Thursday, January 20, 2011

My current issues with systems

While I stand by my last post regarding my concerns about the church helping people tackle real challenges in their life, I also recognize that underneath that concern is a broader frustration with systems.

Corporate systems. Financial systems. Social systems. Governmental systems. Church/religious systems.

Corporate systems

I'm 10 years into my career and have worked for public and private companies,, big and small, and have had roles ranging from the line level to managerial level to executive level.

One consistent theme is that most people come to work sincerely wanting to do a good job. And most companies have policies and procedures that complicate or even hinder the people's ability to do those jobs.

Most of my best work in companies has been when I operate slightly outside the system, and treat people as priceless souls of God. I expect that to continue, and that when/if I retire I will look back on those moments as some of my favorites.

Financial systems

I look at our country and see the prosperity gap growing ever bigger. Even though I have the potential to be on the higher end of that scale, it sickens me. The number of poor continues to grow, the middle class is dissolving, and the rich have never been richer in the history of our world.

Within that, I specifically see the banking industry being a cause of some of this, and an apathetic bystander to some of it as well. My education and experience has given me quite a bit of insight into what is happening, and prevents me from pursuing some possible careers in that field. I could not sleep well at night getting wealthy while not creating true value, and watch as other hard workers go jobless as a cost savings that funds my luxury.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill -- capitalism is a terrible economic system, the worst of all actually, except for all those other ones that have been tried so far.

Social systems

Our family spent MLK day at the local Children's Museum, where we took part in a re-enactment of the 1963 march on Washington, complete with an excellent actor's peformance of the speech and uplifting spiritual songs peformed by a young black chorale.

My very-white kids loved every moment and have really shown interest in learning about our country's legacy of racism, from outright slavery to withheld rights to subtle prejudice. To put it bluntly, for a long time our social systems in America sucked.

But in 2011, living in a huge city with amazing diversity, many of my kids' friends are black, most of their teachers have been black, and they will surely do a far better job than I have at seeing the eternal soul in people, not the color of the packaging.

I hope our social systems, both formal and subconscious, will be a positive contribution to the ongoing progress.

Governmental systems

Enough's been written about this one elsewhere, no doubt. In a nutshell, I don't care too much about Republican/Democrat nonsense. I just want problem-solvers in Washington who are willing to take on tough issues and work on extremely complicated problems, often with imperfect data and no precedent to lean on.

And I don't see that, neither in the incumbents nor any of the hopeful people campaigning for the next round of elections. Such a small number of people in Washington influence an amazing amount of our lives.

For a start, I'd just like that small group of representatives to agree on this: we can't keep up these deficits, so we're spending less on programs/benefits and increasing taxes and everybody needs to get ready for it.

Religious systems

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised how much this area feeds off the other systems above. Many churches are organized like companies these days, with expansive financial systems and a seeming inability to face the facts about obvious trends (for example, my denomination has been consistently shrinking for 40 years but we don't talk about that).

I'm especially frustrated lately by the finances of our church. This isn't a gossipy thing or a personal issue I need to take up with the elders yet -- it's a big-picture issue I'm trying to think through.

We have an annual budget in excess of a million dollars. Starting in 2008 our church leaders made a huge effort to raise special contributions to pay off the mortgage on our building, even though the payment was only 8% of our monthly budget. I'd like to see how many members at church have a mortgage payment that's 8% of their budget.

But we responded and paid off the church building's note in 2009, several years early. I don't know what the money has gone to. Last week was our "one sermon a year" on church finances.

We were told that almost 85% of that annual budget goes to minister salaries, which leaves us nothing to fund many of the programs that are really taking off (hispanic church plant that baptized 20 people last year, a new ministry to reach out to people in crisis, an orphanage, the food bank, etc...). That's right, these programs right now will get nothing even though all signs point to them being outstanding and needed in our community.

But we were also told that it could all be funded... if we could increase giving another 8%. Yet the $850,000 in minister salaries is untouchable, and I guess we'll keep the utilities on even if the homeless don't get fed.


I will try hard to remember that none of these systems are perfect, and the people within these systems are worthy of my respect and love.

Yet as a Christian I am not called to always be compliant.

A corporate system gives me no right to treat people as less just because I am their manager on an organizational charts.

A financial system gives me no right to make millions at others' expense -- it is not a zero-sum game.

A social system gives me no right to separate my world into "us" and "them" because of skin color or gender.

A governmental system gives me no right to ask for benefits that I can't fund.

A religious system gives me no right to write checks to church and let the professional minsters take full responsibility for being the hands of Christ.

