"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." --Proverbs 22:7 (NIV)
Debt is the new master of our culture. It rules over many of our homes, it certainly dominates our federal and state governments, but sadly it is now the master of many of our churches. Proverbs warned us about this and told us plainly that when debt is the master, the poor are enslaved and we become servants to a master that is not always kind.
New Life Church has $23 million of debt after building our current meeting space and purchasing some other properties. When the decision was made to borrow the money eight years ago, the church was growing really fast and giving was on the increase. The leaders felt the debt was manageable and could be paid off easily in a few years. It was a solid decision at the time.
Since then, our church has suffered through a scandal, a shooting and a shrinking local economy. Suddenly what was once manageable became the master, a master that has kept us from some vital ministry opportunities in our city and world. When we wanted to serve the poor, we instead had to send in mortgage payments to a credit union.
This past Sunday, our church took a historic first step to move the mountain of debt, and we will, with God's wisdom and help. It may take days, months or even years, but we are determined to be debt free, untangled from the world system of debt and interest payments and better yoked with real kingdom purposes.
The Scripture above reflects what most families and churches have bought into: a world system that tells us immense debt has no consequences. But it does. Imagine what our churches could do if we focused as much on solving the housing shortage that keeps the working poor in the shadows, living in cars with their children, as we did dreaming up the next building project to expand our campuses?
I am not against big buildings because large, growing families need space to meet and to do ministry. I just want balance. I want us to live simple lives, avoiding extravagance, especially when it keeps us from the real ministry of Jesus in our cities. If Jesus saw a working single mom living in a car with her children, he would buy apartment complexes and then maybe, a place for them to worship, later.
What has the debt at our churches kept us from doing in our cities? That's the big question we're answering right now at New Life. It has been revelatory for me to talk with our people about this. The light has come on for all of us and we're beginning to imagine and dream about ministry that can really change people's lives.
Let's make sure we are serving the right master, not a world system that gives us easy money and then makes us servants who then have to ask permission to do the things we have already been told to do by our true Master.