Dollars and Souls
I am sure this sounds like an absurd question, but it is one that churches often contemplate when we discuss where to spend the funds we receive as blessings from God.
Jay Repecko | ViewsI am a supported missionary working with a small church in New England. No, I am not disgruntled. I have no problem getting a secular job to pay my bills. I have, however, seen too many preachers who split their time between ministry and vocation — and the damage it causes them, their families and the congregation they serve (or served).
Recently, I had a conversation with a good friend who has worshiped with our congregation for decades. We noted than many Churches of Christ in New England are not self-supporting — and that many more churches in our brotherhood with weekly attendance of 300 or more could make wonderful partners for some of the small churches here.
It is unfortunate that, when it comes to supporting mission work here, much of the decision-making focuses on numbers. What is the church’s attendance? How much has it grown in terms of baptisms and restorations (former members who have come back)? Has the church’s contribution increased? What outreach efforts has the church initiated?
I have made my share of calls and visits to congregations as I’ve raised support for the work here. I have received my share of “I am sorry, but we only support foreign missions” as a response. I believe we need foreign missionaries. We are told to go into all the world. But I also have seen support leave mission works when the numbers do not go where sponsoring churches assumed they should go.
I have been blessed to see some support for churches where there really is a partnership — when some of the folks from the supporting congregation actually travel to and work with the folks in the supported congregation. I believe it gives the brethren in the supporting congregation a real sense of the work and, more so, a relationship with those in the supported congregation.
That’s what churches in New England need.
‘Supporting churches should be prepared to stand with the church they support until it can stand on its own.’
We see relationships like this in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul thanks the church more than once for their partnership, participation, and for giving gifts that were more than money. (Paul commends the church for Epaphroditus and refers to him as “your messenger and the one who ministered to my need” in Philippians 2:25.)
These visits need not be evangelistic campaigns exclusively. What about a trip to do repair and maintenance on the church’s property, or to host a Vacation Bible School? How about bringing the preacher and his family from the supporting church to meet the members of the supported congregation? Or bring the preacher from the supported church and his family to the supporting church for a visit.
True partnership with a church means no time restrictions. This doesn’t mean we just throw money into a church in New England without paying attention to what’s going on. While I believe numbers do not tell the whole story, they do have a purpose. Supporting churches should be prepared to stand with the church they support until it can stand on its own — through times of growth and decline.
I know that many of you think of this region almost as a foreign country with its own language and customs. What works in your part of the country may not work here. I cannot tell you what the secret to church growth is in New England — other than reaching more people.
And there are a lot of people here — more than 14.7 million spread across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, according to recent U.S. Census figures. That’s about the same as the populations of Honduras and El Salvador combined. Serving these souls in New England are barely more than 100 Churches of Christ. For many, the nearest congregation is hours away. Some churches may soon have to close their doors due to lack of attendance, lack of funds and the condition of their property.
We need workers in this vineyard! We need men to preach and families who want to practice their vocations in New England as they serve the churches here.
I do not know what all of the answers are, but I do want to get the discussion going. The task before us is difficult, but I have no doubt that the Lord can — and will — do powerful things when we let him.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Jay Repecko ministers for the Concord Church of Christ in New Hampshire.