Liberty U: Slaves to Image [& $]

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A friend of mine who suffered under abusive leadership recently said, “I have come to believe that it all comes down to money.”

Awfully cynical don’t you think?

Unfortunately, there is little doubt that many organizations, businesses, and churches have become toxic because of just that: money

The God Who created the universe and sent His Son to redeem it from the brokenness of sin talks a lot about money in His revelation to men and women. He would encourage us to get our sights off money!

The writer of Ecclesiastes had much wisdom. He said, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”

In the West we have largely bought into an economic view that idolizes anyone or anything that builds wealth. We believe that human development and flourishing is mostly about economics.

In fact, a little known law to most Americans states that a stockholder may sue the CEO of a corporation if he makes a decision that is not the most beneficial financially to the stockholder. Not community. Not employee. Not environment.

However, scripturally we are warned not to pursue wealth. Men and women have a real bent (sinful tendency) towards reliance on the creation (including money and things) rather than God Himself. He takes great pains to bring us to dependency on Him.

What is Our Purpose?

God created, sustains, and will bring to fruition. He wants us dependent on Him, not driven to gain wealth.

The Fall of Man (and woman) in the Garden of Eden did not change His purpose. God still creates, sustains, and promises to bring to fruition His good and holy will. This is our starting point. This needs to be at the forefront of our passions and actions.

We must ask ourselves if our passion is in serving God’s redemptive plan for this world or gaining wealth. There is a very distinct difference in motive and it will completely change the way a Christian organization or church operates.

If money is the goal, motivator, or assessment tool in our ministry and work, our ministry may be toxic.

You probably understand what I mean by “goal” and “motivator,” but be curious what I mean by “assessment.” Often we “assess” our ministry by our donor base. We may determine the validity or effectiveness of ministry by where people put their money. That can be through a donor list or tithing in the church.

Solution Through Marketing

Therefore, when the funding begins to slip the leader’s first reaction is to look for a marketing-type fix. He does not necessarily ask himself if the ministry is doing what God wants it to do, but asks what he can do to get those funds pouring in once again.

Using money for assessment often creates ministries that are image-driven rather than service-driven.

One particular example is Liberty University’s journalism debacle. As reported by World Magazine, Liberty is so caught up in their image they have gone to new lows to rid their campus of honest people. As Bruce Kirk, Dean of the School of Communication said to the school newspaper staff, “Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is.”

I must have missed something? I always thought an organization’s reputation and image should be built on truth-telling and how it serves people, not asking its stakeholders to coverup the ministry’s failures. Apparently, Jerry Falwell Jr. and I have differing views. It begins to smell a lot like a donor base to me as I read about the firing of student journalists.

Consider the ministries that have been propped up by leaders who were destructive, but to the media world were stars: Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, Jim Baker. The assessment of their ministries were in part conducted by the finance department. People flocked to them. People opened their checkbooks.

Therefore, the ministry leaders figured they must be blessed by God. And the rush was on to keep that image alive…to keep those finances flowing.

But, money is not fundamental to ministry.

Money is God’s Job

Continually, the pages of scripture tell us to get our sights off money as motivation, purpose, or goal. And get our sights on God’s provision.

Jesus was speaking to the crowds and challenging them with difficult sayings. He challenged his hearers to turn to the Lord rather than their own abilities. In Matthew 6:31-34 he says,

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Wow! When taken in juxtaposition with other passages that command a good work ethic [Proverbs 12:14, Ephesians 4:28] it becomes apparent that men and women are called to work, as a part of seeking the kingdom of God. But, ultimately, they are to trust that God will provide for their economic needs. 

We need not worry about our ministry’s image…we need to trust in the Lord and do the job He has called us to do.

So What is Work For?

This article is not intended to provide a complete treatment on this subject. There is too much to say in answering this question.

However, I would suggest the big-picture-purpose of work is to make something of this earth. God gave man work when he was perfect…man was called to cultivate and tend the garden [Genesis 2:15]. As men and women were fruitful and multiplied they were to spread throughout the earth cultivating and tending. Work was not a result of sin but a good gift from God.

With the advent of sin, work became difficult [Genesis 3:16-19]. We were driven to depend on the Lord. It also became a means of reversing the curse the earth faced from the effects of the fall. The broken things (from sin) can to some degree be repaired. Weeds can be pulled. Wheelchairs can be created along with medications and prosthetics. And beautiful things can be made…buildings, art, music, patio furniture.

But, work is still good and has God’s original purpose. He did not withdraw that purpose.

Primarily, Work Provides for the Needs of People

This may sound antithetical to my comment that Money is God’s Job, but there is a distinction I want to make. Work provides for other people. My needs are secondary.

I serve others as I work. If my work has no purpose in cultivating and tending the needs of others, my work is likely all about me. Though my work provides income for my family, I must remember that it is God who is ultimately providing both the work and the income.

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. [Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (ESV)]

God does not just provide the money, but the job for making the money, and the ability to have a job. 

When an organization or church moves away from this goal and focuses on its own needs primarily, it is slouching towards Gomorra. It will do all it can to build itself up…marketing, self-preservation, and image become the focus of the ministry.

Rather, it must keep its sights on the stakeholders the ministry serves and truly seek their good…

Not the ministry’s checkbook.

 

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