Monday, October 04, 2004

Sowing and Reaping?

Let’s be honest. One of the most difficult things to sort out in ministry is … mammon. I’ve already written once in this space about my new role as reluctant fundraiser. I won’t be shedding that role anytime soon. In fact, figuring out how to raise, save, keep, spend, and distribute money will be one of my main jobs soon.

I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about this subject, so please bear with me.

The mission here is one of unlimited potential. Even though Cameroon has had its share of Christian missionary efforts, there are still swathes of countryside that have been unreached by the gospel. Witchdoctors still have a commanding presence in many villages. And even in places which have had Catholic missionaries, there is a yearning for a Protestant presence. Bill has received numerous requests to start churches, which he has had to turn down reluctantly.

Besides preaching and church planting, there is a tremendous amount of social justice and peace work to be done, too, from AIDS education and care, to economic assistance for women and youth.

There’s only one thing that seems to be holding this mission back. Yep, money. There is simply not enough money to support everything we could/would/should be doing!

I have no doubt that we could be starting a church a week in the villages that dot the bush, if we could only afford it. The costs are fairly straightforward: roughly $130/month for a pastor’s support, plus transportation, another $100/month for rental of a building to hold services. No, it doesn’t cost a lot. But it does cost.

Until the church in Cameroon is big enough to support itself, the mission will require funds from overseas. Plain and simple. We will need help.

Every time I start to sweat and feel guilty about attempting to raise money, I have to turn to the Bible and observe the working of the early church. The best example I have found is the apostle Paul, who does some wonderful fundraising in II Corinthians 8. One of Paul’s pet projects was raising money for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem, for which he found great support amongst the small churches he’d planted, particularly the ones in Macedonia. He has to go back and ask for even more from the Corinthians; he has to say, “Finish the work!”

What I find fascinating, however, is the rationale that Paul uses in asking for money: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved, while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.”

Paul says explicitly, “Give because you never know when you’ll be in need yourself!” He doesn’t expect the Christians in Jerusalem to always be in need. He fully expects that they will eventually recover and prosper. And one day, they will be able to come to the rescue of a need in Corinth!

Paul presses home the point that, in God’s eyes, all local congregations are equal, valuable, and important. Big churches are not more important than small ones; rich churches are not less dependent than poor churches; American churches are not more biblical than African churches.

My challenge is to use Paul’s logic. The church in Cameroon is in need right now. Every new mission initiative is an investment, a risky faith-venture, particularly this one. We need churches in America to step forward and give money, time and resources to baby churches in Cameroon.

But every church, and every person, who gives toward this mission should also understand that this is not a one-sided relationship. This is the expression of a belief in Christian equality, in the priesthood of all believers. The Cameroon church may not be able to give back large amounts of money right now, but one day, perhaps it will. The Cameroon church does not have hundreds of available pastors, deacons, and lay leaders, but one day, perhaps it will. The Cameroon church does not have thousands of committed, faithful young people, but one day, perhaps it will.

Who knows … in the distant future, it may be the African Methodist Church which sends missionaries and money to a decaying, dying American Methodist Church!

A little later in II Corinthians, Paul wraps up his fundraising appeal with the stirring and challenging words: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

I used to stumble over those words, thinking them a bald appeal to “investment giving.” I don’t think that anymore. Instead, I think it’s a simple reality.

What are you sowing?