I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this story over the years. In nearly every church I’ve served it’s been the same thing.
At the end of the year, when the church was facing a deficit, the pastor would meet with a small group of men, usually at “the club,” over drinks, and the deficit would go away.
I can’t say that these stories prompt admiration in me for my predecessors – not for their fund raising abilities or for their drinking habits. And yet, I notice that these stories are almost always told fondly, as though those were the good old days.
What was good about them, as far as I can tell, is that someone else always picked up the tab for the church. If a half dozen well-off church members paid the bills every year, well, that meant other people wouldn’t have to dig deep and somehow help to make the budget.
In each church where this story has been told, there have been members who looked to me to cultivate similar relationships and somehow keep the tradition going: “We’ve got to introduce Doug to some key people.” Wink, wink.
The hard truth is, those days are gone – or very nearly gone. But the memories live on, as well as the bad habits.
My church here in Fort Lauderdale has dreamed for many years of building a family center on Las Olas Boulevard, an important retail/restaurant thoroughfare that connects downtown and the beach. Having a presence on Las Olas has always seemed to be a critical piece of the church’s growth and trajectory, and so for 61 years it has – one by one – purchased the necessary parcels of land.
Today we have the land, we are close to getting the necessary city approvals, and the plans are truly exciting. Our only problem is, most members are convinced that someone else is going to pay for the project.
Reminds me of the old joke: A preacher once said to his congregation, “The good news is that we have the money to pay for the new building. The bad news is that it’s still in your pockets.”
Given the history of our church, though, I see a silver lining.
If the new building is going to be built, if our dream is going to be realized, if our church is finally going to have a presence on one of the most important streets not just in Fort Lauderdale, but in south Florida, then the money is going to have come from the entire membership. Not from five or six people, meeting over drinks at “the club,” but from everyone.
I think this is good news, not just for the new building, but for the church more generally. We have an opportunity to change the culture of the church to something that more clearly reflects what we believe.
We are the church. Not a select group, but all of us. The change will be good for us.