I've been thinking a lot lately about money.
Central, my church, is going through a bit of a financial crisis. We've been here before, a few times, in the almost-decade I've been a pastor here. For a variety of reasons, giving fluctuates up and down, and spending fluctuates up and down. If giving hits a down, as it has for the last four or five months, and spending hits an up, which it has for the last few months as well, then things get out of hand.
In household management, you would anticipate this. You would know the pink slip came, or the cutbacks at work, or the temporary layoffs, or whatever, were a reality, and you'd plan for it. Central's budget is complex enough that it's hard to anticipate, and you never know what people are going to give until a couple days later when the offering gets counted.
So partly this is just the reality of church work. Sometimes you get caught short.
That's not really the part of this I've been thinking about. No, I'm thinking about how much Jesus talked about money. He didn't offer a short course for the disciples on church budget management. In fact, I can't think of a single time Jesus talked about the community budget, except maybe when he told Judas to go and do quickly what he had to do -- and some of the Twelve misunderstood, and thought he was talking about giving something out of the common purse to the poor.
When Jesus talked about money, he was usually -- almost always -- using it like a canary in the coal mine, watching the money to see what the state of your heart is. (Read Matthew 6 for a really good example of how Jesus does this.) Jesus says flat out that where you spend your money, that's where your priorities are.
So more than anything, the last few months at Central say we still have a lot to do to change people's hearts, engage people with Jesus, encourage people to get in the game and really surrender themselves to him. Dollars are the surest way to see if that's happening.
In some ways, I suppose what's going on now is a failure on the part of our three preachers. We haven't talked a lot about money specifically for a couple years. Instead we've preached a high commitment message and have figured that people would figure it out. I guess we need to spell it out a little more clearly.
Lent is not a bad time for this kind of reflection, by the way. Jesus is going to the cross to bleed and die for us. How will we respond? Good stuff to be thinking about.