The Real American Christian “Either/Or”

Standard

Yesterday, I promised that the last few posts here before I go on break for a month would be incendiary. Thus begins the fire…

Those familiar with Cerulean Sanctum know that one of my pet peeves is making Christianity into a set of “either/or” dichotomies. One of my favorites to skewer is the classic “Doctrine or Good Works” silliness that seems to be the hallmark of great swatches of the Godblogosphere. In fact, I would say that “Doctrine or _______” is the classic formula for most of these false dichotomies.

But as I get older, one true “either/or” emerges as so unyieldingly true that it functions as the bellweather of what we in America consider right and good. Unfortunately, I believe we fall on the wrong side of the either/or.

In recent days, there have been two great posts over at The Thinklings, one of the first blogs I linked to here at Cerulean Sanctum. The first includes a quote from Soren Kierkegaard on Christian scholarship:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

The second post discusses all the “young dudes” and quotes a well-known pastor on how the Church in America can’t live without them:

The problem in the church today is just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickafied church boys. 60% of Christians are chicks and the 40% that are dudes are still sort of…chicks. It’s just sad.

We’re looking around going, How come we’re not innovative? Cause all the innovative dudes are home watching football or they’re out making money or climbing a mountain or shooting a gun or working on their truck. They look at the church like that’s a nice thing for women and children. So the question is if you want to be innovative: How do you get young men? All this nonsense on how to grow the church. One issue: young men. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. They’re going to get married, make money, make babies, build companies, buy real estate. They’re going to make the culture of the future. If you get the young men you win the war, you get everything. You get the families, the women, the children, the money, the business, you get everything. If you don’t get the young men you get nothing.

At first glance, they seem unrelated. But that’s only because we’re missing the true “either/or” here.

Jesus makes that dichotomy clearer:

Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.
—John 6:27a ESV

The “either/or” I’m talking about here is money or ministry.

When we wonder why the Church in America is so ineffective compared with the Church in other nations of the world, the reason can be summed up simply: we chose money over ministry.

Many Christian writers have lamented the increasing loss of men in our churches. We’ve got books seeking to explain why men are bored with church. Great minds wrestle with the malaise that’s settled over the typical Christian male in America. Not that I’m a “great mind,” but I’ve talked about this in great detail, too. (See the post category “Men” in the sidebar.)

This is where Kierkegaard comes in. We talk and talk and talk about ministry, but we don’t do any (at least not much that amounts to anything like what you see in China or South America right now), for no other reason than it forces us to decide the question of money or ministry. So we numb ourselves to the reality of what the Bible repeatedly says on this issue because if we come to the conclusion that ministry comes first, our neat little Christian American world straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting MUST come to a crashing end. Or as Soren so ably notes: “My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?”

The easy choice...To the “dude” mentioned in the other quote above, choosing ministry first means an end to the fast track to the corporate boardroom. It means obscurity and lack of earthly success and worldly power. It means no bestselling book on how it was done MY WAY. It means no pneumatic, bleach-blonde trophy wife; no McMansion; no 401k; no vacation home in the Bahamas; no outrageously fast sports car or freeway-churning, Mini-Cooper-consuming, 4×4 SUV; and it means a whole lot less of everything that America has come to stand for in the beginning of this new millennium.

Choosing ministry scrambles everything that “prominent pastor” wants to leverage. The hotshot young men he claims he wants so badly will be boat anchors in his church because they already made the choice and money came up the winner. Sure, these young dudes may conjure up some business-variant church program that will look good for a couple years in the church before it sinks, fruitless, into oblivion, but then what?

The real men who chose ministry? Few limelighters want them. Ministry isn’t sexy. It looks bad on a résumé. The world considers Christian ministry and thinks, What a massive waste of time.

Sadly, that’s what 99.9 percent of Christian men in America think, too. And it’s one of the reasons they’re bored, and why the Church is so ineffective.

The man who chooses money first MUST spend all his waking moments doing everything he can to ensure the steady supply of money comes in. What ministry can he possibly do? Something’s gotta give and it’s the ministry.

It’s not all the men’s fault, either. The juxtaposition of Christianity and shopping that seems so natural in the lives of so many Christian women has much to explain why Christian men chose money first. You can’t read a blog by Christian women and not stumble upon the criteria they use to judge a man to be a proper Christian husband, the first being—always—that he be a good provider.

But when did being a provider get the “good” modifier? And what determines “good”? Is that the difference between a no-name handbag from WalMart versus one from Saks with a Versace label on it? To butcher the title of a famous novel, the devil may wear Prada, but so do a lot of Christian women.

