In the book, Quietly Courageous, Gil Rendle tells this story: “There were two writers who were attending a party together that was hosted by a billionaire whose extravagance was widely known. Vonnegut was to have turned to Heller and said something to the effect of, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host made more money in the time we have been at this party than all of the royalties you got from Catch-22?” To which Heller responded, “That may be. But I have one thing that our host will never have. Enough.”
I’m reminded of this story as I focus on the presbytery budget for 2024. We are seeking ways to avoid a deficit. Furthermore, we currently have 132 teaching and ruling elders who serve at the presbytery level, well short of the 181 needed to fill all our volunteer slots. Both our presbytery budget and committees suffer from a shortage of resources. Sound familiar? The same situation is occurring in congregations and other institutions throughout the presbytery.
I really want more people to get involved in the work and mission of the presbytery, and I am confident we will find a way to fill the funding gap. However, Rendle helps us to see that what is happening to the presbytery is part of a larger shift that began in the 1960s. It is a change from the time when the church had a fiscal and volunteer boom after WWII and the prosperous 1950s. That was a time when budgets increased from year to year as the pews filled and volunteerism was the norm. The question for church leadership at that time was, “How can we add to what we are doing? How can we say yes?”
Things begin to change in the 1960s as the culture started to flip. In the post-Vietnam War era, jobs shrank, it took two working adults to afford housing, fewer volunteers were available, and those available didn’t have the cultural values of the previous generation that saw volunteering as a way to be patriotic and faithful to God. We have ended up with fewer dollars from fewer people, and fewer volunteers as well. But the organizational structure was set in the 1960s! We continued to expand budgets with shrinking dollars and committees with fewer volunteers.
This brings me back to the story I began with. Rendle points out that we can respond to the decline in resources by embracing the “myth of scarcity.” Or we can turn to God and believe that what we have is enough. The level of giving and volunteerism may not be what it was, but with faith we can plan for the future that God has for the church of Jesus Christ. It is a future that is honest about our limitations and is built upon the testimony of what God can do with the resources we have. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “My God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
We may not be as wealthy as we used to be. We may not have the number of members we usedto have. But we have one thing the super wealthy will never have: enough.
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard