Thursday, July 24, 2014

Money as Fuel and the Why of What We Do

"In bad, unhealthy cultures, money is the goal....The great organizations, the great leaders, see money as a tool to further fuel whatever it is they are building. Of course they want financial success, because the more money they have. the more that they can protect their people....They see money as fuel, not as a destination." -- Simon Sinek
One of the great things about a sabbatical is not simply that one gets to go to a conference or seminar just because one is curious about it, but the fact that there is time to simply explore ideas. A couple of years ago, I ran across Jonathan Fields' Good Life Project, a video series of conversations with creative and interesting people. The above quote came from a recent conversation with Simon Sinek, where he talks about the power of serving others and fostering a corporate culture of safety so that people feel free to risk without reprisal if their idea or project fails.
He makes a comparison between General Electric, which was led by Jack Welch and focused on maximizing shareholder value, even to the extent of laying off people who didn't sufficiently contribute to the bottom line, and Costco, whose founder Jim Sinegal, set up a culture that pays workers well and values them. He noted that while the stock price of  GE fluctuated wildly since 1986 when  Costco went public, over the long-term one would have realized a 600% return on GE stock and a 1200% return on Costco stock if one sold each today. His point is that if you aim for wealth, you fail. If you aim for service, you win.

I've been thinking about how one might apply that to the church. In a TED talk he gave, Simon talks about the fact that people buy the "why" of what you do rather than the "what" that you are selling. In other words, people buy into the dream that is promised, not the product that is produced. We talk an awful lot about "stewardship" in the church--encouraging, almost demanding, that people give money to the church as a spiritual exercise. But in spite of that at least annual exhortation, people generally give the same amount--and it is generally anywhere from 1 to 2 percent of their income rather than the 10 percent tithe that is the "minimum standard of giving" in the Episcopal Church. Why? I suspect it is because we focus on all of the "products" (programs, worship, etc...) we are producing and not on why we are doing what we are doing. What is the dream into which we are inviting people to literally buy? If it is "keep the clergy employed, the lights on, and the services going," that isn't very compelling.

If, however, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, and other churches, can make a compelling case for why we do what we do, and can care for people to such an extent that they will feel safe venturing out in faith, trust will naturally be built and presumably people will be willing to extend themselves both financially and physically in service to that dream. It then ceases to be about money and becomes a question of whether we have enough "fuel" to do the things that God has called us to do. Just like fuel for a car, everyone knows that the church needs money in order to do the things that God has called us to do, even in order to survive to do those things. Like a car, however, the question of where we are going with the full tank of gas that we have is an important one, especially if there is an expectation that our tank will be repeatedly refilled. People who give to churches rightly expect to know where the church is going and what the church is doing. However, they want to know even more what the dream is--what is the vision of the future toward which we aspire? That is the task before the Vestry and the clergy in the coming months and years: to define the dream.

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