By Ben Cachiaras
EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing editor Ben Cachiaras wrote late in February to say Mountain Christian Church, where he ministers in Joppa, Maryland, was forced by the economy to initiate some cutbacks. “They were pervasive and widely felt,” he said. When he met with the church staff to explain the cuts, he challenged them by saying this crossroads was actually an exciting time for the church.
“Matthew 28 does not say, ‘Go, and make disciples . . . as long as the Dow is up,’” he said. “While I would never wish economic disaster on anyone, I do know that it enlivens the spiritual nerves in people and heightens our sense of need for God. . . . While worriers are circling the wagons, we must be the ones eagerly anticipating how this will be God’s finest hour in our midst.”
We thought his challenge deserved a wider reading, because many congregations are facing spending reductions in the current economy. We’re grateful to Ben for giving us permission to share it here.
TOP 10 REASONS THIS IS AN EXCITING TIME AT MOUNTAIN
which are also the
TOP 10 THINGS WE MUST MAKE SURE HAPPEN:
1. This is a time for UNITY—Pulling the entire team (congregation) together against a common enemy. Negative, fearful, whiny voices are omnipresent, but must not hold sway around the leadership table. I have been advocating what I call “strong, positive leadership” for 11 years. This is what leads people. If ever there were a time for it, it is now. Like the church whose building burned down, having a common obstacle to overcome can serve to pull us together and forge a bond among leadership and congregation. So let’s lead by setting goals to accomplish in the midst of the challenge and pull our team together.
2. This is a time for CREATIVITY—Thinking strategically in fresh ways that push mission forward without relying to the same degree upon financial resources as previous models may have. We will realize we can survive without things we thought we had to have. We will see clarity as priorities emerge. We will see new ideas for accomplishing ministry in the new reality. Skilled missionaries adapt to their cultural surroundings and enflesh the gospel within it. That’s what we need to do. Rather than entrench or fixate on what is lost, we must adapt on the fly to the new situation and see it as an exciting challenge to creatively engage for growth. “I will become all things to all people. . . .”
3. This is a time to PLAY TEAM BALL—Because in an environment where there are painful cuts at the level we are talking about, some inevitably begin to wonder “why is this cut, and not that one?” or “why this area and not that one?” Second-guessers specialize in sowing seeds of doubt and discord in times like these. As Jesus would say, “Not so among you!” Among leaders especially, we can’t have it. The standards for the leadership community go up even higher in times like these. Team ball means you trust your teammates, you play your position, you cover and play defense, you pass off when you need to, and you stick with the game plan. And you watch each other’s backs.
4. This is a time for PERSPECTIVE—Realizing that mission never depends totally on dollars. Realizing that we are not truly in a crisis. Realizing that in the big scheme of things we are very, very blessed. Even financially. Realizing that this too shall pass. Realizing that this is a blessing—even if we can’t see exactly why yet—because God is always up to something. Realizing that we rarely learn in easy times, but mostly from passages of difficulty, challenge, failure, and struggle. Keep the proper perspective.
5. This is a time for BOLD VISION—Capitalizing on our momentum and growth even in the midst of uncertainty. “Vision” means nothing and holds no power when success easily falls into your lap. It is when the future appears murky that vision counts for something, because it pictures a preferred image “out there BEYOND” that not everyone can see. That’s our job—to peer with eyes of faith at our mission, and describe the vision God has placed there so the people can follow us toward God’s desired future. We are sent ahead to spy out Canaan. Where others see giants that leave them feeling like grasshoppers, we see huge clusters of grapes that promise fruitfulness. It is precisely in times like this that vision matters. Some will shrink. We won’t. We will speak decisively about the cuts, but unwaveringly about our continued vision, unhindered mission, and future plans for growth. People who don’t have any money still need the Lord.
6. This is a time for PASTORAL CARE—Ministering to people who are hurting, in need, and gripped by new fears and uncertainty. We will need to preach, teach, and counsel about the truth of God’s provision, and the kind of loving hold our God gives, especially to those downcast in spirit, or bleeding due to financial crisis. We will need to connect people deeply with the Jehovah–Jireh provider God upon whom we can cast our cares and needs, and to whom we are invited to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Most of all, we will need to lead the church to truly “be the church” in practical ways—helping to care and take care of another through this economic trauma felt by so many.
7. This is a time for TEACHING—About stewardship, trust, God’s provision, and giving. People who may have slept through the last three sermon series on “giving” will suddenly be interested in learning about God’s design for financial management. What families could do easily yesterday will today require sacrifice. The best teachers seize real-life opportunities to teach in the moment. So we’ll say it all again—about giving, putting God first, the whole thing—knowing that some folk will finally be listening.
8. This is a time of PARADOX—Insisting that our ministry move FORWARD—NOT hover in status quo, NOT step back, NOT retreat in fear. Even though we must discontinue some vital ministry and say goodbye to some things, we are at the same time moving forward with our mission of making more and better disciples. In fact, the reason we are making these cuts is so that we are able to move forward. Specifically, it is the right thing to pull our budget into line so that we can launch a new campus as soon as we possibly can. We feel God has led us down this road, and so we need to be ready whenever God opens all the doors.
9. This is a time of PRAYER—Perhaps more sincerely and with greater awareness of our dependence than we might have in times of plenty, we turn to God for guidance as we follow him forward into the future. Just as Abraham did, we follow in faith, knowing not so much about where we’ll end up, but trusting the One we’re following. It is a time to call people to faithfulness to the Lord, to each other, and to the work God’s given us to accomplish. Prayer is the way we express this closer following, greater dependence, and spirit of yieldedness, which will get us through.
10. This is a time of PROMISES—Proverbs 3:5, 6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” The Hebrew for “trust” there means to “cling” tenaciously. As leaders of this church we don’t know where the economy is going. WE can’t prognosticate. WE can’t control the giving or the market. But we will show what it means to be cling-on. Clinging to God in trust, with all our hearts, and not on our own understanding—knowing that if we do this, God will direct our paths. And that’s why we can say with the psalmist, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1).
Ben Cachiaras, senior pastor with Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, is a contributing editor for CHRISTIAN STANDARD.