Friday, July 31, 2009

Coffee Conversations

A couple mornings a week I get together for coffee with friends. We rarely plan an agenda of topics, and yet the 60-90 minutes always seems to fly by without pause. Often these conversations wind around to church, since in one way or another this set of friends are connected by faith. Today we ended up discussing some hard questions, and what people's reasonable reactions to those hard questions should be.

I have experienced an unfortunate response from folks in church leadership to tough questions: silence. I don't mean they beat around the bush and never get to actually answering the question. I mean no response whatsoever. Silence. Now, there are a few situation for which this is reasonable. "When did you stop beating your wife?" comes to mind. We zeroed in one this: "To what extent should a pastor bow to the wishes of big donors?"

OK, admit it: all of you have considered this before. Of course, the initial answer is something along the lines of "it depends." Ouch. Well, at least it is not silence. As is often the case, the first steps towards reconciling this issue is a discussion. I have a simple, and some would say naive, answer: remove the connection between the church budget and the pastor's salary. Or better yet, have pastors that do not draw a salary at all. I could go on all day about this one. When you start with the premise of a fully paid pastoral staff, and the goal being to foster Christian community in and out of the church walls, the pastoral salary assumption can quickly get you to places that will never continue on to Christian community. This is especially true when moving outside the walls, but still true even when we stay home.

You see, when we pay money, we have this expectation of getting something in return. I recognize this is not Christian giving, but a very earthly approach. Yet what can you say when folks withhold tithes (sometimes publicly) on the grounds that they disagree with some particular pastoral decision or leadership policy? If there was no connection between the tithing and the pastor, folks would not expect there to to have that particular type of control.

I guess it all comes down to this: is there any pastor who has the guts to say "no thanks" to the money that comes with strings attached? Even at the risk of their own livelihood? Not that I blame a pastor for this, yet this is their chosen field (God appointed field, most are quick to remind me) but they will often not have the faith to stick to their beliefs when pressed between Jesus and a car payment.

Next week's question for parishioners: what if you had to choose between Jesus and your local church?


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