So I asked back, “How much do you think our trip to New York is costing us?” Placed on her guard, my interlocutor gave as low an estimate as she could dare come up with. She was still almost twice what the actual cost of our trip was. The whole deal is, we were doing it all ourselves. We were driving our own vehicles, camping on the ground in Boy Scout camps and State parks, cooking our own food, and so on. When you’re not paying someone else for putting it all together, it’s amazing how cheaply you can do things.
And it’s not just Scouty stuff. I was asked a few years ago to design a family camp for the folks in our church who were being priced out of the Conference camping program. So, I found a camp to rent, we cooked in the lodge kitchen for ourselves, and we did the full camp program: Bible study; crafts; swimming in the lake; games and contests; campfires; you name it — for less than half the price of the Conference camping program. Not only that, but given what I was hearing about the Conference program, we were actually delivering a better camp program.
The amazing thing is the low response we get when we advertise such things. Last year, I was recruiting Scouts to go to Africa on a major adventure for a ridiculous price — with heavy hints of major scholarship help. Couldn’t get a single Scout from our church’s program to go. There are days, I tell ya, when I feel like I’m giving away diamonds on street corners and can’t find a buyer.
But the same thing applies, generally, to the whole work of ministry. Yeah, the church budget is a chunk of money. It pays for staff salaries, operating and maintenance costs, office expense, and institutional support. Those are the big categories. But that’s just what it costs to keep the opportunity in being. That’s not what it costs to do ministry.
Ministry, on the one hand, is incredibly cheap. It’s just you and me and those guys off serving Jesus. There isn’t a big cost to doing Bible study, or praying together, or helping others. The big transformation that comes from serving Jesus is basically free. On the other hand, ministry will cost you everything you have to give, since what you’re really spending to do it is yourself. You have to grow spiritually in order to help others grow. You have to risk yourself in order to gain the rewards. You have to do things the long, hard way in order to see what God can do in your and others’ lives.
It’s like C.S. Lewis observed in his little poem,
I woke from a fool’s dream to find all spent
Except for one little sixpence, worn and bent.
The same day, in the nick of time, I found
The market where my sixpence buys a pound.
Sirs, tell me was the bargain good or bad?
The price was cheap. The price was all I had.