Five Temptations

Thursday, February 15, 2024

From Michael Anthony Howard, Minister of Faith in Action,
Living Water Association, Ohio North East, UCC

Tags: Streams of Connection | From Our Association Ministers | Faith in Action

As stewards of the church in this generation, we find ourselves at the intersection of spiritual responsibility and the practical realities of managing our buildings and funding our organizations. Many of us feel like we are wandering alone in the wilderness. In the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, he is offered quick fixes but in each case chose faithfulness. It is a powerful reminder that in our pursuit of fiscal stability, we face temptations that can limit our impact and compromise the potential of our calling. For our common Lenten journey, I thought it might be helpful to think through a few of these temptations with you. Here are five.

Some of us will be tempted to succumb to the allure of a version of the American prosperity gospel, where we assume our financial challenges are the result of our lack of faith. This is the kind of thinking that causes congregations to prioritize material wealth over spiritual growth. A faithful response would be to prioritize authentic spiritual development and community impact over immediate financial gains. Approaching the challenges this way allows for sustained growth and gives space for genuine transformation.

At times, we may be tempted to opt for quick financial solutions or investments without thinking through the long-term consequences. Any creative venture will be risky, and we are called to be co­creators with God. A choice to invest or partner with an organization or sell property might provide immediate relief but also might jeopardize the congregation’s financial or spiritual health in the future. Living by faith is not an excuse for poor planning. We need carefully planned, sustainable financial strategies that ensure our congregations’ stability over time and allow us to maintain trust.

Comfort and security are also temptations. Our reluctance to explore alternative revenue streams beyond traditional tithes and offerings may seem comfortable in the short term, but we risk being financially vulnerable when giving patterns change. It is an act of faith to embrace a diversified approach to income. A diversified budget can build the congregation’s financial resilience and adaptability to evolving financial landscapes. It also opens the doors to finding creative ways to meet community needs.

There is a fourth temptation that I call “Greenhouse Thinking.” We might be tempted to focus solely on internal financial matters without actively engaging with the community. This might offer a short-term sense of security but it could limit a congregation’s impact and relevance. It can be an act of faith to participate in community initiatives and social justice efforts. Community engagement can help fulfill a congregation’s mission while also enhancing its reputation and attracting more support from the community in the long run.

A fifth might be the temptation to do nothing and assume that financial challenges will resolve themselves over time, especially with the assumption that the next generation or new leadership will handle it. A “do nothing” approach may offer temporary relief from immediate decision-making and financial pressures. It might seem easier to let future leaders or generations deal with the complexities. But adopting a wait-and-see attitude can lead to stagnation. It hinders growth and adaptation, making a congregation seem irrelevant and unresponsive. This is how we miss opportunities for income generation and community impact. Even worse, some congregation or community members may perceive passivity as a lack of vision or commitment, leading us to disengagement and decreased support.

Faithfulness requires us to be both creative and strategic. We need a church that is well-prepared for the challenges of the future. We need to equip ourselves and future leaders with the tools and strategies needed to navigate this wilderness wandering. During our wilderness wandering this Lent, let’s refuse the allure of short-cuts and quick fixes and instead, like Jesus, choose faithfulness in the face of temptation.