True Servant Leadership?

Over the years, I have heard any number of sermons about how the leadership of the church is to serve. Someone has even written a book on servant leadership. I do not think, however that this was what any of the pastors or authors had in mind:

The past few years have seen a rapid acceleration in the number of churches losing their sanctuaries because they can’t pay the mortgage.

Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.

One would think that some pastors should have paid a bit more attention to scripture like Proverbs 22:7 and a little less to the real estate market. How bad is it? Well, it’s not good:

Since 2008, nearly 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from eight during the previous two years and virtually none in the decade before that, according to real-estate services firm CoStar Group, Inc. Analysts and bankers say hundreds of additional churches face financial struggles so severe they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the near future.

Not to worry, though, Mr. Jackson is working on the problem (though what this has to do with civil rights in particular is beyond me):

“Churches are the next wave in this economic crisis,” says Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a non-profit civil-rights group, who works with pastors around the country to help churches negotiate better terms with their bankers.

And who is holding the whip hand? Why, the bankers, of course. Is there any pattern to this? Glad you asked:

Religious denominations of all kinds have suffered in recent years as donations have declined, with many Catholic parishes closing and synagogues merging their congregations. But the property-financing problems have been concentrated among independent churches, which while seeking to expand lack a governing body to serve as a backstop to financial hardship.

Translation: These churches do not have the benefit of being part of a larger conference or communion which can take money from churches that have not been stupid and use it to bail out those that have. I would guess that a number of non-independent churches have been in similar poor shape but have been bailed out before matters became public. However, it may be that non-independent churches are more accountable to begin with–based on the relationships they have with other congregations.

It would seem that a number of these churches might be forging ahead based on market forecasts instead of considering sound financial guidance from the book which church leaders claim to revere.

2 thoughts on “True Servant Leadership?

  1. Church polity – who decides what when – varies greatly in American congregations. Some are essentially run by a pastor as a kind of CEO with a board that he has selected to tell him what he wants to hear. Others are run in essential matters by people not of that congregation, like a bishop in a different city. Sometimes the local board/council has more complete control. And sometimes, it’s one or two key donors who call the shots.

    The real problem in many religious charities is the attitude “the Lord will provide” taken to extremes. I have heard that phrase used more often than I can count to justify foolish use of the Lord’s resources and sometimes what the Lord provides is not money, but the painful consequences normally attendant on folly in the hopes that it will teach us wisdom.

    1. P&R,

      You are correct. There is hardly a monolithic approach to church leadership. However, there is almost always leadership, rather than anything approaching a democracy. One would think that such leadership might consider reading the handbook from time to time and see what it says about finances.

      Presumptuously failing to plan ahead for proper use of resources–no matter what scriptures one piously uses–is indeed folly.

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