John Wesley famously said that the “people called Methodists” should “make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” with the emphasis decidedly on the third part of that exhortation. Early Methodists dressed simply and lived simply. They founded societies for thrift, not in order to hoard but in order to give.
In a new book, The Decline of Thrift in America, historian David Tucker notes that throughout much of American history we saved up to 15% of our income. Thrift was an all-American virtue. Since the 90’s as credit got easy and borrowing became a way of life, there was a dramatic change. The average American now owes more credit card debt than at any time in history.
After one of the most tragic days in U.S. history, how did the President urge us to deal with our grief? “Go shopping.” Spending had replaced thrift as the chief American virtue. Those who had accumulated wealth for themselves and their families were lauded as representatives of the “American dream.” Our biggest trade deficits in history, along with unfunded spending on multiple wars are now bearing their bitter fruit. Reports from many of our pastors suggest that we are moving into a time of very painful recession.
Perhaps now is a good time to recover some Christian virtues that we thought we had outgrown. I pray that we will be given new moral direction that will point us back (or is it forward?) to the time-honored Wesleyan Christian values, like thrift. Times of financial crisis are good times to be reminded of what’s really valuable, from a Christian point of view.
To that end the Cabinet and I have planned ways in which we think we can save thousands of your generous dollars, changing the way we do business. Although we increased our Conference budget just over 1% this year, smallest increase in years, we have a philosophy of spending less on administration so we can spend more on mission and ministry. We’re having fewer meetings and we will spend even less on administration in the coming year. Mike Stonbraker has found some creative ways to cut administrative costs in the Northwest District. He says that his district is determined to keep utilizing the majority of their financial resources for mission and new church development. (The NW District just had a spectacular celebration of gifts to the Sumatanga Campaign.) Dale Cohen is leading Connectional Ministries in similar cost-saving measures, as is Scott Selman at our United Methodist Center. (This summer Scott set up the four-day work week at the Center, which has already saved us over 20% in utility costs.) I’ll be suggesting some ways that the Council of Bishops could follow our Conference lead in cutting costs in light of the present crisis.
In the present financial crisis, Charlie Carlton offers the resources of the United Methodist Foundation for counseling pastors and churches who are affected by the crisis. The Foundation has helped many congregations deal with building debt retirement and financial management. At my request the Foundation and Stewardship Resources will hold a summit on the church’s response and solution based ideas to contnue funding our ministries, “WALL STREET, MAIN STREET AND CHURCH STREET FUNDING MINISTRY IN DIFFICULT TIMES” on Tuesday, October 21 at 10 a.m. at Cullman First UMC. All are invited.
Our goal is to practice thrift and cost-cutting measures in our work as a Conference in order that we make no cuts in our funding for mission and the Conference Priorities.
Those of us who work with the gifts of the hundreds of United Methodist churches have a responsibility prudently to expend your gifts in Christ’s work. By drawing upon our Wesleyan theological resources, the current financial crisis could be transformed into a God-give spiritual and moral opportunity.