We doubt many people reading this Blog are raising flocks or herds, but Proverbs 27:23 admonishes us to “Take good care of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds”. A current interpretation of that Proverbs verse could be to pay attention to what is going on around you – even those things which are hard to discern. Where and how we are spending our money, our time and our talents. Are we being good stewards, or are we just “going with the flow?”
In our ministry we travel around a lot and have experiences with many different parishes. Based on casual observations, many of these parishes could be classified as well off. They have a significant outreach programs, many of them operate in the black—something that is becoming a rarity in today’s world – the parishioners are from a solid middle to upper middle class background and are well dressed and appear to be happy.
However, on closer inspection, all is not perfect. What we’ve learned is that there are many people within these parish families who are suffering. The reasons are many and all too familiar to everyone; job losses, over spending, a crushing debt load, and poor personal financial management. We’re sure that you know of someone close to you who is suffering from one or more of these issues. After all, everything in our society encourages consumerism, debt and overspending.
Our personal egos, self-denial and embarrassment at finding ourselves in this kind of situation can be more than some of us are willing to admit to our pastor. From personal experience we can understand that people often hide their situation from a pastor who has many demands on his time and attention. And our pastors can be overwhelmed with an unending list of tasks that need their attention so it is easy for them to miss the parishioners who are in financial distress.
However, once the bankruptcy has commenced, once foreclosure is a certainty, once the debt has reached an astronomical level, there is little the parish can do to help. Any financial assistance, rehabilitation, or training is too little, too late.
Knowing the condition of our parish flock may mean looking for proactive ways to combat the message from an increasingly secularized society. TV, the movies, magazines and the internet all send us a constant barrage of advertising telling us how we can be happy, successful and fulfilled, when in reality all they are promising is an empty dream.
Hosea 4:6 tells us that “My people perish for lack of knowledge”. Many people struggle with how to manage their money and possessions because they simply do not know how to do anything other than follow the popular culture. The question that must asked is “What is being done in our parishes through education and training to provide the knowledge necessary to help eliminate these types of situations before they become major family issues?”
Too often in the church, we only talk about money when it’s time for fundraising and we call it “stewardship”. But true stewardship is a message that can change hearts. It’s about a transformation that takes place in a person’s mind as it relates to attitudes about earthly possessions, and responsibilities to manage, to steward, all that God has blessed us with.
If we are truly to be focused on stewardship—and we should be—then shouldn’t we be focused on making sure that our parish family is well formed and trained in all areas that will affect their well being – spiritually, mentally and even financially? After all in Luke 16:11 we hear “If, then, you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with true wealth?”
Knowing the condition of our flock means understanding what people are facing in their everyday lives and finding ways for the Church to show them a better way.