Laying On More Hands or Laying Off More Staff

My bride recently agreed to her company’s separation package.  Her future layoff along with my tenuous employment is causing some contemplation about our family’s economic situation.  There’s general agreement that this nation, along with much of the world, is in a recession.  One question in my mind: are Christians protected from depressed economic conditions?  In our own little sphere, giving is down at our church and my sense is that this is partly due to a number of unemployed members.  Last August I wrote in my post, “Laying on Hands or Laying off Staff”, that our church’s board of elders had to make a decision to lay off a staff member.  This, to me, wasn’t a “God’s will” issue.  Rather, through analysis, collective wisdom, reflection, (as exhibited by Paul – see below), the board determined a best course of action given the circumstances.  Now, several months later, worsening economic circumstances requires additional cuts in staff in addition to implementing a salary freeze.

I read a 12/23/08 article in the WSJ in which Mark Holbrook, president of the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in Brea, CA stated, “We are seeing more (financial) stress in churches than we have in modern history.”  He goes on to discuss how churches everywhere are experiencing financial difficulties and that church foreclosures are increasing.  What’s the lesson here?  Perhaps things such as faulty data, poor planning, declining attendance, higher utility expenses, etc, can alter a church’s financial situation – just as it would for an individual, business, or a corporation.  To that end, our church’s current economic health is certainly affected by higher mortgage payments that came about from a decision a couple of years ago to expand the size of the church building.  Right or wrong, good, bad, or indifferent, the intent for the building addition was to better meet the requirements of existing ministries and incorporate space for additional youth and adult ministry opportunities.  At the time, giving and other financial indicators seemed to support the expansion.  A congregational vote approved the additional debt.

I’m not trying to argue whether debt is a good or bad thing.  Rather, I’m trying to understand what, if anything is God’s role when financial decisions are made within a body of believers.  Looking back, some decisions made were probably better than other decisions.  Nevertheless, we often we make decisions with the best of intentions but with incomplete information and/or an inability to realize the impact current decisions can have on future events.

Paul had to make decisions – lots of them.  I wonder if he got every decision “right”?  From my reading of scripture, it’s the rare occurrence when Paul received direct guidance from God.  Below is a brief overview of some criteria Paul used when he made decisions:

Phil 2:25 (I think it’s a good idea)

1 Cor 16:3-4 (If it seems the right thing to do)

Acts 6:1-7 (We need to do something about this)

Acts 15:24-29 (People got together, debated, decided, and acted)

The conclusion I draw is that God allows us to make decisions and to experience what I consider the natural occurring consequence (be it good or bad) of those decisions.  In my opinion, then, Christians aren’t immune from the negative aspects of changing circumstances, poor decision making or a worsening economy.  Put another way, I don’t think it’s God who brings about difficulties that naturally arise from the negative aspects of changing circumstances.