It is amazing how quickly life can change. The least-expected events can alter things radically with little or no warning.
The Christian Reformed Church has recently encountered one of those unexpected, ministry-changing events.
Every one of us is painfully aware of the present worldwide economic downturn. Those with retirement holdings have seen their investments shrink dramatically. Housing prices have dropped to the lowest levels in years. Credit is tight, jobs are at risk, employers are nervous and companies are folding. It is not a pretty picture.
These events impact our personal lives, but they also affect our churches and our ministries. While some CRC churches are reporting better-than-expected giving, many are reporting declines in revenues and some report major reductions. Denominational ministries are being similarly impacted. At local, regional, and denominational levels, we will need to adjust our work and ministries to ensure that we continue to do kingdom work in ways that maximize the gifts God provides.
In the face of such challenges, where do we turn?
Whenever I am faced with any major event or challenge in my life, the first thing I do is step back and reflect. When I do that, I can stand in awe of what God has done and is doing. In this present economic challenge, we should remember that our ministry is not about us; it is about the transforming work of the Holy Spirit across North America and around the world.
This is also a time to check our focus and alignment. We need to keep first things first. We need to separate the important from the seemingly urgent. We no longer have the luxury of pursuing the good at the expense of the great. This is true for each person, for each church, and for the CRC as a whole.
Finally, the present situation encourages us to prune. Pruning is a painful but important process. Fruit farmers know that to ensure the best produce they need to cut unproductive branches so that all the nutrients go to the healthy branches. In our churches and ministries, we will have to prune. Some of the things we are now doing or are planning may have to be abandoned, delayed, or temporarily suspended.
At the denominational level we are already doing these things. We are reflecting on God's goodness and grace in our ministries. We are focusing our work to ensure that our energies and efforts are going into our mission to transform lives and communities worldwide. And we are pruning. We are making hard decisions about what programs and ministries may have to be adjusted.
Doing these things is an act of obedience. Like the people in Jesus' parable who received the talents, we must use our Master's resources wisely and carefully. We will one day be held accountable. My prayer is that on that day all of us—individuals, local congregations, and the entire Christian Reformed Church—will hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Recently a friend reminded me of Psalm 62. I encourage you to take time to read the psalm and reflect on how it applies to the challenges we face today.
We can respond to financial crises with fear and panic or with hope and confidence. If we rely only on our own abilities, then fear and panic are appropriate. But if we depend on God and his ongoing engagement in our lives, then we can look at every challenging situation with hope and confidence.