I know a company founded by a man with a passion for a hobby. He coupled it with a love for writing and published a magazine centered on his hobby. The fledgling company flourished. It soon had a suite of great products but lacked market penetration.
When the founding president retired, he replaced himself with a marketing expert.
The new marketing-president ran the company for five years. During his tenure, sales tripled. The rapid growth created organizational challenges. When it came time for his retirement, he promoted his organizationally-minded CFO to replace himself.
The new structural-president brought in much needed organization. Their products were great and their marketing terrific; now internal processes hummed. The company didn’t grow, but expenses were cut, operations streamlined, and profit margins soared.
The structural-president was pleased with his improvements. When it came time to retire, he replaced himself with another organizationally-minded CFO.
Within a few years, revenues were down 30%, product quality suffered, market penetration shrank, and corporate morale tanked. So he cut more jobs.
When the second structural-president retired, he hired a CFO … just like himself.
I studied at the University of Michigan in the 1970’s (like, before indoor plumbing). I joined a campus ministry that emphasized community, the Holy Spirit, and outreach.
It was a great group. About one hundred and fifty of us “sacrificed”—believe me, it was a sacrifice—to live in the dorms all four years for the sake of outreach. We roomed, did laundry, and shared meals alongside nonbelievers (of which there were two or three).
Our evangelism efforts focused on leaders. We felt that if we could bring the gospel to these natural leaders, they would invite friends and become leaders in our ministry.
So we purposely befriended student in the honors program, sports team’s leaders, those in pre-med and pre-law, and significant influencers in our dormitory houses.
I’m ashamed to admit, we called our strategy, Selective Evangelism.*
A really good church (whose leaders I once met on a trip out west) recently kicked off a Capital Campaign to pay off their building mortgage early. Their motivational tagline is, Financial Freedom-Missional Freedom. I just don’t buy it. The order seems out of line with the gospel.
It reminds me of the Parable of the Rich Fool who stores up his wealth for the future. He says to himself, “Soul, You’ve stored up plenty of good things for many years. Take it easy” (Luke 12:19). Then God comes along and says, “Tonight your soul is required of you.”
What if God were to return the day their mortgage is fully paid. I think he’d say, “You have seven million dollars buried in your building; of what use is that now?”
Because where we are going, we can’t take it with us.
My own church—like that Capital-Campaign-Church—began by meeting in local school buildings. We had enough resources to cover missions, salaries, and building rental. And God provided our daily bread.
There is great mental value in a monthly rental model; we ask God for resources to cover our daily expenses. Even if we own our church building, the mental model of a monthly mortgage helps. We haven’t built up treasures on earth. We can’t say to our collective soul, “Take it easy, our building is paid for.”
When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, God provided daily bread in the form of manna. Any manna collected for “tomorrow” bred maggots and stank.
God gives enough for today. We can’t take it with us.
The misplaced priorities of today and tomorrow
Their argument goes like this. If we work extra hard today to pay off our three and a half million dollar mortgage, then tomorrow we’ll have an extra three hundred thousand dollars a year for mission and outreach.
I know the argument, but it doesn’t work. Who knows what tomorrow brings? We only have today.
Why not campaign today to increase mission funding and tomorrow we pay off our building? In fact, why not take a second mortgage on the church—a type of selling all we have—to serve other missions? Or use it to pay off the mortgage of a poorer church?
The thirty year-old church above is the daughter another church that was only twelve years-old when it planted them. That “mother” church itself was the daughter church of yet another church plant.
This church has church planting in its DNA. Why not raise capital to start another church in a poor neighborhood or another city? I think they bury their talents in a building today for Missional Freedom tomorrow.
The mental model of monthly needs
Let’s go back to our mental model of monthly needs. There is great value in asking God for our monthly needs. It forces us to rely on God’s moment-by-moment provision.
Many churches begin by renting schools. They ask God to supply their daily needs.
Eventually, the human-resources required for weekly setup becomes a burden. We want to use our time (as well as our money) for outward services of mission, not just inward services of chair and sound system setup. So we buy a building.
But that building mortgage still fits in our mental model of asking for monthly needs.
That church with the new capital campaign has a monthly mortgage of less than fifteen percent of its monthly budget. That seems about right. Probably too low. There’s got to be a reasonable percentage; too big a monthly percentage makes us church-poor and too little of a percentage is a treasure on earth that moth and rust destroys.
What’s so bad about considering our monthly mortgage just like our old monthly rental? We use our today’s money for today’s needs. Why build up treasures here on earth?
Why the big push to pay it off, delaying (yet again) their built-in DNA to church plant?
These are really good folk
I know that this is a gospel-centered church, really good folk. I once met with its staff and I respected every single one. I would recommend their church to newcomers to their city. I don’t mean to pick on them. I wish all churches were led half as well.
And I suspect they’ve considered everything I raise here.
But their new campaign stirred this question that haunts me every time I hear of other churches doing the same thing. Why invest all this energy in an earthly asset? Ask me to invest in souls, yes. Ask me to invest in a building? Yuck! We can’t take it with us.
How much better it would be if some of our business-folk formed companies to purchase our churches and simply lease them back. Our churches would be free of earthly possessions; we could pray, “Give us this month our monthly lease payment.”
On the other hand
But maybe I’m wrong. Yet again. And maybe the “worldly wisdom” of other churches is right. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced. Let’s pay off our mortgages today, so that tomorrow—when there is surplus—we can support missions.