It’s hard to avoid the strange Evangelical definition of manhood we’ve developed. Evangelicals affirm that men are called to be the prophets, priests and kings of their household, but a lot of Christian women have tended to de-emphasize the prophet aspect of it to focus on the king—or perhaps that should be “captain of industry,” instead. Yet what soul-stirring, repentance-laden prophetic message can be expected from a man who’s always thinking, How can I make more money so my wife can buy more of the stuff that makes her happy?

The best blog entry of 2006 goes to Michael Spencer over at Internet Monk. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his post “American Idolatry: The Good Life” is the single best blog post I’ve read in five years of blog reading. There is NO HOPE for the Church in America if we don’t start saying yes to ministry and no to money. God’s taken His Spirit elsewhere, and not only do we not realize it, we simply substituted Him for whatever our money could buy. (Although that’s been tried before—unsuccessfully: Acts 8:18-24.)

Now you might find this odd in light of last week’s posts, but honestly, I’m not immune to this problem. I freely admit that I’m trapped in the middle of this either/or. It eats at me day and night. What scares me is that for all those Christians who choose ministry over money, they won’t find support from other American Christians because other Christians can’t understand their rejection of money. That’s primarily because those others don’t have their hearts and minds focused on eternity. They’re focused on the moment because, in their own view, Christ simply isn’t compelling enough to warrant so extreme a response.

But the response is EXTREME. It means death. The cross says, Now here you die, here and now. All your desires, all your hopes, all of you. It also means real life. Have we tasted it?

We talk about counting the cost. It’s great talk. Everyone feels good talking about it because it sounds spiritual, makes us look devout, and smacks of ministry. But then, as Kierkegaard so ably notes, we go back to our cushy, monied lives, look in the mirror, and then immediately forget what we look like.

But God knows.

God help us.

47 thoughts on “The Real American Christian “Either/Or”

  1. Wow, I really appreciate this post! Another verse that states it well is when God literally says “You cannot serve both God and money”.

    I mentioned a few weesk ago in a comment that one of the ways I am striving to glorify God at this point in my life is by “training” to run a household well and understand the responsibilities. One way I’m doing that is learning about frugality, and living it out in my own life as well, even now. It excites me to know that perhaps someday I will be married to a godly man, have a few kids, and yet still be blessed to have all the necesities and to be happy with the simple life. Or even to live a bit simpler in order to be able to be more generous. I figure if I begin learning about it now, before I’m even married (if I do marry) then it will come more naturally to me….the fact of the matter that money is just another means to serve God.

    Heh, sorry for kinda rambling. Thanks for the post!

    • BD,

      Thanks. I’ll check it out. His results in a previous survey that Christian parents are more interested that their kids get into a good college than that they follow Christ supports my post, too.

  2. Pingback: Thinklings
  3. I’m not going to sit here and disagree with your post, but I would (and do) disagree with your use of generalities.

    I work (in my job) with statistics alot, and I would question that you have data to support the claim that 99.9% of men think ministry is a waste of time. I say that because I know so many men who DON”T think that way. That statement is a disservice to them. I’m just a regular person in the regular world, and my experience can’t be that unusual.

    Also, as a Christian woman with a blog, I would challenge you to find one single post, out of my 275, that defines a good husband by the ability to be a “good provider” in the way that you mean. I also read a lot of blogs by Christian women, and have NEVER seen this attitude.

    I’m not questioning your premise that service — ministry — requires death to our own desires and the picking up of a cross. It does. Generalities, however, are dangerous, and can be deceptive. By using unsupported generalities you risk alienating just those people you are trying to convince.

    Thanks, as always, for the food for thought.

    • Kim,

      I don’t have data to support the 99.9% number. It’s not supposed to be an accurate figure, but one that makes us think.

      However, do I believe that number’s at least close? Yes, I do. I do think only one Christian man in a thousand is driven by ministry over money. I also think that even some pastors are not in ministry for ministry but because they couldn’t make it elsewhere and “the ministry” was a space of last resort. Trust me. That’s more common than we want to admit.

    • Kim,

      I forget to mention the “good provider” thing.

      We must be reading different blogs. I’ve repeatedly encountered posts and comments on blogs by Christian women discussing this whole issue of a man being a good provider. Whenever the issue of “What are the characteristics of a truly Christian husband?” comes up, being a “good provider” is ALWAYS mentioned.

