The Holy Spirit and the Pension Crisis

Another Annual Conference is behind us and I find myself struggling with the paper work which any Conference generates.  As I wrestle with an overflowing in-box of letters to answer, articles to write, and people to visit, some questions from Conference come back to me.             In the middle of a serious and good debate about the growing cost of Pensions and Health Insurance (P&HI), someone stood on floor and asked, “If the Bishop has stated that our current Pension and Health Insurance is unsustainable, how does simply direct billing Pensions and Health Insurance solve that problem?”  It is a great question.           Initially, an honest response is that direct billing does not solve the problem of unsustainable increases in P&HI.  A major part of any solution cannot happen at the Annual Conference level. Pensions is a denominational issue and solutions dealing with underlying issues such as contribution-defined or benefit-defined must be solved on the General Conference level.  At the Annual Conference, direct billing pushes the issue down to a local church level.            A deeper and equally honest response is that direct billing does force answers to the sustainability question.  Putting responsibility on a local level does offer an extremely significant partial solution. Local direct billing for P&HI forces a congregation to make priority choices around mission. It means people need to decide is the pastor and the church worth the expense.  Very few American Christians tithe.  Giving 2% of our income is usually seen as significant (verses a biblical tithe of 10%).  Direct billing forces us to confront an issue of faithfulness.  Do we practice extravagant generosity (one of the 5 practices)?             Secondly, direct billing will have a corollary impact of raising pastoral competencies.  Why?  People won’t pay for poor or mediocre ministry.  It will not appear worth the investment.  Finances will force both pastors and churches to get more adept at reaching out to a new generation.  Churches that turn inward to survive (a huddle and cuddle strategy) will die.  Church that turn outward in mission and ministry will thrive.            All this gets me to thinking even further out.  Is God using the economic crises to reform our church practices?  I think so.  I think the Holy Spirit is in the P&HI crises – not as cause but as a divine use.  Do you remember Joseph’s response to his brothers? “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  (Genesis 50:20)  God is at work here. That is really good news!