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Dragon business --.

Doughnuts?" George asked.

"No, I've got to do this column. You know what editors are like."

George settled for a stale cookie, looked at me and asked, "So what's it about--the column thing?"

"Doing stuff."

"Sounds pretty basic."

"About doing what we do well--that's what we should be doing," I said.

"Sounds like the basic business bottom-line ethic. Do what you do best and run the guy across the road out of business. Competition! What's that got to do with anything in the church? Your church in business now?"

"Look, we've got only so much energy in a congregation. It makes sense to focus that energy and do what we do best; otherwise, we're spreading ourselves too thin, especially if we have to learn a whole bunch of new stuff just to add it to our repertoire as a congregation."

"Still sounds like a business ethic. I thought you church people had more principle than that. Aren't you supposed to go around doing good and things like that--rescuing the abandoned, slaying the dragons and spreading the word. Now you're going to back off and just do some of those things so you get a better bottom line, a better bang for your buck? Let the dragons go do their thing while you look after your own? Pastoral care is Job One?"

George always had a way of making simple things confused.

"Look," I said, "the church can't be all things to all people -- we have to economize. There's only $9 million in the PCC budget, and that sum is declining."

"Nine million is just the national budget; there must be zillions of thousands of dollars managed at the congregational level the national church never sees. I'll bet, if you added it up, you'd find there was more than 10 times $9 million being handled -- like, maybe, $100 million being raised and controlled by Presbyterians for doing things Presbyterians should be doing, whatever that might be. You should be able to deal with lots of dragons with that kind of money. What's the going price for slaying a dragon these days?"

"You don't understand," I protested. "Those millions are for local things such as fixing the plumbing and publishing the newsletter, supporting the minister and paying the mortgage."

"Show me a church without a mortgage and I'll show you a church that hasn't seen a dragon in years! Why don't you just figure out a list of things you should be doing? Put the silly mortgage at the bottom of the list and the dragons at the top. Then, work your way down the list. By the time you get to the mortgage, it will have been paid off. Then, you can go out, get a new mortgage and deal with some more dragons!"

Things were always clear to George. He was one of those people who never seemed able to hold a decent job, but it never seemed to worry him. He lived by himself, picking up a bit of work here and there. His PhD certificate was back in the corner somewhere, along with other awards he got for doing a whole variety of good things, here and there, gratefully awarded by dragon-hunters of one form or another.

"An awful lot of people see the PCC going down the drain within 20 years," I started again.

"Sure, and you can see an interplanetary object crash into the earth. Same thing, sooner or later. Yes, of course, the organized mainline denominations are apparently shrinking, but that doesn't mean all individual congregations are going bellyup. Any congregation that knows what it is here for--a spiritual self-help group -- will survive because its people look after one another in a loving and caring community, basking in God's love. Behaviour by standard; bottom-line accounting nonsense is for another world."

"Jesus, the Christ, wasn't into $10-million budgets but he had quite an impact," I tried. "Maybe we ought to start somewhere else."

"Agreed! But he was into the dragon business in a big way. He was so effective they nailed him to a cross. Any of your people get nailed to a cross recently?"

"Look," I said, "the Crucifixion was a singular event."

"Everything worthwhile is a singular event! We need more crosses, here and all across the land; otherwise, the budget mafia are going to destroy everything we've worked for over the past 100 years. Health, education and social welfare -- they're all going down the drain even faster than the mainline denominations!"

George sat there eating my stale cookies, looking at me as though I were responsible for it all.

"Hey, you can't lay all of that on me! They've got to balance budgets. We've got to balance ..."

"You've got it all upside-down," George replied quietly. "If people figure out what the Christ was up to, they will see that budgets are what you use these days to do the things that need to be done. They are not there to prevent us from doing what the Christ expects us to do!

"Put that in your column," he said as he headed out the door.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Presbyterian Record
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gordon Hodgson
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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