      Since the divorce rate among Christians is no different than the world, and the number one reason couples break up is over money, I think my point holds up. If women didn’t place that so high on their list of important attributes in a man, you wouldn’t see it as the number one reason for divorce.

      • Dan, I guess my point is that when you say something like “If women didn’t place that so high on their list of important attributes in a man…” (as an example of the type of statement I mean), you lose me. I know this not to be true of lots of women, myself included. Trust me.

        When you make a blanket statement like that, which you seem to state applies to every woman, and I know you to be wrong, then you lose credence for your REAL point — which is true and authentic.

        • I agree with Kim. Even the statement “money over ministry” is too broad. I take it you mean earning or saving money instead of spending it in ministry, but I’m not sure. There are ways in which money is the real work of ministry: sponsoring a children through Compassion International, giving to a church in order to pay its bills and staff, giving clothes or books to someone who has lost his home in a storm. That’s money, isn’t it?

          • Phil,

            It’s the pursuit of money. I thought that was evident in the way the whole piece went, but I guess I blew it.

            Money is a neutral entity. We’ve given it exceptional power here in America, though. It defines everything there is about us. Even normal social interactions are altered profoundly by having it or not having it, pursuing it or not pursuing it.

            The vast majority of people in our country pursue money over ministry. They spend far more time thinking how they’ll get more money or spend it than they do thinking about their lost neighbor or making a dinner for the family down the street that has someone ill.

            When someone claims that we Americans will need more and more education in order to secure good jobs, that has to come with a price tag. What gets lost is ministry. If I’m working to add yet another degree behind my name, I can’t be devoting my time to ministry. If I did, something else important (family time, personal devotion and study time) would suffer. When the expectation rises that this education will need to be perpetual, then some things will be lost perpetually.

            That’s what we have to deal with. The way most Christian men and women have dealt with it is by choosing money over ministry.

  4. I can relate. My resume is filled with years of ministry related experience that has no traction when placed in the worlds job market. But what is even more appalling is that it doesn’t translate well in the Christian job market, either. The fact that I have experience in the mission field comes across as being unrelated to something one would get paid for. Another either/or situation: There is the world and the requirements of the workplace, Christian or Secular. And there is Christian Service, which is a non-paid, “supported” field of endevour, which people outwardly praise and inwardly ridicule by thinking to themselves “I could never do that.”

    From the date of our acceptance of Christ and His Lordship in our lives we are to be completely, utterly, irrevocably sold out for Him. Every waking hour is to be spent in worship of Him, service to Him, and desire to see His Kingdom flourish. Instead, our culture demands that we save for retirement, which starts at 55 if possible and for some reason involves unending leisure time, we are to live in a large house, drive a large, new car, preferably replaced every three years, and plan for expensive, exotic vacations that we never take because we are simply too busy for them. We are to have children in our thirties, that we drop off at daycare every day so we can work to be fulfilled, and we send these children to tutoring services that will prepare them for tests that will propel them into very expensive, name-brand universities that will burn up the retirement money we’ve been saving.

    How different is that from Deuteronomy 6: “5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

    We are far from loving God will all our being, as we are instructed. As men we are to instruct our children, raise them up in the way they should go. Where in the Bible does it say we are to devote our time to making the lives of our families comfortable? In Acts the life of a Christian is desscribed as being devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, to prayer, and to fellowship. Today our life would more accurately be described as being devoted to paychecks, food, and “American Idol”.

    I used to think that TV was the god of Americans. I think that was too simple. TV is the alter at which we worship, certainly, but TV also gives us our marching orders. We are slaves to consumerism, and as Christ so eloquently stated, no man can serve two masters. And if Christ is not our master, then we should be terrified.

  5. No man can serve two masters. It is a daily struggle to check our motives and truly live our lives in complete surrender to Him. You were right in the fact that many “ministers” seem to be using the ministry to achieve financial goals and gains. I definitely agree that this is an either/or situation (solidly backed by Scripture). Thanks for the great post!

  6. By the way I really appreciated the point about the “good” provider. I don’t read a lot of blogs by Christian women, but I do see the reality of that in the local church.

  7. David,

    I once had a business owner halt his interview with me when he saw that I graduated from Wheaton College. He said, “That’s the school Billy Graham went to, isn’t it?” I said yes. Then he continued, “Well, I don’t want any Billy Grahams here, so forget it.”

