To do some kind of paid, ministry-as-a-job requires the money to come from somewhere. There’s a whole system in place in which money goes to specific models, a very special kind (read: culture and social connections) of person, and numbers (read: how many souls is my money buying). This is an inherently racist system for several reasons.
- The homogeneous unit principle. If you are hearing from your leadership in your spiritually based non-profit, or church, or outreach, or campus-based para-church, that they want to reach “every kid” they are deceived or they’re deceiving you. I know these are broad strokes, but the reality is obvious. To grow a ministry, and to grow it fast, you want a lot of the same kinds of people. People are tribal, familial, ‘birds of a feather’ if you will. This is the result of sin, evolution, however you want to put it. But to grow a ministry, and to grow it fast, you want to target the dominant culture. To keep a ministry small, singular relational, and to have modest or no growth at all, you want to have a hodge-podge of people who would normally never connect. Just a quick thought exercise: try to picture a mix of all races, and political groups, and throw people from the full socioeconomic background. Get those people in a room on a regular basis, that’s challenge 1. Get them talking to each other (challenge 2), and reaching across the invisible lines that you’ll suddenly realize are there (challenge 3). Then keep them coming to that room, and progressing into deeper and deeper healthy relationships (the challenge of all ministry). It sounds impossible because it is, except for where the Holy Spirit allows. If you have a ministry that in any way measures its success by numbers, this is the opposite of what you want to do – you don’t want diversity. You want lots of the same kinds of people attracting more of the same kind of people.
- The business model of ministry. The link talks about the problem of having the CEO-pastor keeping the shareholder-congregation happy. That model falls flat very quickly, and you see it with the lack of power, spiritual or otherwise in congregations. What I’m talking about is this. A good business wants paying customers. People who can buy the goods or services offered by the business. A church wants to attract a high number of people who tithe. A para-church wants to draw in people who will go to their banquet, golf tournament, and who will show up well-fed and provide their own transportation. Both youth groups and youth outreach non-profits want to attract youth who can pay their own way to camp, and participate in all the activities, and whose parents have the capacity and connections to bring more into the ministry than what they take. That kind of transactional model is what the church has become. You are a customer, the church is a business, the business owner / CEO (pastor) wants to keep his customers happy and paying. What happens when a bunch of poor people show up? A growing ministry made up of rich, white people, but is also by and for rich white people, that ministry sees increased revenue. A growing ministry of people in poverty and from marginalized communities will see expenses increase. And, despite what people may say out loud, having a high number of people of color will repel the rich white people from the ministry (ie. the high paying customers). I’ve seen it first hand. “There’s nothing here for my family” or some such excuse. It’s the quiet racism that’s still just hidden enough to get by. If we are running businesses and all we care about is money, then by all means we need to ignore the poor and immigrants and people of color in favor of the ones who will come in with the most money. It’s why you see church plants setting up shop near the booming high-tech cities, out in the suburbs where the lawyers, doctors, and engineers live, where the newest houses are. It’s why you see so few church plants start up and survive in communities that are fractured, under-resourced, and where the poverty there makes people mobile. If it happens once or twice, it’s a coincidence. If the church planting, para-church starting world follows a pattern across the entire nation thousands of times, it’s a pretty firm pattern. And, we have to confront the fact that it’s a very racist one, where the money flows to a very specific type of ministry.
- White Money. What are you going to do? Tell your supporters “no” and then serve the people in your community? You might. Or you’ll do what 99.9% of people do, which is follow the money. Bow down before the one you serve. You have a choice, and you can’t serve both God and money. The money voices will be the critical, negative ones, always asking for more from you. They will be like the ones I heard, the men who gave $100 a month so they became “owners of the ministry.” That language should make you as sick as it makes me – if you’re hearing it, run away. Who owns your ministry? Be careful how you answer that, because if you say Jesus then you’ll offend a lot of the money changers who think they own it. Most ministers won’t have the balls to risk their livelihood, their position of power and influence, their relationships in order to serve the poor and the marginalized. Depending on the organization you serve, there will be pressure coming at you like you’re 1000m underwater to hit growth projections, to keep major donors happy, to listen and learn what they want you to learn. I invite you to be part of the group that says “no.” There are probably a thousand churches and ministries in town that will say “yes” to the old, white money that’s in front of you. Everyone else will bow down, but you don’t have to. Do you trust that God wants you to serve the poor? And that he will make a way to do that? Then ignore the voices telling you to ignore them so that the rich can have more yes men. I was once told by my boss that he needs more yes men on his team, and I took it as a sign that it was time to quit. It was his team, he owned it, and he owned me. I was done bowing down to white money. I would rather be broke and unemployed than serve at the beck and call of the god that rules this world. What about you? Be honest with yourself if you’re trying to have it both ways. Just know that you can’t, and there will be a reckoning someday. I was miserable for years trying to have it both ways, and I am telling you it’s better on this side.