DAY 498: A RULE OF LIFE (MONEY)

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The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in big trouble.  Big, BIG TROUBLE! Wherever you look, local churches are struggling to meet assessments. There is not enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month.  Across the board, the drain on declining resources is scary. Many colleagues in active ministry feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the  steady drain on declining resources, accelerated by a burgeoning bureaucracy.

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Over the years we have seen the good that money can do: the opening up of lives through poverty relief; the provision of shelter, medicine and schools; the joy of being cheerful givers.  We have also seen the harm that money can do: the exploitation of the vulnerable; the greed that destroys relationships and the thirty pieces of silver that paid for Jesus to be betrayed.

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So what has MONEY got to do with A RULE OF LIFE?   Recently I opened up the 2017 Synod Blue Book of the Cape of Good Hope District and tried to calculate the cost of agency in the local church and compared it to the cost of running the District Bishop’s office (a separated appointment). We cannot judge how rightly or wrongly we are spending our money unless we know how we are spending it and where it is coming from. What is the ROI (Return on Investment)?

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If a Circuit seeks to appoint an ordained minister, a minimum of R500 00.00 per annum is required. That equates to R54 000.00 per month.  The Office of the Bishop costs R1.5 million per annum. The price of three ordained ministers.

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Here’s the rub.  When we breakdown these Budget figures, a local church (the church) needs to generate R1400.00 per day on a 30 day month. When a Circuit minister says that he/she needs a “day off” it might be good to ask “who is going to pay that R5600.00” needed to pay for the four days of “down time?”.  Some Financial Advisors will point out that these estimates are way below the actual (TOTAL) running costs of our churches.

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Bottom line is that our people are struggling.  The old money is gone and we are selling off the silverware (manses and church property) at an extraordinary rate. One society in our Circuit has even bonded its property to secure loans for maintenance. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in big trouble.  Big, BIG TROUBLE!  I saw this trend in the United Kingdom when I visited 40 – 50 Methodist churches across the country in 1982.  As leader of a visiting MAYC  Exchange group I was shocked to see big FOR SALE signs on church doors. I saw churches turned into squash courts, engineering works, restaurants, carpet wholesale outlets, residential and old age homes.

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Even the Three Tower Church where my late father was baptised in Gloucester had turned into a Supermarket.  From those early years in my ministry I learned that Churches do die. It’s a global phenomenon. That’s why I went to Detroit to see what had happened to the once prosperous religious community. I even visited the old church of Reinhold Niebuhr in the heart of Detroit City.  Now the birds of decline are coming home to roost here in South Africa.

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Unfortunately we run churches following the pattern of “having enough money to pay the professional to do the job of work”.  Our income streams are dependent on”bums on seats”.  We view our congregations as a field to be exploited for the maximum monetary payment we can extort.  If “mind your own business” means to be business like: punctual, efficient, reliable, keen, determined to give good value for money, then we are in business.

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The rot has set in across our land starting at the top. My word to those in active ministry is “Thank God for your congregation. Work with them. Look to Tierwaterskloof Dam in Cape Town. It’s the same old story.  You can’t take out more than you put in! Soon there will be no more water”. So when the stewards count the collection from pledges and plates, remember that they do their sums.  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to calculate what is needed. The Church has to become something else.

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25 thoughts on “DAY 498: A RULE OF LIFE (MONEY)

  1. If my memory serves me correctly, the United Methodist Church in America suggests that a congregation is not sustainable with less than 100 members. The threat to shut churches down is turning into a reality here in South Africa. Traditional churches no longer have the support they once took for granted.

  2. Your piece reminded me of some of Gandhi’s 7 social sins –
    Wealth without Work
    Commerce without Morality
    Pleasure without Conscience
    Worship without Sacrifice
    Until clergy begin to understand the real meaning of the words “servant leaders”, it’s down-hill and shadows for the institutional church.

