Friday, November 27, 2009

Blood, Money and Mission

I went to the Blood Center the other day to give blood. I went because they called, as they do frequently, and expressed a need for blood.

I’ve done this for a while, but there were things about this particular visit that I really hadn’t noticed or thought of before.

They have the latest and greatest technology. Well, I mean, it’s a medical enterprise, what would you expect? It’s important work, you’ve got to keep up with technology.

On the walls around the interior are hung giant posters of people’s faces. These are the faces of those whose lives have been saved or changed by the blood we donate. I know this about the posters because also around the room are smaller pictures of the same people, the smaller versions containing the testimonies of how donated blood changed these people’s lives.

That got me thinking about fundraising. The Blood Center is a nonprofit corporation. But I don’t suppose they have trouble raising enough money to keep the doors open. Why? Because everybody knows how important the work they do there is. It’s work that saves lives. Why, they just call up people like me and say, “We need your blood,” and I show up. Because the work they do is important and I know it. I bet that when there isn’t enough blood to go around, people don’t blame the Blood Center. Nope. They are there to take the blood that people donate. If there isn’t enough blood it’s because people are too selfish or too busy to give it, not because the Blood Center failed in any way.

Anyway, I did my check in and then got sent to do some paper work necessary before they take my blood. It was routine. Same paper work every time. I have the answers memorized. I finished in record time but I had to wait for 40 more minutes. So when they took my blood pressure it was a little high, only because I noticed that people who came in after me were being leaped-frogged in front of me and time was getting on and I had another appointment. Plus, they were about to stick a huge needle in me and I wanted to get that part over with. But hey, it’s the Blood Center, they know what they are doing, it’s important work, and so I just sat there and re-read the impressive fliers telling me about how important it was I was doing what I was doing.

When you finish giving blood, they treat you to your choice of juice or water or coffee and whatever kind of cookies or muffins you want. No charge. It’s free. In fact, the bakery across the street donates their day old stuff and so as a donor I can take home a whole sack of bagels or bread or muffins. Free. Because I gave. And because other businesses recognize that what they do is important.

I didn’t realize it, but the Blood Center also has a point system. Apparently, whenever I give blood I get points. And these points are redeemable on line for Blood Center merchandise: water bottles and sweatshirts and the like.

Some of you are saying, “What’s your point?”

Here is my point:

When the church calls for volunteers, do you think we get a better response than the Blood Center?
There is never enough money in the church budget to keep us current with the latest technology, even though communication is critical to what we do.
We get criticized for spending money on posters that tell people what we’re doing and sometimes we even get criticized for testimonies because “it makes it sound like it’s about the person or the church and not God.”
The church is also a non profit corporation and yet whenever we fail to hit our numbers it is our fault, not the fault of the people who didn’t give.
A lot of church members get mad if they aren’t served within what they consider is an appropriate amount of time and not only do they give feedback about how our procedures need to change to give them better service, but they might just walk out and never come back.
When we tell people what we do in our literature, we get criticized by our own folks for thinking too highly of ourselves.
If our coffee hour doesn’t pay for itself, somebody’s going to hear about it. After all, it’s a luxury, and people don’t really need it.
And as for point systems, give aways, or thank yous, well, it’s the church. If we spend money on that then we’re told that people don’t need to be thanked and if we don’t spend money on that people tell us we’re ungrateful.

Why do two organizations, both specializing in blood (red blood cells or the blood of Jesus) receive such different reactions when they are both simply going about their mission?

I think that part of the answer is that we need to loose some of our “self righteous church people attitudes” that keep us from telling others how important the church is. Fifty years ago the church was seen as important to society and most people attended. Not so these days. And part of that may be our own fault for being so concerned about not being seen as not humble that we come across as insular, insecure and irrelevant.

Another part of the answer, in my opinion, is that almost everyone considers the work of the Blood Center to be life saving and life changing and important. But the work of the church? Only a few realize that we are also a place where lives and eternities are saved and changed. This might also be part of the difference between growing churches and dying ones. Take a look at the materials from your local blood bank some day. No doubt that they consider their work of critical importance. Then look at your church materials. Do you see the same kind of confidence in the critical nature of the church’s mission? Will it ever be different? Will more people come to realize that what we do as a church matters in a life saving way? I believe the answer is “yes.” But only when more people experience the life saving/life changing power in the blood of Jesus. And that is our mission.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Identity Comes At Enormous Cost

The Bible tells us that our new identity in Christ was purchased by his death. Because he died, we are made new. New identity costs big time.

I’m contemplating the whole topic of new identity for our congregation now that we are leaving the ELCA. So far, I am very thankful to our bishop for not trying to stop us and for not putting up bureaucratic obstacles. Now that our course seems clear, such obstacles would only make the angry people in our congregation angrier and the sad people sadder. We’re healing and we’re holding together after having a lot of very difficult conversations.

It’s interesting to me that most of the churches leaving the ELCA seem to be finding their new identities in mission. In other words, having taken a stand on the word of God, they now seem more committed than every before to go out and make disciples and be salt and light. It’s exciting to see. All of these departing congregations will be forming new relationships with congregations and denominations and associations that share their scriptural worldview.

It also looks to me that the ELCA will be getting a new identity of sorts. Also termed mission, it seems as if those remaining in the ELCA will be finding new unity in having taken a stand on social justice issues like gay marriage. Now, without the rest of us to raise a ruckus, the gospel of inclusion without transformation and salvation without the cross can be preached across the denomination and the trend toward universalism can continue unabated. Now there will be no one left to point out the inconsistency in preaching the Old Testament prophet’s hatred of the oppressor without preaching the Old Testament prophet’s hatred of sexual immorality.

From what I’ve seen and heard during the last couple of weeks, it looks as if measures are underway to be sure that there is no resistance to the new unified missional identity within the ELCA. From my vantage point, it appears as if efforts are underway to silence any remaining resistance within the ELCA. I site the following:

In a recent conversation with a certified and trained interim pastor, I found out that he was prohibited from even interviewing for any vacant interim position in our Synod. The only explanation is that the Synod office doesn’t approve of his stand against the actions of the Churchwide Assembly.

This from a friend whom I trust: Two clergy reported a bishop said to a group of clergy: "I will not do this, but every ELCA official who comes after me will.
If you do not agree with the resolutions of the CWA on sexuality in August, 
you will be set aside."

From a Facebook post on Nov 6:
“My godfather, a 50 year Lutheran pastor, was forced out of his church this weekend for taking a stand against the ELCA decision. He delivered a sermon regarding the gospel (little g) of acceptance replacing the Gospel (big G) of redemption. Most of the congregation agreed with the sermon, but a small number found it "intolerant", including the Sr. Pastor, and he was asked to resign...and not allowed to clarify his comments. I have a copy of the's quite tame. Anyway, thought you'd find that interesting. He's quite hurt.”

Apparently respecting “bound consciences” does not apply to bishops or Synods, who must carry out the policies enacted at the August CWA. This from the Lutheran Core November, 2009 newsletter:
“ELCA synods will not have the option of upholding traditional Christian
teaching on marriage and homosexuality in their standards for pastors and other rostered leaders according to a draft of candidacy rules released Oct. 10 by the ELCA
churchwide organization. No synod or bishop may make decisions on ministry standards that differ from the new policies of the ELCA churchwide organization as defined by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the policy draft explains.” See the full article and explanation at