    I did the Christian service thing, too, where I raised money to support my work. I raised twice what I needed. But when push came to shove and the actual checks were to come in, I received a third of the minimum I needed. I raised $2000 a month for a $1000 a month position and got only $300 of that monthly. Not only did that force me to curtail my work there after a year, but I decided I’d never try to raise money for ministry again.

    • Yup. Been there. It’s even harder when you are raising money to support a ministry here on US soil. I wonder how many Christians would support someone who stood on a street corner with a sign: “Your questions about God answered here”? So many would not think it a “worthwhile” use of “God’s Money.” Yet I would be willing to bet that that person would be responsible for more souls getting the chance for eternity with Christ than the day to day practices of the 100 people needed to support him. What is “Worthwhile” in God’s eyes?

    • Just as an aside: A woman who stays home to take care of the children and household was considered, until recently, to be a valued member of society. A man who does that is considered by most a bum. Men, more than we admit, are defined by our work, and the value of a man is defined by how our society values our job. Women are increasingly facing the same strictures, but in addition face the importance of bearing children. Hence, Murphy Brown. If we, as Christians, assign worldly values to our work, we are lost.

  8. Ekval

    Dan,

    You, as usual have put a hammer on the nailhead again, as you did in your gutcheck sequence. As is often the case as well, you seem to be reflecting some of my own thoughts as well. That, in some ways is disturbing as my thoughts of late have been fairly dark, due to the storms in my life that I discussed earlier.

    I say that to say that you taking a break from blogging is probably a plus as well. Not that you are posting bad things, but great ones, but the mood seems a bit more down than it did a few months/weeks ago. Sometimes when you feel that you “have to” blog on a given day the thoughts that come easiest are the ones that cast the biggest shadows.

    Anyway, another great post Dan, and as you did for me a couple of weeks ago, I’ll pray for you in your time of need and reflection as well.

    • Ekval,

      Keith Green wrote the song “Asleep in the Light” nearly thirty years ago, yet nothing’s changed since then. If anything, I think we’re worse off. I can’t help it if that sounds depressing. You can’t sugarcoat it or spin it some way that makes it any more or less than it is.

  9. Recently I’ve seen numerous posts or news reports which touch on this issue, and considering the number of times I’ve alluded to the problem in my own posts, I sense there is an undercurrent of spiritual movement in this area.

    Time will tell if there is; it will also judge how well we responded if indeed there is!

    HE ALONE IS WORTHY

  10. AlieraKieron

    A big part of the problem as well, I think, is the definition of ministry. Are you spending most of your resources geared towards outright evangelism? Or are you providing an actual, tangible service to the community at large, and providing your witness by action? One of those two will attract positive attention and the interest of the young men you need.

  11. Gina R Johnson

    Dearest brother in Christ,

    My God today! What a post. I can see why we’ll miss you once you take your hiatus from blogging, Dan. You are serving as a “conscience” to us in the blogosphere. I appreciate and celebrate who you are becoming in Christ, and the way you prick my heart and make me look at myself.
    My most recent post at my own blog is asking the question “what difference does it make?”, and is kind of in the vein of what you say in this post.
    A gentleman who has been a spiritual father to my husband and me just this week decided to quit serving on the evangelistic field. He is so discouraged by exactly what you are describing here, namely the lack of spiritual depth and greed for money that he encounters in the pastors of churches he travels to across this country, and yes, some that are overseas. Please keep him in prayer.

    Just as I have linked to your blog at my site, I’ll ask permission to link the others mentioned here as well. I’m on a mission to find those brothers and sisters who minister as you do, whose words pierce my heart and make me think. Blessings always to you and yours!

  12. Dan,

    I am new to Cerulean Sanctum and blogging and I want to say I greatly appreciate your honesty and candor.

    I am challenged by this blog because 99.9% of men consider ministry a worthless profession. Often I get looks of incredulity that smacks against my manhood when I devow that I am in ministry and frankly, it hurts. Now my ego is not that tender, but after a while you begin to believe what some of the guys are saying. Am I doing anything of any earthly (or heavenly, for that matter) good, or am I the necessary deadbeat (rural colloquiallism for pastor) that they say I am?

    Reaching young men is extremely hard, notwithstanding overcoming the stigma that a lot of Christian women place on their husbands. Have we so feminized Christianity that it does not appeal to men anymore? When Jesus called men He always said, “Come, follow me.” Now, its “Come and have a personal relationship with me.” Sometimes I feel like backing a Harley up in the vestibule just to see what happens.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Tony,

      Honestly, I have no problem with the softer, relational side of Christianity. In some ways, I think the current thrashing it’s getting in some areas of the church is because it’s the last windmill. Someone’s got to tilt at it, right?