I give up these rights because I saw Jesus do the same, and his example inspires me to a higher path than letting all these systems tell me what to do.

I screw this up a lot. I need a lot of help. But I try!


Lisa said...

Good thoughts.

Debby said...


The salaries of the ministers are untouchable?

Just. Wow. How many ministers do you have? Not one of them would voluntarily take a pay cut?

RedWifey said...

I would like to make one small correction: 85% of the church budget goes to ministers and maintaining our LARGE building.

Redlefty said...

Ah yes, thank you honey. So it's the combo of salaries/utilities/maintenance appears to be untouchable. We will literally leave vital programs unfunded instead of looking at salary cuts or washing the windows on our own.

We have 15 full-time staff members, seven of whom are ministers and the rest are support. The preacher said that according to studies, this is a proper ratio for a church of our size.

I'll have to stop for now because I'm getting pretty angry about it. Will have to consider further before my thoughts will come out rationally. :)

~aj~ said...

Just curious...what is the size of your church?

Redlefty said...

~1,000 members. The ratio we were told is one full-time paid minster for every 150 members.

Jamie has since given me some great input that will probably find its way into my next post.

Logan said...

Great to see you posting regularly again Mike!

Debby said...

Mike? The whole clergy living comfortable lives while the congregation sacrifices to make this possible? Beautifully maintained grounds and building even as the needs of the masses are left unmet? Sounds a lot like the Pharisees to me. I remember Jesus being unhappy with those attitudes on a fair regular basis.

This post has made for some very interesting discussions between Tim and I. We are both amazed.

MamaRose said...

I think I TOTALLY AGREE with you, Bud!!!!

We SHOULD 'question' EVERYTHING, and, until we get an ANSWER than we not only understand but LIKE!!!
Because, we CAN CHANGE things--yes, even 'JUST ONE PERSON'!!!!!

So, KEEP IT UP! I'm reading these in the opposite order you wrote them, but don't think that matters.

I TOTALLY AGREE with you that as far as our GOVERNMENT goes, it IS going to take quite a few, BRIGHT MINDS/folks who are GREAT at 'PROBLEM-SOLVING' & they MAY need to come up with something we've 'NEVER DONE BEFORE'--so, GOOD LUCK with that--convincing most of our 'older' folks that THAT'S THE WAY we should go--cuz, IF we've NEVER done something THAT WAY BEFORE, HOW DO WE KNOW IT'LL WORK THIS, FIRST TIME?????!!!!!!!!!
Get it??!!!!!! I'm willing, tho.

And, 'our' church here in KC USED TO BE about the size of ya'lls--1,000 members--but, I bet it's a BIT smaller than that, now, but not much--probably still have around 900, now, I would say & WE ONLY HAVE 3 MINISTERS--one pulpit, one 'associate'/really watches out & takes care of visiting sick/dying members, doing funerals, etc. & one, who leads us in Worship in SONG. And, then, we probably have 3 secretaries & then one or two other folks who take care of our 'Education' Department.

NONE of our elders or deacons get paid, which is probably true for ya'lls church, too. BUT, what I'm saying is--I BELIEVE, like ya'll do--that SOMEONE needs to LOOK, AGAIN, at just HOW MANY of your '15' are really NEEDED--when we're using like HALF that many!!!!!!!!!

We seem to 'do' fine with a LOT LESS & hopefully, have LOTS MORE money 'left' to support our 'programs', PLUS 3 FULL-TIME MISSIONARIES, overseas!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As 'stewards of God's money'/blessings that He gives us SO FREELY, we, as, IN THE CHURCH, ALSO have the responsibility to 'spend' everyone's money/contributions WISELY & THE BEST we POSSIBLY CAN--I BELIEVE THAT WITH ALL MY HEART!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do NOT be 'afraid' to ASK & 'question' WHERE & WHY your Elders have decided that things HAVE to be DONE a certain way & CANNOT ever CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That kind of thinking, alone, much less about our MONEY, is NOT WISE!!!

And, as they know, THEY WILL 'ANSWER BEFORE THE LORD' for the decisions they MADE while
'LEADING HIS CHURCH' here in Earth.

I agree with one of your other commenters--some of it sure sounds like the PHARISEES, who Jesus was ALWAYS NOT happy with or proud of, sadly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We ALL need to make sure we couldn't POSSIBLY be called a "Pharisee" for anything we say or think or do!

That's what I think, anyway!!!!!!!!

Tit for Tat said...

850,000?? I think I need to change professions. PRAISE THE LORD ;)