Props to Matt at The Church of No People for blogging about this story the day before me. I’ve been planning a post about it since the weekend, but I gave priority to the issue of military proselytizing, which it turns out no one else is talking about. Well played Matt. Nonetheless, I will trudge forward and hope you aren’t tired of the story.
A church in, not surprisingly, southern California is $43 million dollars in debt. Crystal Cathedral’s pastor (okay Reverend) Robert Schuller pleaded with his congregation to begin tithing if they haven’t been or to significantly increase their tithe to help the church recover.
The church declared bankruptcy last week after previously cut staffing and selling, property, among other ways to save money.
I’m going to guess that the photo below helps explain your natural question of how a church could manage to get into tens of millions of dollars in debt…
I’ll be the first to admit that their cathedral is breathtaking. For all the criticizing I do of churches, I actually love cathedrals that are so magnificent and stunning they put you immediately into a sense of awe and wonder of God. But truth be told, despite their ability to hush my soul I could do without them. I can, and do, find other ways to feel aware of God’s ever-presentness.
Now I don’t want to sit at my keyboard and simply condemn Crystal Cathedral for spending so much freaking money. First of all it’s not particularly helpful after the fact. I think they’re likely quite aware of the mistake. Rather I’d like to gleam some lessons for the rest of us who are watching this situation from afar.
The church is desperately asking for more tithes because their debt is just so huge. And unfortunately the church has not proven themselves wise stewards of the money they were trusted with originally. I’d struggle to become a double tither to bail my pastor out of a huge mistake. But I say all this because more so I wouldn’t tithe because some dreams need to die.
It would be quite sad if this incident eventually closed down that church. Lots of people would be heartbroken. But our individual church with a brand and a fresh name is not top priority. We work for the greater church within our local church context, but self-preservation is far from our end goal.
Maybe this particular dream of Crystal Cathedral does not need to be fulfilled. Sometimes ministries and projects can become our ministries and projects, and they may become more about our emotional needs to contribute and feel fulfilled than others. And sometimes our big works and dreams that seem so holy because they’re for God in some manner just need to be held loosely.
In fact the only reason I can think of to tithe toward the debt is not to save the church, but to show grace to the people who the money was borrowed from. I would hate for our collective witness to be damaged because of some money not paid back.
I think one of the problems churches often run into is they spend so much on themselves. Crystal Cathedral, though let’s be clear they certainly aren’t alone in this, didn’t get into such huge debt because they gave so much money to mission organizations. No one sends money to the needy they don’t have – no bank would approve a loan like that.
Ultimately our money and our projects and our dreams are truly not ours – but the Lord’s. I think our churches can learn from this devastating situation, no matter how extreme it is. When you dream about where your church will go, dream about the people outside of itself you will serve, and not the glorious worship center you’ll have to sit inside of.
What lesson can the rest of us learn from Crystal Cathedral? Should the church try to pay off the debt or just scrap their lofty dream?