I don’t know why it took so long, but finally the U.S. wealth gap has become a topic of political discussion. The conversation is not easy, in part because most of us rarely talk with people outside our economic group. Churches and synagogues—though most draw only from a small slice of the total spectrum—are still potentially places where richer and poorer people meet as equals. By handling these meetings well, we can help create support for public policies and private actions that promote equality.
Years ago a bright Yale student asked me how I would describe the difference between a church and any other charitable group. I gave the sort of answer I imagine many of us might give. I emphasized the church’s unique life-transforming mission and its special responsibility to transmit precious traditions across generations.
It was a good answer, but today I am afraid I’d have to add that of all nonprofits, congregations—and especially mainstream, relatively liberal ones—are among the most cautious and least willing to accept risk in order to fulfill their mission. We’re not alone. Many sleepy charities, government agencies, and old-line businesses also avoid risk. But where risk is concerned, many congregations fall into the slow group.
Talking openly about occupational subcultures helps make board conversation richer and more fruitful.
As a young minister, I often wondered, “How am I doing?” It was a good question! But at midlife I began to ask, “How am I helping others to succeed?”
Most congregations engage in some form of social ministry—but why do they do it?
It’s fine to say, “We’re one big family. We agree to disagree.” But when the disagreement is about a matter of fundamental principle, such as who can be recognized as a full member of the family, it’s not so simple.
Is your board members’ time well spent? Ask them! If your board is like many others, you’ll tap into a deeper well of dissatisfaction than most leaders suspect.