So here is my idea. I’m going to quit tithing for the next five years. I’ll bury that money to pay off my mortgage and prepay all of my future property taxes. Maybe it’ll take ten years.
Once paid, I’ll have lots of extra money to help with my church’s Capital Campaign. I’ll give out of my surplus. Of course, that means the church’s mission work won’t get funded for twenty years. I’ll first pay my mortgage then help the church pay theirs. And then we’ll do mission together.
Who knows, maybe in twenty years or so, we’ll be able to start that new church plant or help that inner city church pay their expenses.
Although in twenty years I’ll probably be dead. And I can’t take it with me.
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A few weeks ago I was talking with a woman whose children are mostly grown. She is active in her church and she works professionally but part-time. She’s quite successful but terribly bored. She dislikes her church service and her job “just isn’t her.” She’s being doing both for years.
I hear the same thing from men all the time. They may be “successful” in their job, but it doesn’t fit them; they bring home a paycheck, but they feel they are made for something more.
The secret—hidden in all our hearts—is we are made for something more.
God has given us unique gifts and personalities, and he wants us to walk in who he made us to be. He’s given us something to do in the world outside that expresses something inside of us. It’s something we alone are made to do.
Below is the opening of the book It’s Your Call by Gary Barkalow. If you are looking for deeper insight into God’s design for your life, begin with this.
My wife and I are celebrating our 30th anniversary in Italy. In my absence, I asked my friend Gary Barkalow to write a couple blogs.
Gary has spent his life studying Calling—you could call him a Calling Expert. I invite you to enjoy with me as he shares.
“Ok, the idea that I possess a glory, splendor, strength, brilliance that is extraordinary seems a little farfetched. It’s not my personal experience. I think my effect is pretty small. I can only do the best with what I’ve got and that ain’t much.”
I’ve heard this thought many times – within myself and from others. The truth is that if it was YOU ALONE that might be true, but it isn’t to be YOU ALONE.
Dallas Willard wrote,
Now what we can do by our unassisted strength is very small. What we can do acting with mechanical, electrical, or atomic power is much greater. Often it is so great that it is hard to believe or imagine without some experience of it.
But even that is still very small compared to what we could do acting in union with God himself, who created and controls all other forces (The Divine Conspiracy).
Our life was never designed to be “unassisted.” And yet, that is how we live—okay, I live—most of the time. Partly because I believe the lie that I’m on my own. Partly because of my fear that God won’t come through. Partly because “it’s hard to believe or imagine it without some experience of it.”
Jesus repeatedly said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matt. 4:17
Dallas told the story of growing up on a farm in southern Missouri where electricity was not available. Then, one day, it was announced that power lines would be brought in. It was an opportunity for a different way of life if they if they chose to tap into them. He writes,
The comparison, you may think, is rather crude, and in some respects it is. But it will help us to understand Jesus’ basic message about the Kingdom of the Heaven if we pause to reflect on those farmers who, in effect, heard the message: ‘Repent, for electricity is at hand.’
The movie The King’s Speech tells the true tale of a shy prince who becomes a King. “Bertie”—as only his family can call him—is the frog who becomes a prince who is crowned the King of England and who will lead the nation through World War II.
Bertie’s road to the throne is filled with potholes. It is his older brother who is the heir, not Bertie; the scars of his past create fear in this future king of a scared nation; and he stutters in an age when live speeches are the new way to lead.
At one point he mourns, “I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can’t speak.”
The movie opens as Bertie stammers through a speech at Wembley Stadium, a speech broadcast to the world. We share the prince’s anguish in his painful pauses and repeating c-c-c-consonants, every stutter amplified for the listening ears of the world.
Bertie reluctantly turns to Lionel Logue, an uncertified speech therapist. Lionel sees in Bertie a vein of gold. Lionel unearths this gold by teaching, cajoling, and even provoking the shy prince, until Bertie finally shouts:
Bertie: L-L-L-listen to me…
Lionel: Why should I waste my time listening to you?
Bertie: Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!
Lionel: [pause] Yes, you do. [stands] … You’re the bravest man I know. You’ll make a bloody good king.
In the movie, a commoner helps the king find his voice. And that is the way it works in the world, underlings give overlings a platform to be heard. Christ turned worldly wisdom upside down. Now it’s the leaders who help others find their voice.
The thing is, few Christian leaders know how to do it.
I remember the first time I visited the home of one of my high school friends. A corner of his family room housed a music section with a baby grand piano, some brass instruments, and a beautiful old guitar lying on a shelf.
The guitar looked like something special. I took it down from the shelf, dusted it off, tuned it up, and strummed it. I thought I was in love.
I asked my friend about its history. The guitar has been given to his mother when she was young. She had never learned to play it, but she had a sentimental attachment to it, and she loved seeing it sit in their music corner.
I wrote down the model and serial number and visited my favorite guitar store to discover its roots. It was a customized 1940’s Gibson guitar with rare Indian Rosewood sides, real ivory inlay, and a custom fingerboard. It was a literal treasure.
Years before some unknown master craftsman had fashioned this custom guitar using special woods, saws, braces and glues, to make a masterpiece. Now it sat on a shelf gathering dust. My friend’s mom thought, “It added atmosphere.”
I think this is the common picture of Christian calling: to look good on the pews—maybe a little dusty—while missing the God-designed purpose: releasing our music.