He was really mad. I mean, really, really mad!
This was one of my first “take-in” meetings as a new District Superintendent. It was supposed to be pretty easy. I had met with the congregational leadership team and had profiled the needs of the church. They had talked about the excitement of being in the heart of the fastest growing county in the entire state. They recognized that their church was situated on the hottest piece of property in the whole area.
Developers wanted their land. But the church had decided years earlier to hold onto the property and to keep the doors open. It appeared that their persistence was just about to pay off. Several new homes had already been built and plans were unveiled for a total community makeover consisting of subdivisions and businesses.
He had missed the first meeting but was there during my take-in to speak-up for the “majority” that he claimed to represent. He was mad and he wanted me to understand why he and so many others were mad. Speaking for “them” he shared with me several reasons why I had to convince the Bishop that “his church needed a different pastor than the one I was bringing.”
After carefully listening to him, I said, “But sir, your congregation has been given what every church is asking me for; A young pastor with a family.” His protest was fairly simple, “we like our church the way it is, and we do not want it to change.”
I did my best to persuade the committee and the more I pushed the matter he got until he couldn’t take it anymore and he finally threw down the gauntlet by announcing, “well you tell the Bishop that we are not going to give any more of our money to the Conference, we are not paying any more apportionments!”
What do you do when well-meaning Christians make decisions that stretch the boundaries between faithfulness to God and concern for self-preservation? How do you help Christians realize that withholding financial resources is a serious and drastic step that should be thought through, discussed widely, explored in order to uncover potential unintended consequences, and bathed in prayer before any final decision is made?
This was not the first or the last time that I’ve had to deal with Christians not understanding that obedience to God as a steward is among their first and highest responsibility. Matthew 6:33 reminds us to, “seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” You cannot keep your money when keeping your money might keep someone from experiencing a blessing from God!
Some congregations get mad at the annual conference or bishop for sending them pastors that don’t meet their approval and the response has in some cases been, “we will not pay apportionments.” I’ve heard church leaders try and justify the withholding of apportionments as an act of “civil disobedience.” Acts of civil disobedience are justified only if they do not cause harm and injury to other people.
In The United Methodist Church, apportionments are the funds each annual conference or local church pays to support our local and global ministries and missions. Failure to pay penalizes and hinders these vital ministries.
Most of the churches in the IGRC have a long, faithful track record of paying apportionments. Some understand that this is the ultimate expression of our connectional system that goes all the way back to our founder, John Wesley. Wesley believed in and taught connectional missional giving. He understood that Christians working together could do far more than any single Christian could do alone.
Since Wesley’s time, Methodist have given to support the work of the church both locally and globally. Most of our congregations have a long history of being faithful in paying their apportionments. By paying our apportionments we are taking part in many different ministries all around the world that we could not do on our own.
It is a comfort and an encouragement to know that our giving makes a difference every time a disaster occurs anywhere in the world through the ministry and work of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).
We are present to help in hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, and other natural disasters. We are also present to help when and wherever there are refugees, disenfranchised, victims of abuse, violence, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and tribal wars. We fight poverty, provide water, food, shelter, tools for survival, funds for education and redevelopment, as well as for hospitals, clinics, and medical services. We offer hope to battered women, orphanage and adoption services for children, training and economic development for prisoners, fund mental health services, advocacy and justice ministries, as well as educational awareness programs that seek to eliminate AIDS, preventable diseases, illiteracy, and a variety of ministries that strengthen and build-up communities. Our shared giving also helps us to provide salaries and educational training opportunities for pastors and laity.
Apportionments are not a tax nor a penalty, they are a means to accomplish the work of Christ and an effective way of sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Apportionments are not a weapon to whip or punish the General Conference or the Council of Bishops or a District Superintendent.
Every church in the IGRC should take pride in our shared connectional missional ministry. We really can accomplish more together than any of us can accomplish alone. One of the strengths of the United Methodist Church is our shared connectional giving. LET’S BE CAREFUL NOT TO MISUSE THIS PRECIOUS GIFT BY TURNING IT INTO A TOOL OF HARM.
Thanks to the congregations, lay leaders, and pastors that understand and support this vital shared ministry. Keep up the good work knowing that we are touching and changing the world for Jesus.