    • It also reminded me of Wesley – in 4 lines – as told to us by Mark in 2013:-
      Do no harm by any word or deed
      Do good wherever there is need
      Remains attentive to God’s word
      Stay in love with God, stay in love with God.
      Gandhi & Wesley – great teachers…………………

  3. Just for the record, the MCSA is not alone. The UCC is right beside you! We need a new way of being and doing Church. Here, in Swan River, the Anglican and Lutheran Churches have just amalgamated. It is also my last year as a full-time employee here 😔. Jenny Sprong on Facebook

  4. The one lesson I learned from Salty Print is just what it means to be a “daily paid”. Workers worked hard and enjoyed counting their hard earned cash at the end of the week. That all changed when I was robbed of the weekly wages as I got out of my car at the Church. With a Panga at my throat the Highwaymen killed the pleasure of counting cash. In a week we had turned to plastic.

    I don’t think Ministers have a sense of the daily cost of agency. The Church is a voluntary organisation and we have quietly pushed up assessments to meet rising inflation year in and year out. Separated (high cost) appointments are killing the church. We have to find another way.

  5. Here’s something to think about. Look at your church’s total budget for the year. Divide that by 365 days and ask yourself “Where is that daily amount going to come from?”. I would argue that I represent the last generation of “regular worshipers{“. The New Religion is World Sport and Social Media.

    • One wonders what happened to the small issue of “calling” rather than vocation for the ordained ministry, nursing and teaching. In my opinion, these were three of the pillars upon which society was founded. Today, “it’s all about the money”. For a real gauge of where we are, take two minutes to check out the value of the SUV’s/cars parked at any MCSA event….

  6. It is also fatal to fence off a little bit of life and call it religious while the real business of life is conducted on the other side of the fence.

    • Last time I looked, the Christian Church, behind the SA Govt and the SANDF, is the third largest landowner in SA. Seems to me there’s a real opportunity to unlock some value for the people…………

  7. The first thing the Churches should do is cancel all their Insurance policies on their church buildings (not manses). How many churches have burned down in the past 20-50 years in SA? How much has it cost the church in premiums for something that will possibly never happen – and if it does, the insurance companies will find twenty different excuses not to pay. It is a waste of money and huge drain on church income.

    • I agree 100%. IF we are people of faith, why do we give money to insurance companies? Also, how many manses are standing empty when they could be generating rental income? Part of the 21st century challenge is finding alternative revenue streams………..

  8. I wholeheartedly echo Mark’s thoughts. I have long been an opponent of the separated Bishop. The cost is too large and how do they truly add value to the church? I think it’s time we went back to what we were as a church, to rediscover our identity, our purpose, our mission. I recall Donald English in 1987 after a visit to then President, PW Botha, who said South Africa is lucky to have a challenge to our faith which kept the church vibrant – he was referring to the struggle against apartheid at the time. Today we see the reality in our churches showing a decline in membership, attendance and giving.

  9. The problem with separated appointments is that the beneficiaries are putting zero back into the kitty. There is a perception that there are unlimited reserves. I could never sleep comfortably knowing that my separated position is bleeding my constituency. By the time we wake up too much damage will have been inflicted.

  10. Denise Van Bergen on Facebook.
    “Interestingly, the N.G. Noordgemeente in Walvis Bay sold its building to Will’s Gym, and the gym runs from 05-00 to 21-00 every weekday and 08-00 to 12-00 on Saturdays. But on Sunday the building is for the use of the N.G. congregation, free of charge. Will’s Gym keeps the building maintained, including the grounds, parking area, etc. And, just to “keep the balance”, the Plaza Cinema and Bar was purchased by the “Gemeenskapskerk of Walvis Bay”, and the entire complex is used by the Congregation, most days of the week including Sundays, for worship services, youth activities, Bible studies, church-related conferences, etc. Are there lessons in there somewhere?”.

  11. Thank you Denise. The contents have sparked a lively response from across the planet. I think the NGK communities have the power to make bold moves because the properties are locally owned. These initiatives are life giving and need to be shared with a wider audience. Thank you for sharing. Mark

  12. Peter Fox via e mail:
    “I’d say you are on the money here–accurate indeed and it’s the case in other churches too!! Unless you are Common Ground or Jubilee.
    I forwarded your article to Robert and our Treasurer,”

  13. Trevor Ruthenberg via e mail:

    Hi Mark!

