Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Renegotiating the Use of Money in Faith Communities

[Note: This is a ridiculously long post written over the period of a couple weeks. And this post barely just barely touches on Money and Faith Communities. More thoughts perhaps later.]

We have an interesting conversation going on over on the Relational Tithe Public Message Board if you are interested in weighing in your opinion/thoughts/insights. Anyone is welcome to comment there.

It is around the question: If the Relational Tithe is proposing a 10% tithe to the poor and not to the institutional church, then how will the church support herself (for pastors' salaries, buildings, etc.)?

Interesting question. One I have thought a great deal about these last two years as we were in the thick of church-planting, church-deconstructing, amidst other things.

My story? Kind of an attempted church-planter for the last couple years. Simply put, the first year I was salaried at half-time pay by a private foundation. The second year, I deliberately stopped accepting that money. We hardly had any sort of overhead except an accountant and CPA.

Most all money that came in that first year went to old debt and my salary. The second year, all the money went out into the Oceanside community and the Thai community.

Okay, that's just a little background to the greater question of what the church is supposed to do if it actually gives its money away to those in need or invests in things that bring about the greater good, not just the church's good.

What if communities of faith adopted a different metaphor for money with regards to leadership? What if, instead of adopting a sort of business model, the church took up a more creative approach...like the model for commissioning artists?

When Holly and I were in Houston, we visited the Rothko Chapel. For those of you who aren't familiar with the chapel, it is a sort of open art gallery and contemplative space. A French immigrant family commissioned Mark Rothko to create art pieces for the chapel so that they could offer the building as a sort of interfaith meditation area for the city of Houston.

They commissioned Rothko. They didn't salary him with benefits and pension plans. They commissioned him. That is, they wanted to take care of his living expenses long enough that he could do what he does for this particular space.

Are you tracking with me here?

What if, instead of creating lifetime pastor-types, who go through the whole process of Bible college, seminary, church after church after church...what if instead of that, communities of faith used the tithe (10% of the members' income) for the poor and in need (more on this here), and then had people within (and perhaps outside) the group commission particular people to read up on certain things, to take certain classes in order to teach the community, to create art and music as artifacts, to open coffee houses for the larger community.

Now tracking with me?

So, there is no singular person in paid leadership. Sally really wants to learn about the history of Rome and how it intersects with early Christianity, Bob wants to begin some sort of food pantry for those with little food in the winter months, Christy wants to write more music, but is in a 50-hour/week job that uses up all her creative energy. What if people in the communities of faith helped pay for each of these things? People actually quitting their 'normal' jobs or going to fewer hours to explore what really energizes them? People within the community commissioning each of these people to be who they are to be...so that there is no person on salary.

Of course this is predicated on a community that actually wants to use their lives this way and not just sit and be fed and then go on with their normal lives...and that might be the rub of this whole experiment.


Emma said...

as far as pastors getting paid... wasn't Paul's whole boast that he didn't?

Brian Aaby said...


The last paragraph is the key; most people would much rather go to the restaurant and get fed rather than serve the people that NEED to be fed. Sad, huh?

Very interesting post... so much deconstruction that would need to take place in the "church" community.

I pray that the faith community will become alive and begin to serve, feed, and meet the needs (emotional, physical, spiritual) of our Jurusalem, Judea, Samaria and all parts of the world.

Good thoughts.


Jon said...

VERY Interesting, Ryan!

It reminds me that in some countries, Buddhist monks take temporary vows. In Thailand, it's common for many young men to spend at least a few months as a monk.

What if people could be ministers for a year? (or laypeople for a year!?) I don't think there would be a shortage of Catholic priests at all if there was a five-year option and a ten-year option versus the lifetime "calling."

Nate Custer said...

I don't think there would be a shortage of Catholic priests at all if there was a five-year option and a ten-year option versus the lifetime "calling."

It depends, do you still require 4 years in seminary before ordination? If I pledge 5 years, and spend 4 in seminary, no one benifits.

I find the idea of commisioning interesting. Because if you go to the Rothko Chapel website, you can see their request for additional donations to support the continued operations and the programs offered at the chapel.

I know at our church the overhead is used by the local community as well. The outdoor basket ball hoops are used more nights then not by local guys. In our neighborhood there are not parks with basketball courts close by ... there are scouts, exercise groups, race walkers, english as a second language, and other community groups that meet at our church without cost. There is a dayschool that provides low cost babysitting to people that can't afford to pay. The existance of the day school has at least trippled the cost of insurance.

Rothko asks for support for upkeep of the building, why shouldn't the church?