      In the long run, the problem isn’t the women in the church, it’s the men. Men relegated the backbone of Christian practice, prayer and service, to the women. We men got spiritually lazy. Now we’re bored with what that bought us. Killing a bear with our bare hands will not restore our spiritual manliness. Only prayer and service will. If men don’t want to do that, then they’ll spend a hundred years looking for some “manly” substitute and never find it. And that’s exactly what all these attempts to restore the manliness of Christianity are doing. In the end, they’ll be nothing more than sound and fury.

  13. Dan,
    I sat with friends in Nairobi a couple of months ago as we talked about the influence of the western church on the church in Kenya. One of my friends, a Kenyan native, asked me a simple question, “Do you know what the best business to get into in Kenya is, Bill?” I offered a couple of responses but my friend, the CFO of a subsidiary of a multi-national, said “No, the best business to get into is the church. Take a look at the Pastors in this town. They drive the latest SUVs. They have the biggest houses. They wear the finest clothes. And they promise this life to tithing people who can barely afford Matatu fare to church.”

    We have exported a christianity sans-sacrifice. A christianity that specializes in the “show”. We market spiritainment to the community in a hope of increasing our church size. Bigger numbers means more money which means better ways to deliver the spiritainment.

    We market happiness – and rarely discuss joy. We make unfulfillable promises to a people already satiated by “the Good Life”. Truth is not an option. Our numbers would drop. And it’s all about the numbers.

    God help us.

  14. Dan,
    What you describe I see daily in my work. I don’t think the answer is taking the boredom out of the church. Many of these men are some of the most boring people I know. All they talk about are their jobs, their projects and their complaints about partners and clients. They are scared to death. The whole man law shtick is a window into these incredible shallow, fragile people. It isn’t that they find the church boring. Because if you get below the surface, they know there is more than boredom. I think they see it as so much revolutionary change that they cannot handle it. As a result, they can’t face reality, can’t be honest with themselves, don’t want to be responsible for other people, and reduce their public to staying busy.
    What’s the answer? I don’t think it begins with the church as an institution. It is a product of the people that are in it. I think it begins by each man developing the kind of honest, courageous relationships with other men that provide them the safe space to grow. I think it needs to be connected to something that forces them to take risks, because it is at that point that they begin to understand that faith isn’t a bunch of words, but the character of our lives in action.
    Thank you for your honesty. It is welcomed from this man.

  15. Pingback: salguod.net
  16. There was a time that I was the lone man out at men’s gatherings. When I was a single guy, I hung around with other single guys who were on fire for Jesus. When we got together the conversations always revolved around the things of God.

    As time went on, we all got married and went our seperate ways. Now married, I was invited to the married people parties. Excited to be fellowshiping with these more mature believers I found that I never really fit in. I never could have a meaningful conversation. I never seemed to have conversation at all.

    Then one day I came upon the magical mens meeting conversation stimulator, “How is business?” Wow! With that one phrase I could have conversation the rest of the night. But I had gained nothing.
    I have since learned to stick with the young idealists. The untarnished and still God hungry youth and Gen-Yers.

    So when I am in a room with the mature ones, I pepper their conversations about real estate opportunities with supernatural testimonies which are almost always met with blank stares. My riches are in heaven!

    Great post Dan. Very validating!

  17. Pingback: The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive »
  18. Michael

    Powerful post. I am a recently rededicated Christian and I come from a family line full of ministers. One the favorite parts of my high paying executive job is helping people suceed and public speaking. Do I feel convicted about not using those talents for God? Abosolutely. Am I going to jump into ministry tomorrow? No. But posts like this will continue to gnaw away at my heart and eventually I too will trade short term comfort for eternal riches and the joy that comes with advancing his kingdom.

  19. pinakidion

    Hey Dan,

    A good point about America’s love of money and all the energy it expends to pursue more money. As a general point, I understand and I agree. I come from a church tradition where the lead evangelists lived in exclusive neighborhoods, owned brand-new Harleys and a couple cars, sent their children to elite private schools, and travelled the world like rock stars. If the ministry didn’t work out for them, they could always be hired by the charity arm of the denomination. The point of your post resonates with me and I appreciate the thought.

    The execution, however, leaves much to be desired. The generalization about women bloggers is a big objection – I understand your experiences in the Godblogosphere with women bloggers, but really, that kind of blanket statement? Incendiary is not the right word, ignorant is more appropriate. Ignorant of the difficulties of using generalities and ignorant of the need that some women have for financial security (not the desire to be fabulously wealthy).

