Greatness is determined not by one’s successes, but by how one deals with one’s challenges.
At Zion we are facing a great challenge. This week we announced to the Zion community that we must cut our budget by another 12% and that these cuts necessitate the elimination of all our paid musical staff positions. We’re losing both our director of worship and music and our organist/choir director. Both men have served this congregation long and well and we are so appreciative of their efforts. We simply can’t afford to pay for their services.
How did we wind up having to cut the budget? In 2008, Zion was hit hard by the Great Recession. Our people cut back on their giving. At that time we had to cut our budget but we tried to do so in a way that what we did wouldn’t be affected. We held on for dear life and believed that when the recession was over, giving would rebound and we could add back what we had cut.
Then in 2011, we saw an exodus of long time members to another church’s satellite in a neighboring suburb. We again lost giving. We again had to cut our budget but we didn’t cut it enough. We held on for dear life and believed that things would change for the better and giving would rebound and we could add back what we had cut.
We managed to just barely maintain a “break-even” scenario until August of 2013. During the height of the summer travel season, we had several weeks of bad offerings in a row which put us into the red. We were only able to get back on track through a miraculous and unexpected gift. At that time, the leaders of the church realized we that had to make some cuts for the sake of the mission of the church.
We looked at everything we could cut. Truth be told, we could cut every outreach and ministry program we have and still not come up with enough savings to make it worthwhile. We’ve cut so much from the budget over the years that there simply isn’t anything left to cut. That meant we had to cut bone and muscle. We had to cut our staff expenses because the only other expenses we have of any size are building and mortgage and we’ve already cut everything we can there.
For some of our church community these cuts will be very, very difficult to make. Some may feel that we’re making the wrong choice and sacrificing the wrong things. That somehow, we have not properly discerned what is important to God. We are definitely challenging what many people believe the church was created to do.
Other churches may choose to define themselves on the very things that we are cutting: the strength of their choir or worship music. But we were called to define ourselves based only upon our obedience to Jesus. Jesus could choose to send us remarkable amounts of money. But he hasn’t. Jesus has instead brought us more and more of those in need. So we feel that obedience to Christ requires us to make these painful cuts.
Please know that we prayed and prayed and deliberated for months on this. We are simply responding to a situation in the way we believe Jesus, our Master, would have us respond.
Zion has been given a truly amazing ministry in our community. It’s completely a God thing and very exciting. But there is no doubt that God has called us to hard things. Some people ask, “If you’re doing what God wants, why isn’t he blessing you?” Truth is, He is blessing us. A lot. We get to see people come to Christ and be saved. We get to see literally hundreds of neighborhood children come rushing through the doors of the church every week. We get to minister to the needs of our Muslim neighbors and talk to them about Jesus the Messiah. We are so blessed by God!
I’ve prayed for years that God would “bless us financially.” After all, selfishly, it doesn’t reflect well on my reputation that I’m pastor of a church that struggles all the time to pay it’s bills. I want to be blessed financially. I want people to give us more and more money. But God has a plan. Whenever I’ve prayed about it, God has always answered: “I have already provided.” At first I thought He meant that we had money in the Trust Fund and we should use that. But I now understand Him to mean that He has provided us enough to do what we’re supposed to do, and perhaps, the reason we’re struggling so much is because we’re doing things we no longer need to do.
Watching my friends lose their jobs makes me feel ill. At the same time, it opens up for Zion an opportunity to pull together. We must rely on our volunteers now for music to praise the Lord each week as we gather together. It forces us to change the way we do our services and makes working together with the various cultures we minister to more appealing. In this current crisis, God has given us an occasion to make His name great by coming together and being His people in a new and exciting way. Change is hard and frankly, this church has seen unprecedented changes in the last few years. But change is also a gift from God to allow us to better serve Him in our neighborhood and to grow by hanging together and learning to trust Him in new ways. A church without serious challenges, where everything is easy, is a church always in danger of losing it’s faith. A church in constant need and facing constant change, must hold on for dear life to Jesus himself, because no one else but the Lord can save us and deliver us.
So I ask you to come together with me and our entire church family and cling to Jesus. Let’s keep on meeting together and worshipping Him and serving Him by serving others and keep on loving each other. Let’s show the devil and the watching world that we followers of Jesus don’t measure our worth by the size of our staff or programming or by the greatness of our buildings or organs, but rather, our worth comes through holding on for dear life to Him who is worthy, Jesus Christ our Lord. This could be our finest hour.
If you have questions or concerns about our transition in worship, please feel free to contact me or any of our staff or board members. Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