People spend money on what they value and time on what they value.

That’s not rocket science, but its something for those of us who lead churches to consider. When offerings are down or attendances are down people are making a statement as to what they value.

When offerings are down people are saying ‘I see it as better value to put my money into XYZ’, whether that’s a holiday, a new car, some renovations, private school fees or even other mission organisations…  Where we apportion our money is always a value judgement.

Then when numbers are down on Sundays this communicates that people are saying there is more value in me doing XYZ than going to church. So it may be that people feel their valuable time is better spent at the beach, lazing in bed, hanging out with a partner because the rest of the week is so busy, or perhaps taking off for the weekend. But as with money, how we use our time is always a statement of value.

As church leaders we would like people to place high value on contributing to the needs of the community financially, and being part of the community on a Sunday, but what do we do when this is not happening, when funds are low and attendances are down?

I don’t think we berate people. I don’t think we stick it up people and tell them to pull their finger out. That won’t work.

Because it doesn’t change their perception of value.

It just pisses them off and puts them in an awkward place, where they now feel bad, obliged and either forced to conform or in a place where they now worry that they are being frowned upon. Its not a good place to work from.

If telling people to shape up to expectations isn’t the solution then what is?…

Somehow we need to shift their perception of value. It may be that they have got lost in the haze of selfism, narcissism and consumerism that is our society today and they can only see value in what makes them feel better immediately. Following Jesus will be seen as poor ‘value’ for money and time spent. It may be that they need some more intentional discipleship (read ‘teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded’). Possibly in the process of that we will discover that the life Jesus calls us to is inspiring enough to open my wallet for, or that being part of the Christian community is so important and valuable that we will sacrifice other things for that.

The dominant narrative of our culture is a self centred one and it grates against the ‘self denying’ message of discipleship. Our role as leaders is to call people to the compelling and inspiring message of Jesus, to challenge cultural norms and to tell a different story that is more attractive than the one we hear around us.

Is that possible?

If the gospel is really true, if the kingdom of God is our hope and our dream and if we can grasp that reality then I believe we have a story that trumps any overseas holiday, any new car or purely self indulgent fantasy. Reality is its hard to keep the gospel of the kingdom front and central in our imaginations and read junk mail or watch TV… The truth of the biblical message is constantly supplanted with other more immediate sources of hope.

But if its just about coming to church, singing songs, hearing sermons and giving money then I understand why we are pushing uphill. The role of the leader is to help people see the ‘value’ in the kingdom of God – to communicate the message of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom in such a way that to trade it for a thermomix or a sleep in on a Sunday would be the dumbest thing ever.

I just made that sound easy…

4 thoughts on “Value

  1. I’m not sure you made it sound easy. I’d go so far to say that you contradicted yourself in those last 2 paragraphs.

    You ask “what if the Gospel is true?” So if you start to really think about what the Gospel means–the breaking in of God for the redemption and recreation of heaven and earth, the establishment of the Kingdom, the reunification of God and man and the restoration of all things, an end to injustice, fear, suffering, a new identity in Christ–and start to think that it is really happening then certainly TV shows, vacations, or material things pale in comparison. If a person encountered such a truth, they would be fundamentally and irreversibly changed and would begin to live new life. Like a man in a dark room where the lights have been flashed on for a second. Even though he returns to darkness, his view of the world is forever altered.

    You continue and point out that if the outworking of this is going to church on Sunday, singing songs, hearing sermons, and giving money then “we are pushing uphill”. I wholeheartedly agree. If all that “Gospel stuff” just means sitting in a room once a week, I think we got a raw deal.

    But the last statement is:

    “The role of the leader is to help people see the ‘value’ in the kingdom of God – to communicate the message of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom in such a way that to trade it for a thermomix or a sleep in on a Sunday would be the dumbest thing ever.”

    Are you saying that the leader needs to communicate that Sunday morning *is* the closest vestige we have to the inbreaking Kingdom? That all that the Gospel represents can only be found during 90 minutes of church?

    I think the problem is that church leaders find their identity wholly within the church (place/time) they lead. When attendance slacks and giving falls short, the church leaders begin to question themselves. “There must be something wrong with my church (place/time)”. Their only metric for the Kingdom is 90 minutes on Sunday morning so, of course, their goal would be to change people’s attitudes to value that 90 minutes of time over all other time in their week.

    But from a church-goers perspective, the Kingdom is breaking in to every aspect of their lives. Conversations with others, parenting, business relationships, care for the environment. The thrill of “being there” for a friend *is* the Gospel in real life. These things happen outside of the purview of the church leader and don’t get counted in his/her “success”.

    But like many church leaders, you think “if only I could preach a better sermon…a more compelling message…with more inspiring worship…then they would hear and come”. I’d offer a slight change to this: “if only I could preach a better sermon…then they might revolutionize the world–whether they return or not”. Just scatter seeds.

    One plants, another waters, but God provides the growth.

  2. Hi Bob – do I see sunday attendance and offering bag filling as the zenith of discipleship?

    Of course not! I just use them as examples of the point I am making – that we give (time/money) to what we value.

    When our values are shaped by the kingdom we will give time and $$ there. That said I do believe community and generosity are integral to the kingdom, but how these are expressed is very fluid.

    • But I think that the implication here is that giving time and money to “the Kingdom” is measured exclusively by one’s adherence to a church leader’s agenda/vision of what that is. The church leader says we’re doing lunches at the park–that is the Kingdom. The church leader we’re putting a new sound system in–that is the Kingdom.

      What about the woman who passes up a promotion because it would take away her chance to be present to a group of seniors that have been discarded by society? She gives time and money to Kingdom work but the church leader just wonders why she isn’t there on Sunday morning (doesn’t value it?). But she has placed more value on “one of the least these” than a guy who makes a speech every week about how we have to “go out and do Kingdom work–so come to the church picnic”.

      The point I’m making is that church leaders value churches as their primary expression of Kingdom. But one cannot assume that others will as well or that since they do not value church attendance they do not value Kingdom.

  3. Dip my oar in yes. I’m with Bob, but not against the surfing pastor.

    “…they would be fundamentally and irreversibly changed and would begin to live new life.” Such a worthy quote. Kingdom distilled. Gospel encapsulated.

    Observations about ‘church as usual’ – Jesus had no problems relating to or engaging blokes to up and follow: Churches mostly empty of blokes, many of those there bored but devoted. Sunday morning – we no longer live in 17th Century Europe when “the working class” were allowed to down tools for a day, and the custom was to go pray. If gathering in a room together every week could rock the world, well I’d like to see the evidence. It’s convenient, yes. Easy to ‘programme’ around. Gives a community of faith visibility…perhaps.

    We need a new reformation – it’s started, and it won’t emanate from those wedded to buildings and programmes (need I point to the latest ‘celebrity church’ failures USA?)

    Jesus went where the lost sheep were; his diciples followed his lead; sometimes this was in synagogues, but that was merely transitional. In a word – outside!

    Thanks for blogging Hamo, and responding to Bob, and thanks Bob. Change gone come.

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