When more is too much

"In healthy human bodies, in churches, as in businesses, there is no cushion, no safety stock, no storage barns. If there is no flow, there is no life."

There is a new candidate for “worst job in the world” – church treasurer.  Of all the thankless tasks possible, surely saying “no” to everybody about nearly everything, nearly all the time, has to rank as amoung the best qualifications for early sainthood. Who wants that job?  To tell a congregation they can fix the roof or heat the building or pay the rector…but only one is possible…is the growing lot of many treasurers as donations tumble behind expenses in the ever-shrinking parish.  Some parishes think themselves fortunate to have annual budgets that are complemented by additions from endowment funds while others peer enviously down the road or up the street at those whose capacity to make ends meet seems unfairly padded by coveted additional reserves. Sadly, those ‘with’ are far more at risk than those ‘without’.

Human bodies and businesses have something vital in common. Each is sustained by the flow of a life-giving element. When our hearts stop, and our blood fails to flow, we die. In exactly the same way, a business depends on the flow of cash from the transaction called sales, to the actions of expenditure. Accountants have a term for it – operating cash flow. In a really healthy business, cash flows, steadily, predictably and efficiently. When it stops, the business dies. Investors don’t like to see too much cash around, because it is not being used. “Flow” is the indication of life and a mark of health and is, therefore, an attractive, even an essential quality.

Many of us have heard more mention of the term ‘supply chain’, in the last couple of years than we ever wanted to. Somehow, the world seems to be ‘gummed up’. Drug stores are empty of cold medicines, baby formula is missing, goods arrive late or not at all.  For the past thirty or more years, businesses have made these supply chains – the flow of goods from factories and farms to our home – flow like rivers, without any interruption. They took out all the ‘extra storage’ which was a ‘waste’ and then like a chain reaction accident on the highway, when something goes wrong, the whole system fails and gets ‘gummed up’. Flow, like a river, like our bloodstream, like cash in a business, gives life. It’s the movement through that counts.

While not an accountant, Jesus understood this essential flow.  In Luke 12, Jesus is asked by an heir to tell his brother to share his inheritance, to make it fair, to get him more cash. In response, Jesus, tells a story about a successful farmer. Come with me to the farm…it’s been a bumper year, perfect weather, great harvest, phew! So rare to have so much, surely it wont ever happen again. Better save it for a rainy day, thinks the farmer. Into the endowment account with the surplus…very prudent, wise stewardship. Except, as Jesus tells it, once the stash is safe, and he thinks the risks are gone, the farmer dies. Again, we see it. No flow? Soon dead. Clearly, Jesus has never been a church treasurer!

What would happen if we maximized the mission return of our assets, rather than the mere economic return?

In healthy human bodies, in churches, as in businesses, there is no cushion, no safety stock, no storage barns. If there is no flow, there is no life. Conversely, if there is flow, there is life. Success is not the size of the budget, but the existence of any budget. After telling the parable, Jesus goes on; whether ravens, wild-flowers or sheep, all are looked after. There is always enough for what is really needed. Surely our treasure is where our heart is, he says, whether business or parish, the Mission, today, is everything. Tomorrow is not yet here.

Dependable God, forgive us for wanting to depend rather on what we can see, like bank accounts, and enable us to depend, wholeheartedly, on Your Goodness to meet our needs, which you already know. Unstop the taps on our generosity of spirit, so that your Life might flow through us and our parish into the hungry hearts and souls of those we encounter, today. May we notice that in Your Kingdom, in less or even enough, we discover more and more of your abundant provision, for today. Amen  

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