The last two years have been a challenge for every local church, for every district, and for the Church of the Nazarene at large. Tight budgets, families losing jobs and homes, and businesses struggling for survival have caused local churches to tighten their belts, rearrange their priorities, and make some hard decisions about programming and ministry.
Buildings constructed and properties purchased during a growing economy have put great stress on churches and districts in areas where whole industries and businesses have collapsed and disappeared.
Many pastors, seeing the stress among their laity, voluntarily took reduced salaries. In some cases pastors decided that the time had come to be bi-vocational. Families, both clergy and lay, have learned secrets of stretching dollars on reduced income.
Creative efforts led to discovering, and in some cases rediscovering, how to network with other families in order to pass along outgrown clothes to growing children in the church, in the neighborhood, and in extended families. Some have enjoyed discovering the value of shopping neighborhood thrift stores. Home gardens have returned to prominence.
Amazingly, some of us found that patterns of thrift and economic discipline suddenly made sense for reasons other than a tight economy. In a Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, frugality is right at home. We have begun to find that conspicuous consumerism, so rampant in Western nations and economies for the last few decades, suddenly was seen in its true light. Those extravagances were simply incompatible with a Wesleyan worldview.
In this worldview, the needs of others and the redemption of the world become higher priorities than wearing the latest fashions, purchasing larger homes, or having the newest electronic gadgetry.
It must not be lost on us that in the last five years when the World Evangelism Fund has suffered the dual impact of declining values inthe U.S. dollar and the global economic crisis, when our Global Mission regionshave had to operate on 25 percent reductions in their budgets because of the decline in the dollar, and with additional reductions in financial support from the World Evangelism Fund, we have seen unprecedented effectiveness in global evangelism.
From 2006 to 2010, membership in the Church of the Nazarene has grown from 1.6 million to over 2 million. In that period of time we have entered five new world areas, and we have seen 665,000 new Nazarenes join our global fellowship. Over 9,000 Churches of the Nazarene were planted, and over4,500 were organized around the world.
In many ways, Nazarenes in Western economies have begun to experience what folks in other world areas have always known. Frugality and thrift have not been new experiences - they are the norm.
But where lack and want thrive, so does the gospel!
It has always been true that the rich find it extremely difficult to "cast your cares on the Lord" (Psalm 55:22). It is also true that the gospel seems to lodge best and most deeply in the midst of greatest need. We are working best in those areas where the face of need is impossible to ignore. It is also in places such as this that spiritual awakenings are occurring, where the message of holiness of heart and life grips people with a passion that is compelling, even in the face of threats and oppression.
In a time when a global economic crisis has put unprecedented pressure on our churches and our people, God is breaking through! Lives are being changed. Cultures are being altered. Tribes and people groups are responding to the gospel in unprecedented numbers.
When the economic crisis has been at its most intense, the mission has been at its best!
Oh, this is not a suggestion that we ought to pray that the economic crisis should continue, but it is an observation that we need not let a crisis go to waste. Let's continue to give generously, sacrificially, andwith great passion. Let's be willing to allow an economic crisis to redefine our priorities and reestablish our commitment to the fulfillment of our global mission: "To Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations."
Jesse C. Middendorf is a general superintendent emeritus in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, January/February 2011