Steve Wright has posed an interesting question on MissionalCOG: can the "haves" and "have-nots" get together at church? And, of more import to him, can they do so at his new church?
IMHO, the class stratification of American Protestant and Evangelical Christianity is one of the sorriest aspects of what has been otherwise represented as the greatest form of Christianity to be practiced since the Apostles. Having spent a lifetime attempting to find a church that actually beats this, I can assure Steve of one thing: you have a serious challenge ahead.
I believe that Our Lord and Saviour came to this earth in part to demonstrate to its inhabitants that God was not a respecter of persons; that all were equal in his sight and that the solution to everyone’s problem wasn’t to be purchased by man’s wealth but with Jesus’ own blood. (To illustrate this, people say that the ground is level at the foot of the cross, but I’m not so sure of that, since wasn’t Calvary a hill? Doesn’t the ground generally slope on hills?) In any case, since all of the redeemed are now equal in Christ Jesus, one would think that the organisation and structure of the church would reflect this. But it doesn’t, sad to say.
Is it possible for people of diverse economic situations to go to church together? I’m not much of an idealist, but something inside of me wants this to work, and wants it very badly. Let me throw out some ideas for thought:
- Your church, and especially your leadership, needs to be focused on Jesus Christ himself in a very singular way. You and your core people need to be very focused on God first, because when you’re focused on God and eternity, you’re less focused on the differences you have on earth. That’s especially tricky now, because we’re very focused on engaging the culture (or cultures) and concerned about our secular appearance, but unless you do this your church will come apart.
- If you haven’t already done so (and you probably have,) you need to lose prosperity teaching. People have the quaint idea that prosperity teaching elevates poor people, but it only does so over a long period of time and in conjunction with doing other things that God has commanded us to do. In the short run prosperity teaching is poison because your wealthier members don’t need it (I think you’ve found this out) and it devalues your poorer ones because it assumes that prosperity confers special status with God, which means that those who have will experience unBiblical elevation in the eyes of those who don’t have. And that leads to the problem of the next point…
- You must resist all efforts to allow the "big bucks" to run the church. It’s true that your more prosperous members generally tend to be good managers of money, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche to direct the affairs of God’s called-out body.
- Remember that God thought opposition to envy was so important that he included it in the Ten Commandments. You must oppose envy in like fashion.
- Avoid your church becoming a wealth transfer mechanism. People need help, and they should get it. But what your people need most is an inside change. Your wealthy people need to learn dependence on God and your poorer people need to learn the way to change their MO and accumulate wealth. And that’s an opportunity for each group to teach the other some life lessons. Besides, in the long run constantly using the church to transfer wealth will lead to your higher income people leaving, and then you’ll have another class-stratified church.
- Give different groups in the church–economic, ethnic, you name it–enough space to meet their own needs while keeping them in touch with the rest of the church. That’s isn’t much of a trick for a very small church, but the larger your church grows, the more of an issue it will become.
It’s a great experiment. May God richly bless you!