Sell property to further mission
Sell all the church’s property! My words at Synod got me onto the third page (not as good as the Anglican archbishop’s front page) and onto the radio a couple of times.
I have received correspondence both to caution and to applaud me, as well as a number of positive conversations with people on the fringe and outside the church. I hope there will be much discussion about the most effective use of our resources in furthering the mission of Christ.
There is a part of me — a part that could get me the name of the “mad moderator” — that says if we truly want to follow Jesus we should divest ourselves of it all. However, I acknowledge that even Jesus had to rely on resources (of others) to fulfil his ministry.
When I speak of selling our resources I understand that to mean releasing resources in a number of different ways to further the mission of God. In some instances it may be about selling redundant property.
In others it may be renting the property out, not for the purpose of subsidising an otherwise non-viable congregation, paying the stipend and maintaining a building for an hour or two on Sunday.
It may be that a congregation continues to worship and meet in a building that is let out for other purposes. The income could be used to support ministry within the local community (a diaconate type ministry) if that is appropriate or in other geographic areas where there are few resources.
However, if a church building is sold because it no longer is suitable for the purpose of the congregation or it can no longer be maintained properly that should not necessarily mean the demise of the congregation or faith community.
In some instances a congregation that has declined in numbers and, for whatever reason, is no longer able to maintain the property, could take a courageous step and offer its building for sale (maybe a long-term lease) to fund the mission of the church elsewhere. That congregation could still survive, maybe as a faith community, possibly using the premises of another congregation.
In some cases it may be that a congregation still has vitality but has underutilised property — maybe there are some community organisations that they could offer the property to, setting up a partnership for the good of the whole community.
In these tough financial times surely the church can be generous rather than retreat into its communities and buildings.
At the Synod we indicated some areas of priority in the areas of rural chaplaincy, providing ministry to youth across the Synod, and developing resource ministry. Are these areas of mission and ministry for which it is worth “selling” our property to make a difference in the lives of the spiritually and materially poor?
Of course it is not just the resources of congregations, it may well be that there are presbytery and Synod resources that require our attention. Everywhere in the life of the church we need to be asking the question: Are we best using these resources for the mission of Christ?
In some contexts it may be that we need to reflect on what the mission of Christ is? That would be a good starting point.
If, as a church, we are serious about the gospel of Jesus, we cannot only call individuals, communities and governments to account; we need to account for ourselves by using our resources in ways that show we love the world in the same way as God — who was prepared to sacrifice everything.
“Each of you should not look only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:4&5 (NIV).