Years ago I read am article titled “Stop Paying the Bills.” The author’s name had escaped me, and he himself had escaped from some aspects of church–I remember that much. I found the article on the WWW but prefer not to point readers to it readily, because it is likely to be off-putting. Even in my more churchily radical days, the idea that in order to effect change in the institutional church, one must stop contributing financially struck me as extreme.
However, the author’s main point is certainly correct: money talks, so if you want to change things, withhold money. Before considering further the matter of enabling, maintaining, and disabling systems, think with me momentarily about the implications of the word “withhold.” It seems to me that “withhold” presumes something–that whatever is being considered for withholding was in some respect the rightful property of the party to whom it was being given.
Even the IRS speaks in terms of withholding of taxes–the paycheck money is (sort of) rightfully mine, but by law, some is withheld from me. In the case of church institutions, if it is presumed that an amount rightfully belongs to the institution, then if the giver opts not to give, it could be seen as withholding. The Old Covenant prophet Malachi spoke even more starkly of “robbing” God by not paying the then-specified tithes and offerings (but that system is not in operation under the New Covenant that Jesus brought).
When presumptions of rightful ownership and systems of operation change, the terms “withhold” and “rob” no longer apply — and the age-old preachers’ Malachi-quoting tactic of guilting the sheep into giving more money may fade into the dim past.
Money does talk. But other aspects of body life are operative in dysfunctional systems, as well, and web author Ed Stetzer speaks aptly here:
The pastor who insists on being the focus of local ministry trains the body of Christ to sin; believers who demand all ministry to be done by “professionals” lead the pastor to sin. So who started all of this dysfunction? Was it the needy, consumer-driven congregation? Or was it the pastor, hungry for significance? It’s hard to tell. But to break the cycle, the enablers must stop enabling. God cannot receive glory in the church when pastors are always up front receiving the credit and doing the things that their consumerist congregants should be doing. – Ed Stetzer
I agree with Stetzer that dysfunction is the rule in the institutional church these days. (I’m not sure at all that it began en masse, as the author of the earlier article suggested, in the last half-century — his article was targeted at a specific denominational group). I also appreciate the appropriation of the psychotherapeutic term “enabling” in this context. Something is generally wrong with our system, and there is fault on both sides.
Educators and psychologists — perhaps particularly psychologists who deal with parents raising children — have sometimes spoken of “behavior modification.” I think this school of thought is on the politically incorrect side these days, but it deserves mention nonetheless. If one desires a change in behavior in another person, he sometimes may take actions that result in changes.
Would we all do well to consider actions that result in changing the behavior of the dysfunctional, institutional church? The Amish practice of shunning comes to mind! (Did I say that out loud?) Yet there are radical implications inherent in such actions, and I’m not sure the grassroots will ever be pervasive enough to effect positive change on a large enough scale. The notion that maintaining the status quo amounts to enabling, and enabling the enablers (a vicious cycle if there ever were one!) deserves consideration, although I can currently advocate neither shunning nor a mass financial mutiny.