How does a church balance the call to minister locally and at the same time not neglect the Great Commission’s mandate to go to the ends of the earth? In our church the answer lies somewhere in our hideous orange carpet.
About a decade ago we got a quote to replace the entire carpet. The cost was $11,000. Each year our church gives far more than twice that amount to ministries and missions outside our own congregation. We don’t have new carpet because we aren’t more selfish.
That same figure popped up at our last congregational meeting. The deacons grimly reported that our 2011 General Fund ended the year $11,000 short, the exact amount of the church’s money I had just delivered to our missionary family in Calcutta two weeks earlier. We finished the year in the red for the same reason we still walk on 1970s carpet: sacrificial giving.
The $11,000 I delivered to our missionaries went to feed street children with the only food they won’t have to beg for. It helped pay the salary of teachers and purchased school supplies for impoverished kids. It helped keep the doors open on a hostel that houses kids rescued from the slums. Lives will change because of the $11,000 our church invested in Calcutta.
On the other hand, $11,000 could also be used to buy materials for our Sunday school. It could be used to help pay the salary of the pastor and staff, keep an unemployed family in their home for another month, pay Christian school tuition for a family struggling with prolonged illness. That same money changes lives when invested in our church’s local ministry.
That’s the tension of the Great Commission—the constant pull to give both locally and globally. We cannot abandon either one and remain faithful to our calling. Churches need to focus locally in order to be a vital presence in their community. At the same time, strong churches are committed to overseas missions.
This holy tension pulls at the seams of the budget. Budgets are moral documents stating a church’s core values. Luxuries like new carpet and motion-activated faucets should be sacrificed to keep medical doctors working in Bangladesh and Bible translators in tribal Africa.
Honestly, most American churches spend too much on our own comfort. Our human tendency toward self-indulgence creeps into the church. We often care too much about carpet color. We believe that attractive, updated buildings will draw people to the Savior who, ironically, had no place to lay his head (Matt. 8:20).
Obedience to the Great Commission is an act of faith. It seems foolish to invest our limited funds in ministries that will never show a financial return, to take our best and brightest young people and send them away to serve on the mission field. But that is the paradox of the Great Commission: We build the church by draining it of resources.
The reality is that we Americans and Canadians are citizens of the richest nations in the history of the world. We follow a Lord who challenged his disciples to abandon wealth in favor of establishing his kingdom. Now is the time for us to invest in the emerging world. Now is the time for us to be a part of what God is doing and will do as a result of our obedience to the paradoxical Great Commission.
The longer my church puts off updating our nasty carpet in favor of obedience to the Great Commission, the more I see burnt orange as the color of love.