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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.