Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Very Modest Proposal

Jeff sat in his office staring at his door. He had been sitting and staring like this for twenty minutes.

In the past he had told people something “blew my mind” and he had shared things with people that would “blow their minds.” Now he knew what that felt like for the first time.

An hour ago two men had stopped by his office in the small church building where he worked as a pastor.

Jeff pastored a normal sized church of 100 people, give or take, and he had been pastoring at this church for 5 years. He’d seen and heard and experienced a lot of strange and wonderful things in the 25 years he had been a pastor but none, he realized now, had actually blown his mind.

Until today.

An hour ago.

Two youngish men in golf shirts and khakis had stopped by and asked is they could have a few minutes of Jeff’s time to share something they thought he would be very interested in. “A kingdom opportunity” is what they had called it.

Jeff had learned to smell an Amway presentation from a long way off but this didn’t seem to be that and so a little curious and always hopeful about connecting with people who might start attending his church, Jeff invited them to sit down and share their story.

Or to be more accurate, Jeff agreed to jump down the rabbit hole and see where the White Rabbit was going with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as his guides.

Over the next several minutes the two fit young men leaned forward and explained to Jeff the purpose of their visit. For a long time they talked about the struggle to grow churches, the potential for the kingdom in their city, how much they admired Jeff and other pastors who struggled with pastoring small churches, and they told Jeff they were there representing the pastor of a very, very large church in the city with a vision for taking things “to the next level.”

These eager young men explained to Jeff how their pastor had led their church to be one of the largest churches not only in their area but in their whole state. “But,” said Tweedle Dee, lowering his head, “our growth had leveled off. We add new people but we lost new people and we can’t gather the number of giving units we require to achieve pastor’s vision.”

He lifted his head and met Jeff’s eyes. “This is where you and your church come in. You can help us achieve God’s dream for our city and reach our kingdom goal.”

Jeff’s head was spinning by this point in their “presentation.” All he could get out was, “I…I…I…”

Then Tweedle Dum jumped in. “We realize you are probably both excited about this opportunity and eager to hear how you can help. Let me explain.”

And explain he did. It was simple, a very modest proposal.

They explained how it just came down to math. The charts and graphs and spreadsheets on their iPad illustrated their point. After serious cost analysis, it was more economical for their big church to purchase smaller churches by making deals with the senior pastors, first in their own denomination and then other churches that looked and smelled enough like their denomination to be an easy fit. “It just makes good dollars and sense!” said Tweedle Dee as if he'd just made that up.

Jeff would become a part of their pastor’s vision by leading the small church he pastored to become a part of the big church. Big youth group, big missions trips, big worship, big espresso bar, big outreaches and a whole upgrade to Jeff’s profile as a pastor to one of their prospering satellite campuses. “Bigger is better, am I right or am I right?” Tweedle Dee asked. Jeff would be listed on their staff page, “Totally good for your resume,” said Tweedle Dum. And Jeff would receive a salary boost, more vacation time and, of course, a signing bonus.

“But…but..but…” Jeff was now pretty sure he was being punked but these two young men seemed as serious as a heart attack – which Jeff was also pretty sure was about to happen to him.

Tweedle Dee jumped in, “But why would you join the big church just to keep doing what you were doing as a small church pastor even though you would be getting more pay and more vacation time? I understand your question…let me explain the rest of our proposal.”

After a year or two at the most, Jeff could decide to retire – actually he should decide to retire. The senior pastor of the big church would then absorb everyone from Jeff’s current church into their main campus. They were projecting a 20% loss but felt very confident they would retain 80% of Jeff’s current members as well as any new members who joined prior to absorption. “These giving units,” explained one of the Tweedles, “already give so we don’t have to spend time getting them up to speed on tithing.” The building and property, the office where they were currently discussing this very modest proposal, would be sold and Jeff and his wife would receive the full amount of the sell, less 10% as a pre-tithe to big church.

Jeff would then be free to do as he pleased with a very sizeable nest egg as well as the income from one to two years of the salary boost and signing bonus for joining the big church. After he signed the non-compete agreement that would bar him from starting or joining the staff of another church within a 100 mile radius of their current city.

 “It’s what we call, win/win, Pastor Jeff. You want to be a winner don’t you?” Said one of the Tweedles. Jeff really was not sure who was talking to him anymore, his eggs were scrambled and he was starting to think he’d actually fallen asleep at his desk and was dreaming all this. It was at this point that the Two Tweedles mistook Jeff’s mind blown silence for a tough negotiation tactic.

“Look pastor,” Dee said a little more aggressively, “there are 10 other pastors to whom we are making this same offer and the first 3 to say, “yes” will come onboard. You don’t want to be one of the ones who get left behind do you? Let me tell you what happens here. First place is inking this deal and becoming a winner because there is no second place, Jeff. Pretty soon the people coming to your church will finally be won over to our big church, it’s inevitable, especially when they see other churches joining us and becoming part of the amazing things we’re doing in this city. Everyone wants to be a winner, Jeff. Everyone. You can join us or you can watch your people join us.”

“We have our own Starbucks and Chick-fil-a inside and ours are both open on Sundays,” added Tweedle Dum, leaning back and crossing his arms.

“What do you say?” asked Dee with a smile that struck Jeff as being disproportionate to his head.

“I. Have. No. Words.” said Jeff.

“We understand,” said Tweedle Dee, glancing at Tweedle Dum as they stood in unison, “We will give you some time to pray about this very modest proposal and get back to us. But don’t forget,” leaning down and lowering his voice, “the clock is ticking.”

“Tick, tick.” Said Tweedle Dum, smiling.

And the two men walked out the door of Jeff’s office.

Jeff didn’t move.

Possibly couldn’t move. Until twenty minutes later he picked up his phone, called his wife and started the strangest conversation the two of them had ever had.

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