Patton Opens This Year’s Church Annual Meeting

by Scott Vandeventer, ECCU Chief Operating Officer
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

“Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything—we’ll let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly, and we are not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy!”

   George S. Patton
   (as portrayed by George C. Scott in the movie Patton)

This Sunday afternoon, my church gathers to, among other things, vote on a budget that will impact what ministry we fund this year for about 1,200 adults, children, and a passel of missionaries, plus outreach initiatives. About 12 people have had a hand in preparing this budget, and some 300 who show will try to understand it enough to approve it. This is 2009—the year after 2008—which wasn’t such a good year for building confidence, from a worldly financial perspective.

This year seems to heighten attention for what is a fascinating annual ritual. How can 300 people possibly know enough to say whether any budget number is the right number? How can that many people even begin to grasp the range of assumptions, the available options, the potential liabilities and possibilities that their vote is presumed to approve?

I have been through a lot of these congregational meetings. I can say there is nothing I have seen that better reveals the collective spirit of a church community than people talking about how to finance their community’s life. People exhibit some of the very worst and best behaviors in these moments.

You’ve been there. Everyone walks in, hair askew by whatever direction the economic winds are blowing. One comes with “the business mind.” Another grabs the perspective of a household budget, clipping coupons and all. And there’s always George, who wrote the very first budget almost 40 years ago when EVERYTHING was debated in open congregational session. Yow! Every possible perspective is brought to bear to vote this thing, this budget, into existence. And then, poof, life goes on.

Well, this year, I am hoping we do something different. I’m only one guy, but I think I’m working with a group of folks who feel a refreshing breeze in their faces—we are hoping God is on the move. Now before you shut me off because I threw down the God card, hear me out, please.

There is stark recognition that something is different this year. And I, for one, refuse to presume that a little black cloud is following us just because the economy is in the toilet, and it’s flushing. We have more clarity today as a church body around what is required to see lives change, we are investing in the essential ingredients to see that effort continue and grow, and we are relentless in the pursuit of this vision. We don’t know how to do it any different, except maybe go slower. But our aim is clear and we are focused.

So, this got me to thinking about those of us who give to anything, and most obviously to our church. If we are just doing church, financing something that is just a franchise of evangelical society, then you have no argument from me that you better focus on the budget. But if we are on to something that is supplying the wherewithal for people to discover more joy in Jesus, then stop and remember the people who give, because they want more of this. Step into their minds. Watch. Listen. Think. What do you see?

I see people who want to know that what you are hoping to accomplish is worth it. I see people who are waiting, who are wanting to give to something that is going to bring them and others closer to the joy-filled life long promised, yet so often left in the crumpled paper of a “safe, prudent budget.”

We givers are asking those who would presume to have the answers, “Do you believe this stuff?! Are you willing to give it all that you have?” I have never given to anything I didn’t believe would do good. I will delightedly give more when I have hope that my gift will be multiplied into more joy, more goodness, more happiness. I know God smiles on this kind of heart.

So, my transformation this year is to focus on the prize that we are investing to achieve—the changed life. I plan to encourage that we look at this vision, calculate the cost, vote, ask for God’s wisdom as the steps unfold, and then, poof, have life go on.

May God bless!

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