Friday, January 16, 2009

Focusing on the external is often not valued - President Bush and Africa

I just read an article by Sen. Bill Frist, a medical doctor, in which he highlights President Bush's foreign aid efforts. By committing $15 billion to combat AIDS in Africa and other foreign initiatives, Frist says that Bush saved ten million lives around the world. Read the article here.

These are staggering figures. I have certainly had many issues with the Bush administration (as I have had with other administrations), particularly on the post-war planning (or lack thereof) and fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof). But if these numbers are true, then Bush has left a lasting legacy. The number of lives lost in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans, are outnumbered dramatically by the number of lives that his initiatives have saved.

This does is not a defense of bad decision-making. But President Bush, despite having a horrible approval rating and having made some mistakes, has done some good things. Unfortunately, few care much about people in Africa.

The same is often true in churches. It is hard for us to care about people outside of our walls, whether in our community or overseas. Selfishly, we often care more about ourselves than others. That inward focus and self absorption is always a temptation, both for us individually and for the congregations of which we are a part.

This can be seen in church budgeting. There is always a call for more and more resources to be devoted to us. Someone to feed us. Someone to help us raise our kids. Someone to help our marriages. Better classrooms for us. Most church budgets devote less than 3% to helping people in the community. Add another youth minister or employ someone to minister to AIDS victims, the abused, the homeless? It is not even a question. How can we justify more spending on ourselves, when over 90% of church resources is already spent on us?

The fact is, much of our own transformation is accomplished by getting outside of ourselves. When we help the poor, we realize how blessed we are. Want to help your marriage? Get rid of selfishness--and nothing helps to cure selfishness than helping the less fortunate. What to solidify your children's faith? Don't coddle them--have them serve in a clothes closet, hand out food, clean up the community.

President Bush's spending of $15 billion in Africa could have been spent here. But this may be the very best $15 billion that his administration spent.

Bush could have helped his cause by highlighting this Africa initiative, showing how it made a difference in people's lives. Churches need to do the same, and tell back stories of how community outreach efforts affect people's lives. This is something that we are trying to do at High Pointe, using the Missional Outreach Network (check out particularly the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry groups).

This storytelling is an essential part of missional transformation. And it is much needed, to touch our hearts.

How do most people in your church feel about spending on the community? Does your church's budgeting give a priority to mission?


Professor said...

lnn4506lnLIt is interesting that Obama is capitalizing on the innate interest of young people today and particularly the postmodern mindset. For example,

"The age old obsession of young people with questions of justice and morality; the sense of being personally touched and helpless before intense beauty, pain, tradition or genuine greatness; the search for a frame of reference withinwhich to make their own decisions; the need for a personal commitment to an ideal; these are all evidence of that side of our nature which can be termed spiritual and which can either be enhanced and enriched by the educational diet that it is given, or stunted and warped by starvation" (Young people and spirituality: directions for Christian schools,1 Cited in Lealman (1985). P.67 )

It would seem the emphasis on the poor, disadvantaged, those with aids, etc.seems to be the same as Jesus emphasis. What an opportunity for a missional church!

Anonymous said...

I think our storytelling telling does not have a direct relationship to our spending. So, therefore more spending does not necessarily equal more stories to tell. There is something that does make that equation more true and that would be 'what we do with our lives'. If we live our lives for God...then we will have some remarkable story/stories to $$ needed or required. And that is pure truth.

If we become a church who focuses their lives on God (all glory to God), then that will be a church whose heart is on God. A church whose heart is focused on God will be a church who can move mountains... And that is pure truth.

Almost from birth our mindsets are so 'money' focused, that it is hard to see outside the money boxes we've placed ourselves in. I just want to challenge us/ourselves to realize that the money box does not rule what we (as a church) can or can not do.

God gave us his most precious gift of all...His Life. The first fruit. I can only think that the very least (and yet the most) we can do is to give some 'life' back. If we as a church can actually start to 'live' this way, then all the other incidentals (such as money or budgets) will fall into place.

In fact, I'm starting to think about the sermon on the mount now as I'm writing this. Because it is about our lives...

James said...

Storytelling in any context is essential for missional transformation. The church is a social system, and whoever or whatever we hold up as heroes will get emulated. This is a general truth about storytelling.

As to money, we should have a balanced perspective. There is a great amount of good that can be done without it. It is not the solution to a great number of things. The lives that we live should have a positive impact upon those around us. There is a great emphasis upon daily Christian living throughout the NT.

There is also a tremenous amount of biblical teaching about money. Jesus' ministry was funded by a group of women. Paul's ministry was funded by churches. Money does have an affect upon the doing of good deeds and the spreading of the gospel.

I would say that we grow up all of our lives hearing about spending. Materialism. This is what boxes in our thinking. A church cannot focus upon God without dealing with the alternative gods that are out there--the biggest of which, in the US, is money.

But really, my point had to do with how we prioritize our spending. It is easy to spend money on ourselves. There is a great consituency for us. There is little consituency for those outside the church.