• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Opportunity and Responsibility in the Financial Crisis

North American Christianity faces twin crises these days. The first is a leadership crisis, and the second is a funding crisis. There seem to be a record number of Christian organizations seeking middle- and senior-level administrators. And a disturbing number suffer financial trouble—especially during the current financial downturn around the world.

Leading publications in both Canada and the United States are struggling financially, with sometimes desperate confusion about how the Internet is affecting them for better and for worse. And they keep looking for capable editors and publishers to help guide them through these parlous times.

New Bible schools, colleges, seminaries, and even universities continue to pop up, but a number of long-serving schools have closed or merged with others. (I heard about two closing just today.) Many of them face the daunting challenge of replacing senior officers (Do you know any excellent deans or presidents you can recommend?). A large part of the burden of those officers is raising and stewarding finances that seem perpetually to fall short of what is needed to fulfil the school’s mandate. Moreover, no one should underestimate the strain of living on—and trying to hire and retain good workers on—what are generally meager salaries.

The word “crisis,” however, does not mean “disaster,” but it comes from the Greek word for “decision,” a fork in the road. As many shrewd leaders will admit, times of financial constraint can be good for an organization: Troublesome or unproductive personnel can be dismissed, misbegotten programs can be cut, extravagant expenditures can be reined in, and new priorities can be set with fresh self-understanding.

All of us who support such organizations with our money, our time, and our prayers are players in this serious game. And what we must do is both simple and drastic. We must prayerfully and informedly decide which organizations will live and which will die. It is out duty, in reverence before God and with determination to glorify him above all, to communicate to such organizations what will be their future.

We must recognize, in fact, that whether we do it prayerfully and informedly or not, we are deciding by our giving—and not giving; by our volunteering time—and not volunteering it; by our prayering—and our not praying. We are deciding which ministries will thrive, which will barely survive, and which will disappear. We also will be deciding which new ministries begin and grow.

So we must not be moved by advertising pitches aimed at inducing guilt, rather than prompting respect and enthusiasm. We must not contribute merely because we have a friend or relative in such-and-such an organization. We must not support something just because it is local, or spectacular, or denominational.

Let’s say out loud what we all know to be true: Some organizations are led by crummy boards that have hired inferior executives who preside over ineffective staff, and to give them one dollar more is just sending good money after bad. It’s about time that those organizations disappeared, and maybe this latest blast of financial trouble will remove them once for all.

We each stand or fall before our own Master. We must decide with the counsel of the Holy Spirit how best to devote the money, time, and prayer we have at our disposal.

Do we need all of the Christian schools we have in North America? Do we need all of the Christian publications? Do we need so many different Christian student ministries? Do we have too few good leaders spread among too many organizations? Do we need more or better in any of these cases, and thus ought we to provide more support for such persons and their ministries?

Some Christian organizations that exist today will not live to see January 2010. In at least some cases, that’s entirely a good thing, and perhaps more should be on the chopping block. But let us act on our responsibility before God to make sure that the right ones continue, and continue in robust health, with only the unproductive being pruned away.

[This post is adapted from a chapter of my book Church: An Insider’s Look at How We Do It, available from Regent College Publishing.]

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