The facts of life (and how to do ministry in spite of them)
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –
Want to hear some dirty words?
How about these:
Health insurance premiums; information technology costs; liability insurance premiums (all kinds!); costs for training on staffing issues; vehicle insurance premiums; rapidly changing employment laws; OSHA; aging facilities and deferred maintenance; litigation; continuing education costs; financial support for divisional programs; rising costs for materials, utilities, you name it . . . Face it, the cost of doing business is outstripping income.
How often do we complain, “When is headquarters going to get the message? The corps just doesn’t have the money to pay all of the bills they are sending us! How do they expect us to do ministry when most of our dollars have to go for headquarters assessments and bills?”
For The Salvation Army, the cost of doing business is literally the cost of doing ministry. The temptation to look for somewhere to place the blame is almost irresistible—and potentially destructive. So how about identifying the real culprit and focus on overcoming the real enemy, instead of infighting and name-calling?
First of all, yes, costs are rising. No matter what the politicians tell us about lower taxes, more efficient government, greater public safety and all of the other “I deserve your vote” type rhetoric, simply running a business (whether for profit, not-for-profit or not-intentionally-not-for-profit) in today’s economic and political climate is a risky financial undertaking.
Additionally, religious organizations, no matter what their nature or purpose, are facing legal challenges that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago—challenges that cause us to scrutinize our practices and separate our true moral and spiritual values from the debilitating fog of traditional bias and misconceptions that so often affect our decision-making. We find it easier to ask, “What is the world coming to?” than to say, “We are here to do ministry—so how are we going to accomplish it?”
We know what the world is coming to. What we don’t know is how to efficiently cope with what is happening around us—and so we seek to establish blame, and complain that we haven’t the resources to do effective ministry.
The church today has only one great enemy against whom we need to be directing our energies and efforts. These days we don’t often name him, but once in a while it is important that we recognize who it is that we are fighting: Satan, the enemy, has no intention of allowing the Church to remain pure and strong, carrying out ministry in the name of our Lord. I imagine he is delighted when we start focusing on blame placing instead of challenge facing.
Time to regroup and re-evaluate our situation, our resources and our strategy:
• Money is tight, and it probably isn’t going to start flowing in at the rate we would like to see it.
• Cost of doing business is skyrocketing, and the church cannot escape that unwelcome fact.
• Evolving legislative issues are increasing the challenges we face.
• The need for the unique ministry of The Salvation Army is no less now than it was when William Booth looked out over the teeming streets of East London.
• God gave us responsibility for that unique ministry.
Our (most valuable) resources:
• Our people—the officers, soldiers and volunteers in the field—sometimes very few, sometimes battle-scarred and tired, sometimes overawed by the enormity of the task—but chosen by God to accomplish his Kingdom-objectives.
• Our leaders, facing the incredible challenges of today and tomorrow, seeking the mind of Christ in their day-to-day decision-making.
• The trust of the public to use our money wisely and to demonstrate an integrity that is morally uncompromising, spiritually pure, and Christ-like in its creative expression of Christian compassion for saint and sinner.
• A God who is ready, willing and able to provide all that is needed to accomplish the ministry he has appointed us to do.
• Permeate every effort with prayer. After all, it’s God’s work that is to be done; give him the chance to accomplish it through you. God doesn’t need to be convinced of his power and his interest in doing mission—but sometimes we do—so pray on!
• Learn to trust—not only to trust God, but also to trust others. Trust that your leaders and your coworkers are just as interested in the accomplishment of your mission as you are—even when you feel like crying out with the prophet Elijah, “I have been very jealous for the God of hosts; for the people . . . have forsaken thy covenant . . . and I, even I only, am left . . .” (I Kings 19:14 RSV).
• Review your “wish list.” Recognize that you probably can’t do everything your would like to do. Determine in advance what are going to be the priorities—those things absolutely necessary to accomplishment of ministry, as opposed to those that are attractive and desirable.
• Agree that every Salvationist (officer, soldier, adherent or volunteer) at every level of service (headquarters, corps or community program) must be willing to sacrifice personal comforts in order to commit more Salvation Army funds to ministry (including community outreach ministry).
• Focus resources on the identified priorities. Identify what will be essential to accomplishment of the basic task. Determine how to do quality ministry efficiently and economically. Be prepared to sacrifice nonessential bells and whistles.
The great enemy of the Church would like to drive The Salvation Army out of business, but I think he would be pretty well satisfied to see God’s soldiers huddled about our campfires discussing all the things they can’t do, and why they can’t do them. That cannot, must not be allowed! God’s people must be prepared to accept personal responsibility for devoting skills, time and financial resources to accomplishing his purposes and thwarting the common enemy.
Our people must accept the challenge to take up arms in a cause that may appear daunting, but that will succeed, because ultimately, “The battle is the Lord’s!”