This week, the General Church and Academy Capital Campaign kicked off. I’ve been reflecting on the issue of giving to the church for some time, now. We often try to avoid talk of money in the church, and especially from our priesthood, I think in part so as to avoid any appearance that the church has any motivation beyond serving the Lord and others. I think it’s good that we are not driven by profit, and that we want to be clear to others about that. But money is a tool—a very necessary tool—and I worry that by being cagey about it for a hundred years we have developed habits and ways of thinking that will strangle our ability to function in the natural world.

Interestingly, money corresponds with truth, the true spiritual wealth. And so the Lord speaks in His Word quite frequently about coins and precious metals and business practices and such.  And I wonder if the discomfort we sometimes feel in sharing our truths with those new to the church is somehow connected with our reluctance to talk about money. I haven’t sorted that out, yet, but it’s something to think about.

What I do know, though, is that the material business of performing the uses of the church and the priesthood takes a certain amount of natural wealth to accomplish. In the history of our organization we have had wealthy individuals who were moved to support the church to such a degree that the average member could contribute not a penny and the church would continue on. And now we have investment funds and endowments that likewise give the illusion that the average member’s contribution doesn’t matter. And this is really unhealthy. Across the world, tens of thousands of churches survive—and thrive!—hand-to-mouth without endowments or foundations, but somehow we have come to assume that without such things we would cease to exist. This is both false and unhealthy.

It is true that schools have different (and far larger) financial needs. But churches don’t. Churches and schools work best with very different models. (And this makes our odd situation—being a church born out of and acting more like a school—quite challenging.) What churches need is committed members who give of their time, their wealth, and their affection, on an ongoing basis, because they believe the church will be useful not to themselves, but to other people. And in doing so, they still benefit themselves. Not only do they get a church, but they get the rewarding delights that the Lord uses to encourage all charitable behavior.

[This also appears as the “Pastor’s Box” in the 2009.09.14 Bryn Athyn Post.]