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Coffee Hour Morality

2007 November 15
by Julie Clawson

The topic for this month’s Synchroblog is – The Church and Money. This of course could cover a wide spectrum of topics. From millionaire megachurch pastors currently under federal investigation because of their extravagant lifestyles to the whole question of if churches should have budgets (or buildings, or supplies…) at all. Earlier this week I addressed the issues of paid church staff and explored some of those theoretical new expressions of church structure. Today I want to re-look at a topic that has crept up recently in a number of conversations – where the church chooses to spend its money when it comes to day to day spending.

My approach makes a major assumption right up front. It assumes that the church is spending money on itself and not just giving it all away. While giving money away is commendable and there are certainly many churches that don’t do enough of that, I personally see no big issue in a church spending some money on itself. At our church we often describe church as a road trip taken together with friends, we all pitch in to help pay for the gas so to speak. Yes we engage in missional activities along the way, but we still have the expense of the day to day to cover as well. And I am absolutely not talking about “day to day” expenses like state of the art custom speakers or a luxury desk for the pastor’s office. I’m referring to say the communion elements, the toilet paper in the bathrooms, and the coffee for fellowship time.

So my question is, when it comes to those basic items the church buys is the church conscious of the ethical impact of what they are buying? Does the church care if the bread and the juice it uses for communion are full of the preservatives and dyes that cause hyperactivity in children and are linked to cancer? Does the church care if the toilet paper is environmentally friendly or not? Does the church care if the farmers who grew the coffee were paid a living wage for their work? Or does the church, like the typical American consumer, seek out whatever is cheapest no matter what the residual cost?

I know I’ve discussed this on this blog before, but it really bugs me when the church slips into the consumer mindset of “its all about me.” In this case the “if it saves me personally a buck it really doesn’t matter who I hurt in the process” mindset that seems to drive how we as Americans shop. So I’ve been in churches where they buy the cheapest coffee they can find from companies with horrible human rights records and see no issue with it because they are saving money. If asked, they might even reply that it frees up more money to give to missions (not that that ever really happens, it just sounds good). But how can the church claim to care for the hurting and call its members to live righteously if it does not do so itself? If in its most basic day to day actions it sends the message that the poor and the environment are worthless when compared to the church’s personal bottom line, why should it be taken seriously in other areas? How can the church be so hypocritical and still desire to instruct people in ethics and morality?

In my mind the church should be the one leading the way on these issues. To refuse to spend money on unethical items and take a stand for spending justly. To fight the consumer mentality of “if it’s cheap then it’s okay.” And this isn’t about being snobby or gourmet either. It’s about saying that people matter and that caring for them is important enough to maybe even spend a few extra dollars. Sure we can have debates on whether or not we should say even be serving coffee at church, but at least at my church that coffee and breakfast time is a valuable part of our community gathering. We are a “foodal” church and find our connections over food quite often. There is just some money that will be spent no matter what. So while it may to easy to discuss big money issues like paying staff or having a building in regards to church and money, I want to know if the church is being responsible with the little things. If our coffee and toilet paper budget isn’t missional, then are we truly promoting holistic missional lifestyles?

For other contributions to this topic check out –

The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church at Fernando’s desk
Trusting God – A New Perspective at Eternal Echoes
Silver and Gold Have We – Oops! at Subversive Influence
Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Walking With the Camels at Calacirian
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody’s Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Kirk Bartha at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike’s Musings
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba’s World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money’s too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at at Charis Shalom
Tithe Scmithe at Discombobula
The Church and Money at Khanya
Greed at Hollow Again

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17 Responses leave one →
  1. November 15, 2007

    Excellent post! We’ve recently scaled down our budget, but these statements especially struck me: “And this isn’t about being snobby or gourmet either. It’s about saying that people matter and that caring for them is important enough to maybe even spend a few extra dollars.” This gives me something to think about. Thanks!

    -Alan

  2. November 15, 2007

    “In my mind the church should be the one leading the way on these issues.”- YES YES AND YES!!! excellent post thank you Julie.

  3. November 15, 2007

    Without doubt our collective purchases should reflect our ethics. I’ve certainly seen churches really embrace this, in terms of food, recycling, waste, fair-trade products, etc. Sometimes it can be as simple as someone making a clear case and having the desire to do something (rejecting disposable coffee cups, cutting down on excess printing/copying and fairtrade coffee/tea are examples).

  4. November 15, 2007

    Don’t know how this fits in, but…

    Every time I think of the ‘spend money on itself’ church, I remember a Simpson’s show years ago where Bart plays a prank on the town by pretending he’s a sweet little kid who fell down a well.

    The local entertainment industry records a “We are the World” rip off to help rescue the kid. Krusty the clown gets interviewed on how they plan to spend the profits earned from the recording.

    He says something like, “well…there’s the recording costs, the caterer, the this, that, blah, blah…and HEY! Them limo’s out back ain’t free”

  5. November 15, 2007

    I really appreciate this post, Julie, and think you are so right… the church I am at now has recently started a green team, that has happened to span the entirety of the way the church deals with the environment… the snacks we buy, the way we recycle, the way we use water.
    thanks to some other people in our church, we were able to realize how caring for the environment went beyond recycling, and it has, i think, done a lot for our church.
    I think this is worship.

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. November 15, 2007

    Excellent! I do love this, Julie. Thanks for making us all think today. 😉

    I do think a very poor church might have to buy its TP and coffee from Wal-mart, BUT most churches can afford to take justice and environment into consideration of it’s expenditures. Even if they just install CFL’s in all the fixtures or adjust the toilets to use less water. For starters.

    I would love it if you would do a post on this…the kinds of things a church can do to be more compassionate and environmentally friendly in the things they buy…and where to buy those kinds of things, if they aren’t readily available at most stores. Sometimes I WANT to make better choices but don’t always know where to look.

  7. November 16, 2007

    Possibly the single most devastating and critical issue facing the modern church. How our wealth has ruined us and ruined our witness in the world.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Calacirian » Walking With the Camels (November Synchroblog)
  2. The Church and money - synchroblog « Khanya
  3. Silver and Gold Have We–Oops! : Subversive Influence
  4. CHARIS SHALOM » Who, or What, Do You Worship?
  5. Headspace @ www.lainiepetersen.com » October Synchroblog: The Bourgeois Elephant in the Emergent/Missional Living Room
  6. More Than Stone :: Hot topic Synchroblog :: November :: 2007
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  8. Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story | The Life of Lew Ayotte
  9. Coffee - Page 4 - Christian Forums
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