, and said that I was sorry – but also I was glad they have found a community to worship with. After all, our congregation is just one member of the Body and not everyone wants to be a foot. I passed on the information to our senior pastor who received the promised phone call the next week. Even though I had never met this couple, I sent them a card saying that I was thankful we had been in the same community and offering blessings as they began to worship with a new community – however, I felt that our church would be a little “less” without them there because we belong to one another. Was I Church to him too late?
Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6 (CEB)
These two calls were difficult but not for the reason I was originally calling. Cold calling about anything is difficult but it doesn’t seem we should ever be doing that in the Church.
How can someone we are a part of be a cold call?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church lately: what it means to be the Church, how we are the Church, what the Church can (and should) look like in and among the world. I don’t think there is any one model or way to be. But it seems, there is only one mission. And that mission isn’t making cold calls about money – or anything else.
It isn’t possible for everyone in a large church to know each other. I get that. But it seems that everyone should be known by someone. It also seems that before we call about a pledge that hasn’t been fulfilled, a card that hasn’t been turned in, classes that have been missed or worship that has not been attended, we should have some idea why – or know someone who does.
I don’t write this to critique stewardship or attendance programs but to ask the deeper question of what the Church is here for. Why do we gather together in the same time and place each week rather than just worshipping at home or bouncing from one church to the other? Where is it that the church expends its time and angst and would it be something we would want to discuss with Jesus if he showed up to preach at our church this Sunday?
The Church exists because God desires it. We participate because Christ invites us. We are only true to God’s mission when we allow the Spirit to lead us. Are we participating in the Church and mission we have been invited to or have we created something of our own making? And are we able to tell the difference?
I welcome your thoughts. What does it mean to be the Church?