For the last year or so, the news has been buzzing about the economic downturn and about how terrible everyone has it financially.
Granted there are people suffering because of the greed of CEOs and the ineptitude of the government bureaucracy, but when this crisis is compared to the Great Depression, I get a little steamed. Only my grandparent's generation truly understands the Great Depression--the lines for food, the 24 percent unemployment rates, cardboard shoes and only having a bowl of ketchup or sliced loaves of bread spread with lard, instead of butter, to eat for dinner.
While some are at this point financially, or are nearing it, it isn't that way for most of us -- and hopefully, they won't get there. Economists are beginning to confirm what was predicted last fall: we are past the worst of it on the broad national scale unless government meddling makes it worse.
In the midst of this crisis churches in general seem to be holding steady on a financial level. A study released by Leadership Network in April 2009 found that "while all churches are closely monitoring their finances, and the situation is worsening for some, in general most churches are cautious but holding steady--and churches that are growing are doing well economically."
According to the survey, churches are still not doing as badly as the economy. A survey of 1,000 randomly chosen Protestant churches, conducted by LifeWay Research, found that the average church saw offerings grow four percent in 2008 and that in January and February 2009, pastors report giving ahead of budget. They are also finding that there are more requests for help from people outside the congregation and that there is a greater excitement about the opportunities to minister to the needy.
Since there are also more requests from people inside the congregation for help, churches are stepping up their efforts in ministry. Instead of holding tight to their pocket books, they are using the recession as a basis for practical ministry. Many churches are offering financial classes, groups or seminars; pastors are preaching sermons on finances and generosity; there are annual stewardship drives; churches are making financial/generosity pamphlets available; they are making volunteer budget/debt counselors available and they are offering increased online/electronic giving opportunities.
Other churches are offering job fairs; symposiums on home foreclosure, accessing unemployment benefits and other public benefits; they are offering classes on starting businesses, practical job search skills, career coaching, first time home buyers classes; financial counseling and are offering food pantries.
This is great. In fact, it goes right along with what John Wesley, the famous English preacher of the 17th century who was responsible for starting the Methodist movement, said, "Without social holiness, there is no holiness." It is because of this saying that when it comes to sharing my faith, I tend to lean toward social action. Nothing shows people that God cares better than meeting a heartfelt need.
However, like Wesley, I do not lean toward this approach entirely.
As a young college student majoring in Sociology and wanting to save the world, I found through my courses and internships that people will not really do well until they have learned to trust God. In my personal life, as I have struggled financially and in other ways, I too have learned that I will not really do well unless I trust God.
Trusting in God and knowing that you are following his will brings a certain peace that trouble cannot take away. Oh sure, there are times when I give in to worry or fear, but the Lord is faithful to bring me back to that center, where peace abides--where he abides.
If we are to minister to the whole person, we must not forget this element as we provide for physical needs. We do not want to be pushy; we want Christ's love to exude from our pores. In this way, we will find that God will meet the needs of people and of our own as well.