aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Two common congregational mistakes

I have said before that most congregations are no more complicated a social organism than a large Kiwanis club, except that they employ paid staff and have property to look after. It follows, then, that two of the commonest mistakes that congregations make concern paid staff and property. The first is to confuse what paid staff do with the ministry of the church; the other is to confuse maintenance of the property with the mission of the church.

Just to be clear, the ministry of the church is what is done by all the people who make up the church, while the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Paid staff can give great leadership to the actual ministry of the church, but they are not hired to do it on behalf of those who are too busy to do it. Likewise, nice buildings can make the mission of making disciples easier, but maintaining the property doesn't disciple anybody. That takes people.

Both of these common mistakes are magnified in financial discussions, since staff and property are both shockingly expensive. Congregations beginning to get anxious about their future (or their ability to pay for what they have become accustomed to) sometimes start to show an unhealthy interest in bottom lines. Keeping track of the bottom line is important, of course, but only if you know what, in fact, the bottom line is the bottom line of; that is, you can only evaluate things correctly if you know what you were supposed to derive from your expenditure.

The smallest portion of any congregation's budget is usually labeled something like "program." It consists of relatively small amounts of money for Sunday School literature, candles and sheet music, special events, VBS, etc. Because the amounts are small, people tend to think this is a less important region of the budget; however, they are misperceiving reality. This is the very life of the church. These are the things that people do that share Jesus with others. These are the things that change people's lives. These are the line items that support making disciples. They are small amounts because most of what happens in these areas is donated. People give their time and skills as volunteers -- and often buy their own supplies -- because this is the ministry to which Christ has called them. It doesn't cost the church much because it's mostly all off-budget.

The main thing, then, is to keep the main thing the main thing. A congregation which is constantly talking about how to do what they do in this area of activity will do great things. After they've talked about all the stuff that matters most, they can then talk a little about staff and buildings. But a congregation which spends too much time and energy talking about what the staff do, or how the building is used/maintained, or what either staff or buildings cost, is going to die, because such discussions squeeze out any room to talk about the stuff that matters most.

A Church Council that spends its time wrangling over job descriptions or negotiating building usage policies is presiding over its own funeral. For that matter, a Church Council that spends too much time poring over financial statements and arguing about how expenses are to be tracked will inevitably wind up spending too little time on the stuff that matters most, because the things that matter most are not the kind of thing that generates a lot of traffic or disagreement on a balance sheet. And that, once again, is just presiding over one's own funeral.

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