Numbers are People, Too
I'm sitting in a boardroom a few days ago thinking with my team on how to financially reengineer a large and expensive ministry that we lead. An associate of mine and I determined a course of action that creates a revenue source and serves double the amount of people. In my neoliberal economic way of thinking it was a no brainer. Double the money and double the impact in peoples lives -- duh -- let's go!
Then one of our directors said in her stern and soft feminine way, "I'm unsettled, numbers are people too".
That simple comment put me in conflict with myself. The internal economist & ethicist had a quarrel in my heart. Such a simple comment had me thinking that to simply trade services from one population to another other population is flawed ministry thinking.
The people we serve now, matter just as much and need us to sustain their livelihood. Plus we have our employees that matter just as much to us and rely on us for their livelihood.
Cost of Ministry
I have learned in ministry there are two major (there's many more) equation costs: money and relationships.
A typical MBA (I'm an MPA, so I hope I have some social conscience) would look at the cost of labor and their ability to create revenue. Textbooks say you take the total labor hours (sometimes called direct labor) in a pay period (that's your time). You add up those hours, times their pay (labor rate) that will give you the cost of your good or service some call it a manufacturing cost (you can play around with the index and adjust it for your ministry https://www.bls.gov/ect).
Once the labor costs are discovered then a decision making process starts to ask, "What's the real cost of doing ministry?" Though the money may fund the ministry what's the cost of those relationships? The undeniable reality in economics is that when a decision "A" is made it triggers a decision "B". When you push a button you simultaneously pull a lever -- it's called trade offs and oppournity costs. Essentially, what's a cost of making decision A or decision B?
These decisions are tough because this is real life with real people. This learning process has caused us as a team to work hard to do the best for everyone and all parties even though there may a financial cost to our ministry.
Because, "Numbers are people, too".
I have a concern. And it's deep. And well, I just don't know how to talk about it, so here it goes. I'm concerned that so many pastors have joined the leadership cult.
I have an (unprovable) sense there's a lack of deep theological and exegetical skills in order to teach the scripture. (When I'm around pastors they don't talk about what the Spirit taught them in the text. They talk about business -- I mean -- I'm game but I'd like to talk about NT Wright once in a while).
I meet so many sincere pastors that are all into "strategic management"; "organizational leadership"; "executive thinking" and have never studied greek, hebrew, philosophy or Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, or the neo-orthodoxy theologians or in our own progressive pentecostal tradition (Yamamori & Miller 2006) Yong, Macchia, Self or the Archer/Archer(s) work. Which is awesome!
I mean sure the management stuff is important -- it's vital -- I study, teach and test/research that literature. But if you can't exegete, study your history and do theology from the text then what are you managing?
It's so frustrating.
I'm just thinking here and reviewing Sunday's teaching on Luke 1:19 and I'm struck with awe of the phrase "καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαι σοι ταῦτα". I could probably teach/preach/altar call for 40 minutes on εὐαγγελίσασθαι. "Good News" meant/means so many things to so many people in 1st century Palestine and meant/means so many things in 21st post-modern America.
I wouldn't know that unless I was taught it in my 20's -- the careful & skillful craft of scholarship. With that great detailed learning comes the humility to listen to the doctors of the church for guidance. Those "doctors of the church" are the professors at our universities and seminaries that study for a living. Listen to them.
My humble thought is simply this: Pastor, before you do that MA in Leadership do that MA in Theology. Know your stuff. You're accountable to King Jesus for your teaching before you're accountable for your management.
jame jamé bolds
Why a Mission's Trip
This summer Pastor Jennifer and I were asked to visit one of Victory Church's missionaries -- Gabby Munoz at Living Water Teaching in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Our Ministers in Residence, Mark and Stephenie Shanks journey to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala every Christmas for their shoebox ministry and encouraged us to come. If all goes well we'll start doing annual church wide mission trips.
Theology and Economics Collide
At dinner a few nights before we left I asked my children, "Babies, do you know what poverty smells like?" My children looked at me with the strangest look.
A few days later they understood what I was saying as we stood in a "basurero". A basurero is city dump. And it is here where Gabby Munoz's ministry happens as she cares for colony of 100 families (300 people) that call this place home.. As we stood there in the basurero I was put in conflict with myself. The pastor trained in theology and the executive trained in economics seems to be at odds.
My heart was torn because I know that God will always side with the poor and oppressed (Psalm 12:5) and these people need to be loved and comforted for they truly are the least of these. Conversely, I can see there is a vicious cycle of declining rate of foreign investment, scarcity in production increase and that combination negatively decreases incomes. At bottom, it's a lack of productivity growth from domestically created capital and the inablity to be part of the larger global marketplace. (World Bank, 2014.).
I could see it and it wasn't simply data on a spread sheet it was a live in flesh and blood. Pain. Despair. Lack of Hope. That's what I saw.
Applying Economics to Faith
After a few days of thinking prayer, we had a conversation with Gabby about applied economics and a sustainable development model to fund her ministry. We started thinking about raising our own "foreign investment" from American churches to create some working captial.. Our thought was to buy two buildings: one for ministry and the other for investment. Renting out one building to local businesses for passive income and using that income to house a preschool and tuition for the basurero children.
We are still in that process so pray for us.
Merging the disciplines could be completed. Though as long as the focus is on real people I'm positive the Spirit will lead, guide and direct this journey of pastoring faith, work and economics.
During December of 2015 I lost my mentor Dr. Arnold Lastinger. He was the long term Pastor of First Assembly of God Gainesville, FL and after his retirement he became President of Evangel Theological Seminary, Kyiv, Ukraine.
Dr. Lastinger had two mentee's Mike Patz, now Lead Pastor of Greenhouse Church and myself. I was mentored by Paul, grew with Timothy and I became Titus. My remarks at his memorial service start around 1:00:23. I miss you pastor -- I answered the call to, "Come and Follow Me."
“Whatever,” I reply, shaking my head and chuckling, “But don’t give Aunt Jenny an appointment unless she has a business plan.”
As Jennifer walks out of my office, she turns and says, “Well, you like business and putting deals together. Let’s see what this is all about."
It’s true that I like business. Though I’ve been a lead pastor for ten years, a Gordon-Conwell graduate, and also studied economic development at Rutgers, worked as a management consultant, and encouraged the development of small businesses through public-private partnerships.
Why do Christians engage in business? The most obvious reason is to provide for their families and themselves (1 Tim. 5.8). Also, in Genesis 1-2 God reveals himself as one who engages in creative work. Created in his image, we find satisfaction in doing the same. Business is a form of work which organizes people’s energies and abilities, resources, and finances to provide needed and desirable products and services more effectively than individuals could do on their own. Besides the need to care for our families and personal fulfillment, in this chapter I will show how business serves seven other important purposes of God. In the process you will meet some business people whom I have pastored, with whom I’ve had association, or who partnered with me in my public affairs consultancy. These business leaders will show us how their businesses serve God’s purposes.
Many business leaders don’t think about the connection of faith to their business. Though Christians believe God is at work in the world, many fail to see how this could be happening through their business. Being a Christian in business should produce both positive economic, practical, and spiritual results. Practically and economically, how we manage people, negotiate a deal, or sell a product or service affect the lives of others.