    Good work. I see the Director and Editor of A Rule of Life also appears in front of the camera here and there, à la Eastwood, Scorcese, Hitchcock and Tarintino. I’ve always admired Director/Actors – not that Scorcese and Tarintino can act, or Hitchcock could.

    One can only describe the MCSA, like Charles Dickens’s Mr Micawber (and Africa in general), as “waiting for something to turn up.” I waited too, but it never did.

    “Don’t look now Capin, but I think we’re going down.”
    “Going down? What nonsense! Our feet may be wet but we’re sure as hell not going down.”

    (Oh yes, I nearly forgot: “Snap.”)

    Trevor “Cyber Cynic” Ruthenberg.

    • Perhaps this is all about being “excellent stewards”? Are we prayerfully using the heartfelt gifts of faithful people in the most cost-effective ways? What discernment process goes into deciding to use a rural Protea hotel for a Synod (charging R160 per person for breakfast) instead of the tradition of sharing & living in a family home in a circuit? Amazingly, we then fret & weep at the loss of the gift of community…………..

  14. Dear Mark

    Thank you! I read your blog not with a little sadness. I can so identify with your concern and wonder if the situation isn’t a lot more serious than the one you paint?

    It is now ten years since I left the MCO and unfortunately no longer have access to the actual facts but even then the writing was on the wall. More and more Circuits were defaulting not paying their Stipend, Pension, and Circuit Assessments. One can only hope that the MCO has a really smart financial management system in place monitoring this. However I’m not over optimistic. Assessments are often raised without considering the escalating impact on Circuits and Societies further down the line. Inflation is also eroding income. One hears more and more of our previously “wealthy” Circuits struggling to meet their budgets. Societies that once carried a large percentage of the Connexional expenditure are finding it more difficult to do so. I saw in our own Durban North Society Pew Leaflet this morning…

    YTD – May 2017
    YTD Expenses: R540 000.00
    YTD Tithing: R321 884.20

    Here is a Society that once, a few years ago, supported two Ministers and a Youth Pastor. Instead of three Sunday Services we now only have one.

    I would like to think that our Connexional Officials are observing these trends and responding pro-actively. I stand to be corrected but I suspect that the relocation of the MCO from Durban to Johannesburg, as necessary as it was, is costing us more than anticipated. For instance I think just the Salaries Bill is now far higher than it used to be for Durban. Yet we see every so often advertisements for new appointments in New Dimension. I don’t know how the new Seminary is being financed but if it isn’t self-sustaining this will be a growing expense that will inflate your Assessments in due course. Alas, when enterprises come under financial constraints there is then a tendency to forego ethical accounting and strict stewardship principles. Monies for Paul are then redirected to pay Peter as we saw, I believe, in the vexatious Pension Fund debacle of a few years ago.

    Mark, thank you for raising what is really a very contentious issue in the Church today. You are a Braveheart!

    Kind regards,

    Colin

    • If I am doing my sums correctly, it appears that you need to a
      raise R108 000 per month to break even. Your actual Budget will probably be around R120 000 per month. Or R 1.44 million per annum. This means that the Durban North Society has to generate between R3,366.00 and R3,600.00 per day on a 30 day month. We are certainly becoming spectacularly unglued! Break it down to an hourly rate. the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in trouble. Big BIG TROUBLE!

  15. Thank you Colin. I have always admired your wisdom. The issue of sustaining the seminary will (and is) come back to bite us. I wrote about this a long time ago. We are all gung ho about starting projects in the MCSA but nobody seems to have the gas in the tank to follow the dream through. Every time I sing Hymn 615 (MHB) and bellow out “Feed me now and ever more” I think of the Seminary.

    The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in trouble. Big BIG TROUBLE!

  16. Thank you Roland. You are on the money! My measuring rule of FAITH for all our activities centers around two questions: 1. Is it life giving? 2. Or is it death bringing. I choose life. I still believe that there has to be death before we can experience resurrection. That’s what this debate is all about.

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