On Sunday October 18 we were able to share this story with the congregation in our worship services. Many in the congregation were as encouraged and excited as the elders and I were! Now I can share it with everyone. I’ll try to keep it brief, but the story is important.
The Bad News: Like many congregations, we are suffering financially. Last year we cut our budget by over 20%–truly down to “bare bones”—and our giving has only reached about 2/3 of that reduced budget! Many of our people have experienced job loss, business failure, loss of homes, loss of savings…you know the story. That’s the bad news.
The Good News is that before the economic downturn, NOCC received a very large gift with the only stipulation being that it be used in such a way as to encourage faithfulness to the Lord. The elders desire is to use these funds to support other ministries or begin new ministries at NOCC, but because of our economic problems, the elders shared with the congregation a year ago that they would be using some of that gift as a reserve to see us through these times. However, the elders also agreed unanimously that God did not provide this large gift solely for the use of NOCC. Instead, they believed God wanted us to share the blessings he gave us with others.
The Hard Decision: As we approached the budget making process this year, the elders were faced with a difficult decision: either plan to continue using some of these funds as a reserve, or making cuts so deep in the staff and missionary support as to cripple the ministry of NOCC. The elders do not take the use of these funds as a reserve lightly. However, they were not ready to see the ministries of NOCC fold. They decided to use the funds as a reserve for one more year, with the intent and desire to build our congregational giving during 2010 so that we would not have to use funds from the large gift beyond 2010. It is important for us to understand that the reserve is not limitless. We are working and praying toward two ends: 1) that the economy will begin to turn around in 2010 to allow the many families at NOCC who have been “knocked down” economically to be able to get back on their feet. (that’s the praying part!) 2) that those in our body whose income has not been affected—or who still have an income, will give faithfully rather than withholding their giving out of fear or a desire to maintain their lifestyle. These things must happen for us to recover at the end of 2010>
The Opportunity. As these events unfolded, the elders were convinced that just as individuals and families need to not shrink from giving due to fear of the future, but give while we have the opportunity, God wants us as a congregation to do the same! Our reserve funds were given to us, not just so that we can have a reserve for NOCC, but to encourage faithfulness in others as well! So, the elders instructed me to search for another ministry which shared our heart for ministry, which was suffering from the economy in the same manner as we were, and whose condition was such that the funds we have available are sufficient to make a major impact. The week before we met to discuss the budgeting process for 2010, I received a call from a friend telling me about another ministry with which we might want to partner.
The Partnership. I met with Jeff Cox, the Senior Minister of Southland Church in Bell, CA (east LA). We talked and shared what God was doing in both congregations. I learned that this small congregation was not only providing basic ministries to their community, but also had a Sunday morning bus ministry reaching out to inner city kids; an after school program for kids K-12 to provide a safe place to go, tutoring, and spiritual teaching; and had a monthly food distribution program. In addition, I learned they were seriously impacted financially. They are in a very poor area, and were over $20,000 in arrears on bills, behind on both mortgage and salaries, and running a monthly deficit roughly the same proportion as our own.
More Good News. After that first meeting the elders unanimously agreed that God was leading us to partner with Southland Church by sharing our funds with them. They directed me to give them a check to cover all their arrears, and provide enough of a reserve to them to allow them to make up for the average shortfall they have been experiencing through 2010! At this point, neither Southland Church nor Jeff Cox knew what we were thinking! I asked Jeff to meet me as soon as possible. He told me he could meet with me the next day (October 1st) at a Starbucks midway between us. At that meeting, I shared with Jeff what God has done for NOCC, and what he is leading us to do with Southland Christian Church. Jeff’s response was beyond gratitude, because God had been doing something in his and Southland’s life that we didn’t know about. Rather than try to explain this myself, a week later we interviewed Jeff on video. To hear how God was really working in this situation, watch the interview! Sometimes it is just plain fun to be in ministry!