December 17, 2012

The Bottom Line

In my childhood, it was always an exciting annual moment.

On that cold December night, sitting in the sanctuary, surrounded by friends, enveloped by the warmth of a fire, a church elder would approach the podium and speak with authority:

“We’d like to ask Pastor and his family to leave the room. We are ready to discuss the budget line item #14: pastor’s salary.”

And we’d all stand up, me from my seat with a gaggle of pre-teen girlfriends, my parents from their row, my brother somewhere, too. And we’d walk to through that heavy wooden swinging door in the hush, letting it close gently behind us. And then we’d wait in the chilly hall for the congregation to finish their deliberations—was it minutes? hours? before the elder cracked the door and re-admitted us to the warmth?

From my childhood, I don’t remember any actual dollar amounts, though I imagine they were written clearly on line 14, if I’d have cared to look. What I remember was the moment of mystery, the ringing in my ears in that quiet hallway.

We were here, and our friends were in there, and they were talking about us. Important stuff.

Now, grown-up and married to a pastor, I haven’t had quite the same December moments of wonder and awe. For the past few years, it seems like we’ve been out of town when the budget was proposed to the congregation, and, before that, my husband’s salary was determined by the officers without any church-wide discussion.

This year, however, I will be revisiting my hallway tradition. One of the elders has told us he’ll be asking us to leave the room at the annual meeting.

So, this year, I will again be standing in that outer room vacuum of space and time.

And when I’m not preventing my kids from wrestling each other to the ground from sheer boredom, I plan to fill the ringing silence with a prayerful heart. Because I know even more than I did as a child that this is important stuff.

The deliberations of our friends are going to have implications far beyond the mortgage and the car repairs. They will touch our hearts.

I’ll pray the words of the Lord’s prayer: “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Our children’s catechism explains this as: “we are asking God to provide us with all that we really need.”

And I’ll pray Proverbs 30:8-9: “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

What I really want this year, when that elder opens the door and lets our family back in, is to know that God has given wisdom and unity to his people. I want to be kept from temptation to evil and to learn to depend on God for all things. I want God to be glorified.

Only the Lord knows what number on line 14 can best accomplish that.

I don’t know who determines your salary: offering box in the narthex? budget committee in a locked room? lively and public congregational meeting? missions’ board of people you’ve never even met?

Whatever your situation, in this season of budget-making, I pray the Lord reminds us all that His glory is the only bottom line.

7 comments:

  1. For the lay people readers, who have the "hallway tradition," I want to suggest that you make is as easy on your pastor and his family as possible. Some ideas: heat the space where they have to wait, supply some toys if he has small children, try not to leave them waiting for a long time, when they return to the meeting room say something positive (even if the discussion was heated), let the pastor know right away the outcome of the vote, have the leaders meet with him privately soon after the meeting to discuss any serious issues with his job performance, which should include some encouragement, as well.
    My own church changed the system, and it is much better now. I am thankful.

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  2. We face this each year, too, and have for the past 19 years. I don't really remember anything too heated coming up, but it's such an awkward situation! Having EVERYONE know your income is difficult at best. And, knowing you're being discussed among an entire congregation doesn't make it any easier. Yet, I know I'm where the Lord wants me to be. I trust, like you said in your post, that only the Lord knows exactly what we need on that line. Should the church fail to adequately provide (and it never has) then the Lord will meet our needs in another way.

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