I owe our Council an apology on this one. I was asleep at the wheel. Something went unsaid before I was asked to say the closing prayer, and I as pastor failed to say it. Mea culpa. My bad.
Let me explain. Much of the meeting was debating the best format for our 2018 annual budget to be presented this Sunday after worship. Council members listened well to one another about the clearest and most transparent way to convey the information. We reached agreement on this to find our way forward. I could have gone either way because for me a budget is a guide, a road map. The year never turns out as we project because our ability to predict the future is hazy. A budget is a road map for the journey we shall travel. It can show expressways or side streets, mountains and rivers or strip malls and theme parks. Budgets are not holy documents, but honest attempts to account for what the church ever scrambles to find: funds for ministry.
But something else crept into our discussion that I should have noticed and commented upon. And I feel badly about it. We began looking a year, two years, three years down the road. We started wringing our hands, and anxiously asking how will we ever cope? When Chicken Little enters any church meeting we can be sure that Jesus is very far. For fear is the opposite of faith.
In my early years here, I was puzzled by moments when we acted like we are a poor church. We are not a poor church. May I say that again? We are not a poor church. But when our faith is weak, it is easy to act like one. When we aspire to do all we hear God calling us to do–like calling a passionate Associate Pastor and a skilled Director of Christian Education–our faith can falter. As faith falters, fear rises. But as we have stepped out in faith, God has helped us find the resources to be the people we know God wants us to be. No, we are not all of the way there yet. But faith does not stamp its foot and defy God, saying, “Why are not all of our prayers answered right now?” Leaders of our Board of Stewards like Andrew Barnard and John Wilson have helped us brush aside this “poor church mentality” and push forward to something better.
I’ve no complaint with attempts to face hard realities as they loom before us. But not once in our Council meeting did anyone say, “Wait a minute. Yes, we still have much work to welcome all of the giving that measures up to our ambitions in ministry. But did anyone notice what just happened? We increased our 2018 budget by 7.5% for one year—that’s $45,000—and found 97% of pledge giving toward our goal.” That not only insult to the efforts of the likes of Sarah Gleason and Missy Almy, who headed our pledge initiative. It’s also an insult to a generous God.
This much is sure, the gospel attests. Those who can’t stay faithful in little increments of growth can’t expect larger increments. God tests us with little gains to see if we’re ready for bigger ones. If all we see is what we don’t have, and we ignore what God now gives us, forget about it.
Gratitude is not only the foundation of the spiritual life, it is our health we find our way forward in our shared journey. Gratitude is not optional, it is essential. Gratitude enlarges our souls and outfits us for the bigger things that God wants to give us. Without thanks, we will lose our way. I should have said all of this before I prayed at Council. I say it now before our Annual Meeting.