we're in the money

I've begun to have thoughts about going out walking again. One motivating theme that has risen to the surface of my mind has to do with Christian ministry. Perhaps a good introduction would be this journal entry from over five years ago (I guess it's a continuing theme for me...):

January 23, 2001

I found this passage in an article by Richard John Neuhaus (in this month's issue of First Things):

Even in these flush times, $22 billion is a hefty piece of change. That is how much evangelical Protestants spend annually in support of a vast array of parachurch groups, ranging from Campus Crusade for Christ, World Vision, and Prison Fellowship to countless evangelistic ministries. Michael S. Hamilton offers an instructive survey of the phenomenon in a Christianity Today article, "We're In the Money!" ...So has the success of the innumerable entrepreneurial empires of the parachurch world corrupted evangelicalism? Hamilton recognizes that being in the money is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he invited his disciples to take up the cross and follow him:
Given the enormous temptations to sin that always accompany wealth, it is a bit surprising that we have displayed so little ambivalence at the wealth that is now in our hands. I suspect this is so because we believe in the marrow of our bones that our ministry organizations are doing God's work in the world. So any decision that might lead to a decrease in an organization's activities will hinder God's work (not to mention threatening the livelihood of its employees).

Once this conviction is in place, the very act of preserving and defending the ministry becomes a self-evident, self-sustaining virtue. And it nurses the common idea that when an evangelical organization prospers, the prosperity is a sign of God's approval. Such thinking is not biblical, of course. The Bible makes it clear that God often gives good gifts to those who do evil. It is equally clear that when Christians do as God asks they will sometimes lose money, respect, freedom—and even life itself.

This particular Christian truth only rarely works its way into the decision-making process of our ministry organizations. The engine that drives us is a compelling vision for ministry, and who can say that the vision was not vouchsafed by God? So we pursue the vision by building and growing the organizations that embody the vision. Growth means more money; more money means more ministry. In the worst cases, means and ends become reversed, and growth and influence become goals unto themselves. In the best cases, more ministry means more people who become newly aware of the great gift God has given them in Jesus Christ--and who then, in gratitude, reach into their own pockets and give, so that others might also know.
If only the world, and the religious world as well, was limited to "the best cases." What would seem to be missing here is a place to stand from which the driving, and sometimes demonic, logic of growth and success can be brought under judgment. I left the article wondering whether somebody might someday write a version of "The Grand Inquisitor" updated for the religion business of our day.

That's the contemporary setting for my recent struggles against the "success" vision for ministry. And it's not just evangelical Protestants, either. "We're in the money"... "the engine that drives us"... "growth means more money; more money means more ministry"... "growth and influence become goals unto themselves"--it all sounds very familiar and yes, a little demonic. "Probably not what Jesus had in mind" is an understatement. It reminds me of the passage, Mt 7.21-23--I can hear it: "But, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your name?"