    Another problem in execution is the false dichotomy of money/ministry. Poverty is not noble, it is a lack of means. Jesus required that some of his followers sell all they have, but without the second part, follow Jesus, it is useless. Even Paul touches on this in 1 Co 13. Again, I understood what you meant, but the execution would lead some readers to believe that ‘money’ is evil, not ‘the love of money’ is evil.

    The lack of money does not create ministry. Money begets money, ministry begets ministry. A poor man can be miserly and selfish, a rich man can be generous. It may be impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but all things are possible with God.

    Lastly, more needs to be made of your personal circumstance in this matter. When money is tight, these articles appear all over the blogosphere about utopian societies where money is not as important as ____(fill in the blank). No one writes in a vaccuum, especially a religious blog that purports to disciple the American church. Personal circumstances drive a lot of content created or linked. It is worth exploring how much, if any, of the post is motivated by a desire for either more money to meet family needs or the more ‘acceptable’ desire to blame the culture of money in America. I contend that if you were in good shape financially, this post would not exist.

    I understand, money is tight for me. I hocked my college ring for cash to buy diapers for our son. I ate Ramen Noodles for months. No one in my family has bought a stitch of clothing in seven months nor even had a professional haircut. Things get tight and it isn’t fun. A father does what he has to do – and taking time to focus on it instead of ‘ministry’ is draining. I could’ve decried the hospital’s need to charge exorbatant prices and the entire healthcare industry – before insurance, our son’s birth cost over $112,000. I could have criticzed the nurses that kept our son needlessly in the ICU for 11 days instead of the 5 or 6 he actually needed. I could rail on the insurance industry that covers only a percentage of actual expenses or the specialists that scheduled so many appointments in his first months of life that I had to take time off from work. (We have only one car.) We are still paying for his birth ten months later and will continue to do so for at least another six months.

    The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. I didn’t do anything to get into this scrape and did the best I could to get out of it. Without the help of other Christians, the church I attend, family, and friends, we could’ve never made it.

    Maybe this is the time where God can provide for you as well.

    Enjoy your month sabbatical, sounds like you need it.

    • Pinakidion,

      I almost deleted your comment for some of the insinuations it made about my motives and my family’s condition. But I don’t, as a rule, delete comments unless they’re spam or have truly deviant theology, so I will address what you say.

      The execution, however, leaves much to be desired. The generalization about women bloggers is a big objection – I understand your experiences in the Godblogosphere with women bloggers, but really, that kind of blanket statement? Incendiary is not the right word, ignorant is more appropriate. Ignorant of the difficulties of using generalities and ignorant of the need that some women have for financial security (not the desire to be fabulously wealthy).

      Married male bloggers, almost as a rule, do not seem to blog about what makes a good Christian wife. They might say something nice about their own wife, but I can’t remember a married guy blogger doing any sort of in-depth posting on that. Single guy bloggers tend to write about looking for a wife all the time, but even then, most aren’t posting lists of requirements. Most are asking where all the good women went to or why they themselves are still single. (Not going to touch that one here.)

      I read many of the best blogs by Christian women out there. If I listed them, most people would recognize them. Do they represent every single blog written by a Christian woman? Obviously not.

      However, in this fairly decent representative sample, I can recall at no time NOT running across the topic about what makes a good Christian husband. Either the blogger posts it or one of her commenters brings it up. It is a VERY common topic among women, married or otherwise.

      Whenever that topic comes up, so does the provider requirement. I note this because , again, it stands in stark contrast to the lack of a similar conversation on blogs written by guys. That makes it intriguing. I’M intrigued by the dichotomy between the sexes on this issue. I suspect it’s because guys tend to have a much shorter list of “Must Haves” when considering a spouse. (Again, my experience. YMMV.)

      Honestly, I’d never have made the comment in the first place if it wasn’t true. You and I will have to disagree on this. You don’t see it and I do. We won’t come to an agreement on the ubiquity of that conversation.

      As to me being ignorant to the need that some women have for financial security, you’re just flat wrong on that. I perfectly understand that need. How that need is expressed and to what level is at issue here, and how that fits within a ministry-oriented lifestyle rather than one of wealth accumulation. That’s the point.

      The lack of money does not create ministry. Money begets money, ministry begets ministry. A poor man can be miserly and selfish, a rich man can be generous. It may be impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but all things are possible with God.

