The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down for the seventh straight day yesterday, the worst slide since 2008. In the conversations I overhear at the hardware store people speak in hushed tones about how hard it’s been and wonder when things are going to get better. On the evening news analysts speculate that the jobless rate is down only because many people have simply stopped looking for jobs that aren’t there. And on the back of the worship bulletin I see that even Richmond’s mighty First Baptist Church is not immune: we’re showing a deficit that’s nearly five percent of our annual budget.
As pastor (which some people think of as “CEO”), I’m concerned. I’m concerned mostly about those people who have had to cut back on their giving because they’ve suffered a reduction in income. I wonder what kind of conversations they’re having around the dinner table, and what worries keep them up at night. But I’m also concerned about this institution we call First Baptist Church. Like many of our members we may have to make some hard decisions about where the money goes when there’s less of it, and I wonder how our mission and ministry will suffer because of it.
I’m not concerned about the church of Jesus Christ. I believe that it will thrive no matter what becomes of our earthly institutions. If European churches empty out and American churches go broke, revival will break out in China, or Ghana, or Chile. This movement lives because Christ lives. Nonetheless, if it’s going to thrive somewhere, why not here? Why not water the roots of the church right where we are?
I’ve been wondering what would happen if the people of Richmond’s First Baptist Church doubled up on their attention to the institution and made sure it was ready to carry out the mission of Christ. What if the buildings were immaculate, gleaming, and smelling of fresh paint? What if the lawns were manicured and the hedges freshly trimmed? What if there was plenty of free parking, and shuttles running smoothly from a covered garage? What if our worship services were broadcast across the greater metropolitan area? What if the staff was capable, well-compensated, and eager to do its work? What if the ushers came down the aisle pushing wheelbarrows full of money? What if lives were touched and changed by our ministries? And what if the people were so full of Christ’s spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, every day of the week? It sounds good, doesn’t it? And the truth of it is that most of those things are already in place: the only difference between that picture and what actually exists is the wheelbarrows full of money and the Kingdom coming day after day.
I don’t know if we will ever have wheelbarrows full of money, but I believe that even when we have empty pockets we can fill our souls with the abundant spirit of Christ. If we do that, then maybe even before the economy recovers revival will break out,
And the Kingdom will come.
Photo illustration by Daniel Hurst, acclaimimages.com