My confession is that I am writing this from Newport Beach; a centre of opulence and abundance. That statement alone would have been sufficient for me as a new believer to dismiss everything I am about to say as indulgence or irrelevance.
I grew up in scarcity. My local community accepted, and generally championed a poverty mentality. When I entered the story of God, it helped me see my community differently. My desire to alleviate poverty – to help my community - was visceral.
And then God called us beyond Glasgow and on to Northern Ireland.
My early months there were marked with the wrestle of knowing God had called us, yet struggling to see the need. There were no homeless, fewer jobless... and it was distinctly middle class. I became offended that people owned homes... and second homes. Homes in which they did not live. Even Christ followers had homes for their cars. Everything in me screamed that this was rampant materialism. Practical atheism. But God had called us to the community, to listen to their story, and in so doing discover His story.
In listening to their story, I discovered a generous community of outrageous compassion. They gave to others' needs and dreams in a way that changed individuals and environments. I marveled as the community regained confidence, and then wept as the recession ripped it apart. Suddenly there were boarded businesses and broken families everywhere. Burgeoning food banks and struggling government agencies.
As a senior pastor I desired to do more for our city.
I longed for our local church to heal the wounds of the city, to create new ventures, develop new business, repair streets with dwellings, restore dignity to government, provide alternative job centres, give grants to government rather than take grants from government. Yet none of it was possible without a different level of resource.
The old adage asks how much ministry can you do for $100, and the answer is about $100 worth. How much impact can you have in the city for $100? About $100 worth. We cannot reach and bring life to cities on local church budgets. Local and global solutions are difficult to start and impossible to sustain without significant resources. We need city sized resources. Our growing compassion must be aligned with wealth creation and our growing wealth creation must be a wellspring of compassion.
Although compassion movements are emerging in churches across the globe, the pace of wealth creation has been tentative. We are still largely uncomfortable with teaching believers to create wealth. Yet we are more-than-happy to spend the wealth of benefactors (and government agencies) on our projects.
Such dependence on donors is not only a money issue; it's a discipleship issue.
When we use other businesses to sponsor compassion initiatives, we miss our calling to bring forth entrepreneurs. We have courted and cultivated donors while neglecting or ignoring entrepreneurs. It's understandable. It's easier to have others step in with their resources than it is to create a discipleship process of cultivating innovators, imagineers and entrepreneurs.
Consequently, many churches have programs and a practice for tackling poverty but few intentionally develop a discipleship pathway for wealth creation. We have plans for training evangelists but not entrepreneurs; models for raising families but not growing business; strategies for spiritual formation but few for city formation.
In the future, it will be different.
Expect the Church of the future to move beyond food banks to creating real banks and job centres. Expect it to move beyond tackling poverty to transforming industry. Expect her to take tentative steps into the water of stewarding wealth for the well being of the city. Expect her to be known more for giving grants to the government, than receiving grants from the government. Expect her to show up in times of fulness and not just times of crises.
Expect her to no longer be content to remove financial debt but to become creative enough to unleash financial development. Expect more than micro financing loans for individuals but manufacturing bases and technology centres for institutions and areas. Expect partnerships with universities and compassion agencies as the Church grows in confidence in pioneering bold concepts. Expect the metrics of compassion to shift and the movement of wealth creation to root deeper as the Church revisits her calling to be a blessing to the nations.
Biblically functioning churches and leaders no longer have the luxury of ignoring wealth creation. They can no longer condemn it as the excesses of a prosperity movement bent on materialism or the guilty pleasure of a few kingdom business leaders. Instead, biblically functioning leaders and churches must find ways, real ways, tangible ways to communicate and demonstrate the extravagance of God without surrendering to the opulence of man.