      The post is not about money being evil. I never said that. What I said is that the pursuit of wealth must naturally conflict with ministry. The American Dream and the cross do not mix. When I say it’s a choice between money and ministry, that’s what I mean. Most the readers implicitly understood my using the word “money” the way I did. If they didn’t they surely would have if they read the iMonk link I said was essential. A few didn’t understand and thought I was talking about all money. I corrected that by responding to comments left by readers who missed it.

      There is no nobility in poverty; you’re right. But we’re not in poverty in this country. We don’t understand what true poverty looks like in this country. When the “poor” here have two TVs and two cars, that’s not the kind of poverty Jesus talks about (and studies have shown that American “poor” DO have two cars and two TVs, BTW).

      Lastly, more needs to be made of your personal circumstance in this matter. When money is tight, these articles appear all over the blogosphere about utopian societies where money is not as important as ____(fill in the blank). No one writes in a vaccuum, especially a religious blog that purports to disciple the American church. Personal circumstances drive a lot of content created or linked. It is worth exploring how much, if any, of the post is motivated by a desire for either more money to meet family needs or the more †˜acceptable’ desire to blame the culture of money in America. I contend that if you were in good shape financially, this post would not exist.

      This comment almost got your comment deleted.

      I live in Ohio, which currently has the onus of being the number one state in the US for job losses. My state is not in good shape. Of course, I notice this. The problems in Ohio are also problems elsewhere, though they might be less concentrated than my state’s are right at this point.

      I’ve been writing on job and income issues for almost ten years now. In wildly good financial times and horridly bad, I have not stopped examining the church’s response to issues of jobs, income, and employment. When we lived in Silicon Valley and had a substantial income, the San Jose Mercury News repeatedly ran editorial responses I sent in concerning jobs and income. Even in the very best of times, not only for me but also for others, I have addressed the problems I see and the lack of Christian response to them.

      Most of the people we have known for years have struggled in light of economic changes that struck them in recent years. You should read the e-mails I get from people over 35 who have been whacked by the economic changes that are surging through this country. I’ve gotten HUNDREDS of those e-mails over the years. I’m listening, but those e-mailers repeatedly tell me their church isn’t. That’s why I continue to write on these issues.

      If you wish to make something of the fact that I sought last week to increase my personal network of contacts in order to enhance my business position, that’s fine. But don’t insinuate that this post on money or ministry has anything to do with that request. If anything, this post is my reaction to the outstanding post that iMonk wrote on the idolatry of the Good Life that plagues American Christians. I’ve been wanting to write on that since Spencer wrote his piece, and I wanted to do it before I went on break. That’s all the motivation there is here.

      Do I personally feel a tension on this issue? Yes. I struggle with the tension of wealth or ministry every day. Everything in our culture is geared toward wealth and nothing toward ministry. People who reject wealth for ministry ARE ridiculed, even in the Church. That’s why so little support is given to ministry families who reject the mammon of our culture. They get shunted into a very small group and have a hard time finding support. They wind up being forced to be a little island of their own, and that’s a tough row to hoe.

      As for my own situation, my property exceeds the value of perhaps 90% of the people in my area. We are not poor. But even we have been adversely affected by what is going on in Ohio, along with many of the people we know. Families who were doggedly clinging to the typical single-wage-earner model that Focus on the Family adheres to have had to bite their lips and have mom work outside the home. The Church is not talking about this. I am. The Church in America did not confront the issues that came out of the last recession, where the number one prayer concern at my former church was for decent jobs. Most of the people who had that prayer did eventually find jobs, though for less money than they were making. Going backwards in America isn’t the mantra. I speak to that, too. Spend some more time here and consider the entirety of my writings. You’ll change your mind, I hope.

      The Church is not confronting issues of healthcare. I’ve written on that, too. More and more people are having to drop out of the healthcare system, even with insurance. Is the Church here doing anything about that? I know solidly middle class people who are foregoing medications they genuinely need because they can’t afford them, even with insurance. The Church is silent.

      Oddly enough, it was the early Church’s care for the sick that no one else cared for that resulted in some of its greatest growth, especially in Rome. Researchers have found that people who had no other hope came to the Roman Christians for aid. They wound up becoming Christians as a result.

      Good for you that your church stepped up to the plate. Many do not. I recount those horror stories here. There should be no horror stories.

      Will you speak up on this? Will you ask Church leaders in this country what they are doing about living out Acts 4:34-35? If you are silent on this, especially given what happened to you, you are only part of the problem.

