By John Plunkett
Thirty-two years ago, when I was interviewing for a ministry position with Creve Coeur (Illinois) Christian Church, it quickly became clear the church was dependent on the workforce of Caterpillar. My wife, who was invited to sit in on part of the interview process, asked a simple question: What happens if Caterpillar goes on strike?
The answer was reassuring: Caterpillar had not been out on a strike in years and the company was enjoying the best of economic times. I accepted the position, and 18 months into our ministry, Caterpillar union employees went out on strike.
Cutbacks and Suspended Support
This strike lasted 11 weeks. During that time, the church cut every possible curriculum item, including Christian Standard and The Lookout. We stopped printing weekly bulletins and notified missionaries and parachurch organizations that the church’s support was being temporarily suspended.
I went to the local bank with one of the elders, a charter member who had been in on the financing of two building programs and the purchase of several properties. The banker, on a handshake deal, immediately transferred $3,000 into the church account (with paperwork to follow later).
We survived the strike in the way that men without patience and trust in God devise.
Later, during the economic recession of 1982, Caterpillar union employees went out on a strike that lasted seven months. There is an old adage that those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it. We learned, and we did not repeat our mistakes.
In the three years between strikes, the church repented and confessed renewed faith in waiting on the Lord. Instead of reacting, we trusted God.
Leadership meetings were not hand-wringing sessions driven by discussions about what we could cut out of the budget. Instead, we prayed about what we could do to help those who were struggling most. We started our food bank ministry. Leadership made a covenant not to put missions on hold until we were back on solid financial footing. We never missed a month of commitments, and every commitment was fully funded. In addition to groceries, we helped many families with house payments, utilities, gasoline for transportation, and medical bills.
At the end of the first strike, in a healthy economy, we survived the battle but lost the war. We were a beat-down, depressed army of Christian soldiers.
At the end of the second strike, in a depressed economy, we not only survived numerous battles, we won the war.
Hard Times, God’s Blessings
Our food bank still exists, and though often cleaned bare by a day of meeting needs, when the next day arrives—like the woman of Zaraphath who blessed Elijah—there is more oil and flour. Since 1982, our church, located in a depressed community (75 percent of the children in our school district live in poverty), has put in furnaces and hot-water heaters, roofed houses, bought cars, provided repairs—and the list continues to grow.
In 1995 we committed to Team Expansion leader Doug Lucas’s challenge to become a PACE church partnering with a church planting missionary to start an indigenous church among a least-reached people group. The first church was planted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May 1999.
Today there is a second church, two launch sites, and numerous cell groups that are being discipled. We have begun supporting another missionary to reach another least-reached people group in a Southeast Asian country.
Our part of the nation, like most others, is struggling economically, but so far, God’s people have not backed down. While churches are reporting big reductions in offerings, making budget cuts, and even cutting personnel, we are continuing to experience sufficient general fund offerings on which our mission support and benevolence depends, as well as continuing to receive commitments for the Nehemiah Project, our three-year capital fund.
The way God has blessed us during our worst economic times is celebrated here. In our Discovery Class for potential new members and on our Web site (www.ccchristianchurch.com) we highlight these two historical moments to identify the character of our church in a world that is often searching for hope in the midst of helplessness.
On April 5, John Plunkett began his 32nd year as minister with the Creve Coeur (Illinois) Christian Church.