Case in point: Mac Brunson preached last night about how important prayer is to the Christian life. Then Mac Brunson had his deacons lead you in prayer in groups to pray about three needs:
1. That God would "unleash the financial resources of the church" and as he said: "...and you are the resource". Carefully chosen word "unleash"...this means that the resources we need are bound up or tied....by YOU the congregation...and we need YOU to let loose of YOUR money that YOU have tied up, that YOU are holding back...YOU have it, but just aren't giving it.
2. Pray about the big decision of starting a school (which after the deacons led us in prayer its apparent that what Mac wants us to pray this way: "Lord, please help me want a school at our church as badly as Mac Brunson wants a school...")
3. Salvation of those who come to our church (presumably so they too can become a "resource" and give and help underwrite the budget of the church and Mac's new school)
I don't know about you, but I didn't pray as Mac suggested.
About prayer request #1: I did not last night and will not be praying that more people would give more to the church. I don't think that's what we need to pray. If people are giving less, and knowing that our church has ALWAYS been a generous congregation meeting the financial needs of the church, then perhaps there is a root cause for the decreased giving; maybe decreased giving is a result of discerning Christians becoming concerned with what is happening in the church.
Why might giving be down? Why are people not "unleashing" the resources of the church?Perhaps its because people are concerned about the following:
- budget cutbacks in areas of ministry, cutting ministry or alternatively charging increased or new fees to the lay leaders to support their ministries;
- the preacher being given a $300,000 piece of land 2 weeks after he arrived with no explanation to the congregation of why this was done and the circumstances surrounding it;
- the preacher asking for us to give more while he and his wife are earning hefty salaries that allow them to live lavishly in a million dollar 6 bedroom, 4 1/2 bath home in a gated, exclusive community (like it or not, requests from a millionaire preacher living in a million dollar house asking people to pray about giving more to their church causes people to watch their pocketbooks closely. See "Benny Hinn", "Joyce Meyer" and "Kenneth Copeland"). This causes people to wonder if our money is being spent properly when the preacher is able to live so lavishly.
- that Mac has admitted that we overspent on missions this past year to the tune of about $500,000, and that our finance committee was "terrified" over it (Mac's sermon at Mud Creek Baptist Church 10/8/07). No explanation as to how this overexpenditure occured, why we "overspent", who decided to overspend, and what it was this "overspent" money went towards (see next item)
- that overspending on missions doesn't just mean giving more to missionaries, but that it involves spending tens of thousands of dollars for staff members and some of their family members accompanying them on "mission" trips. When lay people go on missions, they need to come up with the money, but Mac and staff travel on mission trips on the church budget, and occasionally take their family members. So again, it rings awfully hollow when we are overspent on missions when our staff members and our pastor uses budget dollars to travel on mission trips, yet laypeople are expected to pay their way on all mission trips.
So instead of praying that you all will give more, I am praying you will NOT give more, and I am praying Mac Brunson will be totally open and honest about our financial situation. He said last night that our church is behind $200,000 to $250,000 in our giving; he specifically said that we've not overspent by that amount, but that the congregation is behind in giving what they committed. Very interesting, because this contradicts what he told the Mud Creek Baptist Church on 10/8/07 that our church was short on our budget because we overspent on missions. Yet Sunday night he doesn't mention this, he just explains that our church is behind on its giving what we had committed (in other words - the financial problem is caused by and should be solved by the congregation). So which is it Mac? Did you overspend on missions by sending staff members and family members on mission trips, or are we slackers and haven't given what we committed in the last budget year? Or is it both? If you're going to say we are behind on our giving, why not also explain the mission over-expenditure that you mentioned when you preached out of town? So until our pastor is more open, honest, and transparent with these financial matters, I'm praying that people will NOT give more. I'm praying instead that Mac will find it in his heart to be open with his congregation, and not try to manipulate us into giving more by telling us how important prayer is in the Christian life, then having deacons "lead us" in prayer that we will let loose of more of our money, while he is earning a huge salary allowing him to live a lavish life style.
About praying concerning the start-up of the school: Realize church that Mac doesn't really want you to pray about the school in terms of whether we should or should not start a school. He has already made his mind up, he has already rallied the support of the deacons and staff and apparently the board of directors, and now their job is to convince us too that a school is a good idea because we will have to open up our wallets and pay for it, although hardly any of us will be able to afford the tuition to send our kids. Mac knows this, so he tells us that the school must be done because - get this - listen to this Southern Baptist Convention - that door-to-door evangelism doesn't work anymore because "people are never home." He actually said this in the context of why a school is necessary - that to reach people we must educate their children. This is absolute hogwash, and he actually expects us to buy it! There are many good reasons for FBC Jax starting a school, but as a primary outreach tool because other evangelism methods are not working is just not one of them!
One thing I've learned about Mac Brunson over the past year and a half - he likes to bring in people from the outside to preach to us to rally sympathy for him, or support for his vision. He did it with Dennis Swanburg for the Vision ("Mac's tiiired...he's been planting shade trees"), he did it with Phil Waldrep when under pressure from the previous blogger, he did it with Jerry Vines at the 2007 Pastors Conference, he did it with Johnny Hunt earlier this summer when giving went down, and of course he had Paige Patterson ask for prayer because Mac was being attacked by recalcitrants at his church. Now this Wednesday will be the next episode - he will bring a person in from the SBC whose job it will be to tell us how powerful a ministry it will be to have a school, and how great it is going to be.
Perhaps having a school is the way to go...but church we should not vote on it until our Pastor comes clean with us, and explains what the projected costs will be during the start up years, how this will impact our other areas of ministry, and he comes clean on the other financial matters discussed above. He needs to share with us some research done that might project enrollment out into the future, what expected tuition costs will be. Pray that this information will be shared so a smart decision can be made. I for one don't believe for a minute that having a school is a signficant element of reaching Jacksonville with the gospel - we will reach mostly rich, white people who live like Mac lives, but the average church member who is struggling to make ends meet (and trying to "unleash" more of the church's resources) will find it difficult if not impossible to send their kids to the private school. Again, not that a school would be a bad thing necessarily, but to try to convince us that we MUST in order to reach people with the gospel, and that we MUST because other evangelism methods like door-to-door are outdated, just doesn't pass the smell test. Furthermore, Mac Brunson has not earned our blind trust to lead us into such an endeavor unless he is open and honest with us about all the costs.
Finally, did you notice Mac last night rolled out the "if you're not happy here, you should go to another church" mantra? I'm sure we'll be hearing more of this in the future as the heat is turned up to give more. He's sensing resistance, so he can't hold himself back from telling his congregation that if they don't like things, if they aren't happy, they should go elsewhere.
Mac declared his allegiance to the church two Sundays ago, stating that he was called by God to the church and he is absolutely committed to it. That's great Mac, but so are we. We have been called to this church to serve just as much as you have, and we aren't going to bail out on our committment any faster than you will, whether we are happy or not with what goes on in the church. We are committed to the church just as much if not more than you are - most of us have demonstrated this over decades of faithfulness, and no 300,000 dollar gifts were used to entice us to come to the church and serve...so please don't roll out the "if you're not happy please go away"....because we will say the same to you...if you don't like us, if we're not following you like you would like, perhaps it is YOU who should go somewhere else.