      • pinakidion

        My comment had no relation to your previous posts, I didn’t read the post you mention about appealing to readers. I also did not read iMonk’s post. I took this post at face value.

        So women bloggers post about what makes a good husband and financial security is an issue. So what? My experience has been that few of these women bloggers desire a millionaire, just someone that loves God and prevents the family from going into financial crisis. My experience has been that most men want a physically attractive mate, a topic that doesn’t appear that often in the writings of women bloggers I’ve read.

        Honestly, I’d never have made the comment in the first place if it wasn’t true. You and I will have to disagree on this. You don’t see it and I do. We won’t come to an agreement on the ubiquity of that conversation.

        Honestly, I wouldn’t have made my comment if what I said wasn’t true.

        As to me being ignorant to the need that some women have for financial security, you’re just flat wrong on that. I perfectly understand that need. How that need is expressed and to what level is at issue here, and how that fits within a ministry-oriented lifestyle rather than one of wealth accumulation. That’s the point.

        I disagree. I don’t see the need as having anything to do with money itself – it has more to do with emotional security. The question is what does ‘provider’ mean, not what level of providing equals ‘good’.

        My family has no money, yet my wife feels I am a good provider. This isn’t because we go out to eat or have fancy possesions. It is because we talk about the finances openly and honestly. I have submitted myself to a friend to learn about handling money better, at her request. I’m the son of a banker, I understand handling money. My friend, though, is an MBA. He manages their money very well on one income, three children under five and medical bills. I’m certain I can learn something over time. Meanwhile, it meets my wife’s need. At any time she wants to know how much money we have until the next check, she can get an answer, immediately. When the finances appear to be different from her understanding, she can call my friend. This is meeting the good provider need, not a certain level of income.

        The post is not about money being evil. I never said that. What I said is that the pursuit of wealth must naturally conflict with ministry. The American Dream and the cross do not mix. When I say it’s a choice between money and ministry, that’s what I mean. Most the readers implicitly understood my using the word “money the way I did. If they didn’t they surely would have if they read the iMonk link I said was essential. A few didn’t understand and thought I was talking about all money. I corrected that by responding to comments left by readers who missed it.

        If you are talking about the pursuit of wealth versus the pursuit of ministry, then say that. I did not get that from the text of your post. I agree that you cannot pursue both. My contentions are in the execution of this premise, not its validity. I agree with the idea of your post, just not how it was executed.

        There is no nobility in poverty; you’re right. But we’re not in poverty in this country. We don’t understand what true poverty looks like in this country. When the “poor here have two TVs and two cars, that’s not the kind of poverty Jesus talks about (and studies have shown that American “poor DO have two cars and two TVs, BTW).

        If all the poor have two cars and two TVs, I would like my second car. It would really be helpful.

        Generalizations like this lead to sloppy thinking and you write much better than this.

        Go visit the real working poor that are forced into substandard housing. Children have died in this city, an American city, because the family couldn’t afford power. They used candles and one of them set the house on fire. Another family here lives in an 106 year old house that has no A/C, the house doesn’t meet code, and the furnace is dangerous. We had heat indexes of 120+ recently. (Yes, I reported the landlord, she used to be mine and that was my house. She has since leased it out to someone else, despite my efforts.) There’s no public transportation in this city, if both parents work, they have to have two cars just to get to work. Poverty in America, especially in this city, is more complex than what you have stated. People do starve and it’s not as easy as ‘don’t buy that second car’.

        As to the final point, if you say that you have written on this for 10 years, I have no reason to doubt you. You’ve been honest and I have no reason to mistrust you.

        As someone that has taken church leaders to task on a variety of issues, including living in wealth while single mothers in their congregations choose between food and medication, I can tell you it does no good. Just go do something, instead. As you yourself have said, talk is cheap.

        On a side note, you are right about early Christians care for others. People cared and it showed, not just with saved souls, but an overall improvement of the quality of life. Christianity of this century needs to look more like this than some Purpose Driven model of success.

        Again, I agree with your intended thrust of this post. Americans tend to pursue wealth and not ministry. Many Americans, even American pastors, do not understand why someone would drastically downgrade their financial status to go into the ministry. All I have tried to point out, is that these points can be differently and more accurately.

  20. Christina

    I agree 100%. Money is too much a focus in the American church. When it comes to fashion, upper middle class women are competing even on Sunday morning rather than supporting other Christians. I think too many women mean “rich”, not provider…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.