Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 2


As we’ve seen, the Lord views real community among us believers as critical to our spiritual health and of those yet to enter our community. Despite wanting vital interaction with others, we stumble when it comes to execution. How do our churches forge real community?

Today, I want to discuss a simple way we can build a better community of faith. I’ll focus on one common item already found in most churches.

#5 – Leverage your church directory.

    Even now I can hear the faint mouse clicks as hundreds flee this site for greener Web pastures. Stick with me, though.

I believe our church directories are one of the most underutilized resources we have for building community.  While nothing beats face to face interaction, Searching the listings...our church directories are a database for community growth and blessing if done correctly. I acknowledge up front that it would be better for us to learn about other people in our church through sharing meals with them in our homes, but we need a babystep back toward that reality. Expanding our vision for what a church directory affords us can get us to that better place. Then when we’re doing our community life better we can use the directory as a fallback in the future, not a primary means of accomplishing community.

Before we begin exploring this more, I’d like to share a few verses. Much of what follows depends on our understanding a painful truth about dying to self and being raised into a community of faith:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
—1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a ESV

For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 7:22 ESV

If I am not my own, if I am a slave of Christ, then what rights do I have as a Christian? None that have anything to do with personal privacy.

A dead man doesn’t have any privacy. We saw our right to privacy die at the foot of the cross. If we were free before, we’re slaves to Christ now. We don’t get to call the shots, Jesus does. And as part of being born into Him and the Church He died to create, we don’t get a say about our own privacy. Just as the clay can’t talk back to the potter, we can’t tell God we don’t want to be a part of community. Nor can we tell Him we’re not happy about losing our so-called right to privacy.

The Christian isn’t a private creature. The Christian lives and dies to a Lord who lived and died for others. Again, our focus is outside ourselves. For that reason, a true Christian gives up any pretenses to privacy.

Now this doesn’t mean a Christian can’t rent a cabin in the deep woods for a week and get away for an occasional  break. What it does mean is that our lives are now lived openly, with a servant heart toward others, even if those others infringe on our privacy from time to time.

You won’t hear that message from too many pulpits because if we truly believed that (as opposed to believing the American civil religion we tend to bow to), our lives would be drastically altered by living it out. Radically counterculture, eh?

A church directory is not a private thing. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that more and more Christians are opting out of having their personal info included in their church directories because of privacy issues. I know for a fact that fewer churches are attempting church directories in the first place, either because they’re megachurch-sized (I’ll speak to this issue in a future post in this series) or they’re getting a big ho-hum from their congregation.

Tough. A church directory is essential. Trust me on this one. My first explanation says it all:

a. We’re praying through our church directories, right?

    If we want one reason why our churches are ineffective, it starts here. The people who make up our churches are not praying for each other. If we truly believe that prayer matters, how can we not being praying over every person in our church? Good grief, whenever I hear someone like John Eldredge spouting off about how men in our churches are bored, I’ve got to ask if those men are praying over every person who walks through the doors of their church! Who has time to be bored when we’ve got such an enormous task ahead of us covering each other in prayer? I’d go so far as to say that we should have praying over the church directory inserted into the everyday service we perform when we become members of a church. A-1 priority. Church leaders, I implore you to consider this if you’re not already doing it at your church.

Here’s a way to start. Break up the alphabet into sections, A-E, F-J, K-N, O-S, T-Z. If a family’s last name is Edelen, the Edelen family would pray for other families in the section that corresponds to their last name, in this case A-E. Do that for a set period of time, then have the families move onto the next section. Edelens would then pray for those in F-J. Every day, pray for three families in that section, praying for each individual within each family.

That kind of covering prayer can be tweaked, so a million options exist. But church leaders should let their congregants know that praying through the church directory is one of the ways the church functions, and therefore it’s expected of everyone.

Praying through the church directory opens up myriad possibilities for community growth and bonding. I know that I would want to know more about the people I’m praying for, wouldn’t you? I might even pick up the phone and call those families to find our how I can pray more specifically. I’d also like to know how those prayers I’m praying with others are coming out. What a blessing it is to hear of prayers answered. But if you’re like me, you hear about answered prayer far too infrequently for it to have any impact on your own faith for big requests. Think how blessed we would be if our entire church were soliciting prayer requests, praying for those requests, then actually hearing those prayers answered!

It can start with praying through the church directory.

b. Faces matter. So do names.

    We humans are visual. Any anxiety we have about interacting with others is dramatically reduced when we can routinely match a name in a church directory with a face. For that reason, spend whatever it costs to get pictures in your church directory. Pictures make praying through the church directory even more effective.

When you go for a visual directory, make certain that the names of individuals within families are correctly noted in captions below the pictures. If a family has five teenage sons (God have mercy on them!), we should know which teen face matches which teen name. While Dale Carnegie isn’t a spiritual mentor in the slightest, he was right about one thing: a person loves to hear his own name. Our names matter in community. We need to get them right as practical proof that we care about the people in our church.

c. Tell us everything.

    Here’s where the privacy pushback comes in.

In order to have a community that seeks the best for every person within that community, we need to be open. We can’t hold back information that can be helpful to other members of the community.

Long ago, we used to know what others did for a living. Chances were that Millers operated the town mill, Smiths manned the blacksmithing duties, while the Taylors made the clothes.

Today, our work lives are far more complex than they once were, nor do they align with the rest of our life experiences, even our college majors. But as believers in community, our work matters not only to our employers, but to each other. Community necessitates that I know what your job is at your company. That helps me to give you business; your financial health matters to me because you’re part of our community.

It extends beyond work, too. Knowing your hobbies and talents can better allow me to join in those hobbies with you or leverage those talents to the betterment of not only myself, but the entire community.

We need to go beyond a name, address, and phone number. Knowing what teens have completed childcare courses can better help me choose a babysitter. Knowing who in the church speaks Spanish can help my child when he or she’s learning the language. Knowing who lived in Silicon Valley for ten years can help me should I need to move there.

Options abound. Put the directory on the Web and give church members a special login to access the info. Given that most people have computer access, a church can keep the info up to date with an online list of the talented people within the church.

Only your church community can decide how much info is too much. Personally, I think a church directory should move beyond a name, address, and telephone number to encompass full biographies of the people who attend our churches. If we want to better unite our people in community, that kind of information is priceless.

Communities of long ago knew this kind of detailed information, but today we barely know the names of people in our churches. We need to attempt this kind of transparency. God intended us to network with each other and those outside the church proper, yet when I look around, too many of us know hardly anything about the person sitting next to us in the pew. A more robust church directory would go a long way to fixing that problem.

Can we consider doing more with our church directories? If the world is hard to navigate as a community, how much harder is it to handle as individuals cut off from each other? Yet that kind of disconnection typifies our lives in America 2006. We don’t know anyone beyond a handful of people, and what we know is so shallow as to not help us or others when times are tough.

More community-building ideas to come…

Posts in this series: