"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chest of Joash - Its About Stewardship

FBC Jacksonville this Sunday will conduct another of our annual "Chest of Joash" services where the entire church marches by replicas of King Joash's chest which was used to collect money for the rebuilding of the temple (see 2 Kings 12), into which we all place our pledge card for the church budget and building fund for the next 12 months.

The chest of Joash service each year really is a call to stewardship - for members of the church to show themselves to be good stewards of their money and make a pledge for the on-going ministry of the church. It can be said the pledging of our gifts is also an act or demonstration of accountability - the church member is declaring what they will be able to give, they sign the card as an indication they are willing to be held accountable.

Just as the membership is called to stewardship and accountability - so also the church leadership must be called to demonstrate stewardship of the money they are given, and they must be accountable to the congregation for how it is spent to further God's kingdom. And proving themselves to be accountable is not just on the Sunday before the Chest of Joash Sunday having some pastor from New Orleans stand so our pastor can arrogantly boast: "WE PAY THAT GUY'S SALARY, SEE THAT GUY, WE PAY HIS SALARY" (which is probably about 1/10 of Mac's annual income tax), nor is it just trotting out Pastor Daniel Jones to boast about how Trey "negotiated" a great deal for air conditioners for his church...these don't prove the church to be good stewards...its too little, and too late.

The church leadership needs to be accountable to the congregation. Mac Brunson in his sermon last Sunday did make an attempt to explain in what ways the church is a good steward, but there are still some major questions that need to be answered by the leadership - not just Mac Brunson but lay leadership as well.

1. Why did the church arrange for a $250,000 piece of land (now valued at over $300,000) to be gifted to Mac Brunson and Debbie Brunson upon their arrival in Jacksonville? This is for all to see on the city of Jacksonville website...the previous owner of this property "sold" it to Mac and Debbie Brunson for $10 and for "love and affection" (its in the city records that can be looked up at the property appraisors website at http://www.coj.net/). The transaction was completed exactly two weeks after their arrival in Jacksonville. This subject has come up before on other websites, and the only answer given by someone in lay leadership is that it was a "personal" gift to Mac and that his private dealings are nobody's business. Oh really? So the church had NOTHING to do with this gift? A member or friend of the church felt called, on his/her own, with no compelling by anyone at the church to give a quarter of a million dollars to the new pastor coming to Jacksonville? Can the church leadership assure us that no church funds were paid to the giver of this land, or no favors were granted in return for this property? Also, why did the church arrange for the Brunsons to live rent free in a multi-million dollar ocean-front condominium on Amelia Island? If this was a free and clear gift from a member, was the Brunson's relocation package adjusted accordingly? Were any church funds used to compensate the owner of this condominimum for their generosity? Did the church pay for any of the resulting Brunson income taxes generated from these "gifts"? Were these treated as income to the Brunsons or just "gifts"? There have been other mega church scandals in the SBC involving land deals, and nothing less than open, full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding these gifts will do.

2. We've already mentioned numerous times that the salaries of Team Brunson are quite extravagent and that if known to the congregation most would consider it not a wise use of our resources to be paying them upwards of 10 times the salary of the average family in the church. Mac told the congregation Sunday that an independent firm conducted a salary review of our church to make sure that our staff salaries are consistent with other like-size churches, that "bands" of salary ranges have been established to ensure we stay within reason. Did Debbie and Mac's salary together count as "pastor" salary in this analysis? Or did they split up Mac's salary with Debbie so that his number would look better and fall more neatly into the senior pastor band? I know and most members know of ladies in our church who serve as lay persons and spend many, many hours in our church each week, just as much if not more than Debbie Brunson and they earn ZERO salary while their husband's salary is 1/10th of Mac's. Are other staff member's wives serving in the church earning a large salary like Debbie Brunson? Why not? What are Debbie Brunson's ministerial responsbilities? What are son Trey's official ministerial responsibilities? If the salaries are not excessive; if the salaries would not be a concern to the congregation as Mac said on Sunday, then release the results of the independent study of church salaries. Do these new bands developed by this consultant (was it the A-Group?) have anything to do with the rapid staff departures over the past year as staff members were placed in bands with ranges beneath their current salaries?

3. Why do we use "Word for You Today" (http://www.wordforyoutoday.com/) as our daily devotional? This at first appears to be the most trivial of all possible points, but it does raise serious questions - especially when we see our Pastor on their "testimonial" page, using our church name to tout the benefits of this authorless devotional (gee, if anonymous emails are bad, wouldn't anonymous devotionals be worse?). Word for You Today is a non-denominational, for-profit daily devotional, purposely authorless so that churches who purchase it can provide it to their congregations as though it comes from the pastor. Let's refresh some memories: the first months that Mac came to FBC Jax he proclaimed he would be emailing devotionals written by him to the church membership. We even had visitors at special events write their emails on the back so we could be sure to send them Mac's devotional. This never happened, but we started using Word for You Today on the FBC Jax website. Why are we subscribing to a for-profit company's devotionals when there are numerous FREE, reputable, well-know daily devotionals, to which we could link (that don't hide the identify of their contributors or editors). If FBC Jax is not paying ZERO for providing Word for You Today on our website, we are paying too much. All of this makes me wonder: is Mac one of the paid contributors to this devotional? Or is he paid for his testimonial?

The church leadership wants YOU to be accountable. Fine. The leadership wants YOU to prove yourself to be a good steward of your money by pledging it to the church and signing your name. Great. But is the church leadership willing to be accountable to the givers of the money and to show themselves to be good stewards? Think about that before you decide to drop your card into the chest this Sunday.