Tag Archives: God

It’s time to vote on the budget

It’s that most wonderful time of the year: The week following “Christ the King Sunday” and “The First Sunday of Advent” on the liturgical calendar. And it is the time of year when many churches are putting the finishing touches on next year’s budget.

The Jesus WayIt is at just this time of year that a passage from Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way, comes to mind. I often think of it when I hear someone say, “We’ve got to run this church like a business!”

More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential – whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers – hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. (p. 8)

Peterson goes on to say,

The ways and means promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King. Not that there isn’t plenty of lip service offered along the way across a spectrum ranging from presidents to pastors. But when it comes down to an actual way of life, most of the language turns out to be court protocol – nothing to do with the way we actually order our affairs. (p. 9)

Peterson’s observations ring true in many areas of our personal and ecclesiastical lives. But they seem to hit the bulls-eye when in comes to how churches develop their budgets.

There is a better way to do it. I outlined it in a previous post.

It is a new path for our congregation (Richmond’s First Baptist Church) and it hasn’t worked exactly as planned. There’s been plenty of angst along the way. But it has been a good start, mainly because we started at the right place: attempting to discern God’s direction for our congregation rather than analyzing the economic forecasts, the historical giving patterns, and the best guesses about what the people will give next year. Granted, there’s been plenty of analyzing and guessing. But we didn’t start there. And that’s an important distinction.

One of the highlights of the budget process was the “Ministry Action Plan Summit.” Our pastor blogged about it.

We learned some things about the sequence of events and meetings… things that will make the process much more effective next year. If you’re interested in the details, send me an email and I’ll fill you in.

My experience over the last 40 years in church leadership roles has taught me that it is difficult, and it requires a conscious effort to listen carefully and sense the gentle nudges with which God leads us, while trying to be a faithful steward of the resources He has provided. That’s the challenge Budget Committees face every year when they tackle their assignment.

But the job is not just about dollars and cents. It is about, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “develop(ing) awareness and facility in the ways of Jesus as we go about our daily lives following Jesus in home and workplace, neighborhood and congregation, so that our following is consonant with his leading.” (p. 10)

Peterson quotes are from his book, The Jesus Way – A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way. (© 2007 Eugene Peterson. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

Why would a church group want to make a movie?

Why does the church need to be involved in producing movies? I hear that question often… especially when we talk about how much it is going to cost to produce “The Prodigal Project.” (read more about that…)

“Doesn’t Hollywood already do a good job of it? And aren’t there other churches producing Christian films?”

The most obvious answer is that we have a story to tell – the story of God loving us so much that he came to live among us, showing us how to truly live. It is the story about God searching for the lost… and throwing a party when we’re found! If it isn’t the church’s job to tell that story, then whose job is it?

Unfortunately, most of the Christian films produced by churches speak primarily to a Christian audience. They tell powerful stories filled with the Gospel, but they’re done in such a way that “secular” folks will never see them.

Another answer to the question, “Why are we doing this?” appeared in a recent blog post by John Stonestreet.

He reminded his readers of the famous quote by Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher, “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I don’t care who writes its laws.”

He elaborated,

We’ve got to realize that the ideas that most effectively shape a culture are not necessarily those that are argued, but those that are embodied. They capture the heart and mind because they capture the imagination.

So let’s embody God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and opportunity for second chances. And let’s tell compelling stories which reveal that truth. Let’s pour our energy and resources into capturing imaginations… Like Jesus did when he talked about wedding banquets… and travelers mugged on the side of the road… and farmers sowing seed… and fathers welcoming home lost sons.

Let us entertain and inspire

I finally got around to watching that Christian movie that’s been sitting next to my chair for the last three months. I knew I needed to watch it. Everybody at church who’s seen it says it is great.

“Have you seen it?” they’d ask

“Well, not yet,” I’d confess.

I felt guilty. But I was dreading the two hours I’d have to spend with it. I knew what was coming. The protagonist will cry when he reaches the bottom of his arc. Somebody will preach at me. And somebody will accept Jesus or make a commitment to live a better Christian life. That’s the “Christian Film Formula.”

Cover of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

To be honest, I’d rather spend time with one of my favorites: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

But I “needed” to see that movie, so I loaded it up and settled in for the tears, the sermon and the altar call. The movie did not disappoint.

It was well-made. Great lighting, camera work, editing, and music. I laughed. I cried. I was inspired.

I’m a Christian. As a member of the choir, I was effectively preached-to. And the makers of the film claim “thousands coming to Christ as a result” of their movie.

There’s a market for these films. Sony and Fox have each set up distribution divisions for Christian and Family Movies. There are more than half-dozen web sites that specialize in the distribution of Christian and Family DVDs.

But I wonder how deep the market penetration is among folks who are not part of the religious establishment.

It seems to me there’s a niche waiting to be filled: really good movies that entertain and inspire, and will appeal to people outside the Christian cocoon… movies that tell great stories with a voice that’s neither preachy nor condescending.

Let’s face it: our culture is less churchy than it was for our parents and grandparents. Much of society yawns at our well-intentioned efforts to “reach” them with the Gospel. But we really do have some good news to share. So how do we do it?

Obviously, the best way to preach the Gospel is to live an authentic Christ-like life. Do the things that Jesus did. What’s the old saying? “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”

Sometimes, words are helpful, too. But what words? And how to speak them?

My younger son and I were walking around Greenville, South Carolina’s downtown area on a recent Friday evening. We came upon a young man, standing on a box, preaching judgment and condemnation from a Bible he waved in our faces. Is that the way to communicate the love, joy and hope offered by God through Jesus? I don’t know. And I surely don’t want to judge the young man, who must have been doing what he believed to be God’s will. After all, there’s plenty of precedent for that approach in the Bible.

But really… must we take ourselves so seriously? Can’t we lighten up a bit? We have some great stories to tell. Let’s have some fun telling them. We can even poke a little fun at ourselves… Lord knows there’s plenty to laugh at.

Remember how Jesus started his Sermon on the Mount? It wasn’t, “Repent or you’re going to hell!” It was, “Blessed are you…”

Our little writing and production group is passionate about breaking out of the “Christian Film” mold to produce something that entertains and inspires those beyond the typical audience for such movies.

It won’t come across as the typical, sanitized, well-scrubbed Sunday school tale. In fact, it might be perceived as a little irreverent. We’re not trying to, but we’ll probably offend some of our religious friends. But who knows? Maybe a few Christians will be entertained and inspired, too.

I think that’s what happened when Jesus first told the story of the Prodigal Son.