"Wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches.... Is there no way to prevent this - this continual decay of pure religion?"
John Wesley knew how to generate and release resources for mission. He encouraged his followers to, "Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give away all you can." He also knew that money played a key role in both the rise and decline of a religious movement.
Movements make history. There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, especially if that idea is embodied in a group of people committed to it's implementation.
Successful movements mobilize people around meaning. People give their time and their money to advance the cause. The vast majority of new movements never get off the ground. They die premature deaths due to lack of resources. If a movement succeeds in mobilizing people and money and building up assets it faces two new and far less obvious threats.
1. The Threat: Secularism I like to remind my friends in the Salvation Army that at the beginning of their history the Salvation Army consisted of William and Catherine Booth sitting around the kitchen table with nothing more than a dream and the call of God. History is made by people passionately committed to a cause beyond themselves. Sooner or later those people need to learn how to harness resources. But money does not make a movement. Passion, commitment and faith do.
In fact as movements become successful in accumulating material resources they inevitably become "secularized". Their faith become more "this worldly" and rational. The movement puts greater emphasis on formal education for its leadership and a clergy "class" emerges with interests and a position in society to protect. In the course of history the process is near on inevitable. Successful movements seek to protect their stake in this world. They become less concerned about life in the next. They develop "weak and vague conceptions of the supernatural".
The early English Quakers had a passionate faith that at times was expressed in bizarre behavior. When was the last time you rode naked through a town as a prophetic act of God's judgement? But they quickly grew from nothing to sixty thousand followers. Eventually their work ethic and reliability enabled them to dominate the British steel industry. They founded Barclay's Bank, Lloyds of London, Rowntree and Cadbury Chocolates. By that time their faith had become far more respectable, but the growth of the movement had long come to a screeching halt. Prosperity had tamed their faith.
Response: White-hot Faith A movement that wants to stay dynamic will ensure that its vision continues to outstrip its resources. Its leaders are more concerned with the world to come than accumulating prestige and wealth in this world. That what drives the movement forward is faith, passion and sacrifice of dedicated people. Systems, resources and money are powerless without these elements.
2. Threat: Paternalism As a movement becomes successful and resource rich it seeks to create a safe and risk-free environment. Bureaucracy is not so much a problem of organizational structures. It is a collective disease of the soul. At the heart of the move towards institutionalization of a movement is the longing we all share for security, predictability and control.
Bureaucracy results from the desire to create a risk-free environment. Mistakes are made and the assumption is that regulation, control and inspection will ensure the appropriate outcomes. The only thing they do ensure is that those living under their power no longer take responsibility or ownership of the organization's mission.
Dependency and paternalism are another consequence of the desire for security. They are the outcome of "the belief that it is those at the top who are responsible for the success of the organization and the well-being of its members." The responsibility of those in power is to ensure control, consistency and predictability in the organization. Ordinary members choose dependency due to their belief that safety, self-esteem and freedom are in the hands of others. Both dependency on the part of members and paternalism on the part of leaders are required in order to create and maintain a dysfunctional bureaucracy.
The price of security is that followers yield sovereignty to those in positions of power. The payoff for the ordinary member is the unspoken promise, "We own you, but don't worry, we'll take care of you."
If the central organization raises all the funds then ultimately it will want control. The movement will attract and retain people who want to be dependent. This dynamic is an important component in failed attempts to indiginize a ministry.
Response: Rapid Mobilization The only way to combat dependency and paternalism is for everyone to choose to be responsible for their personal futures and that of the mission of the organization.
Give someone a fish and they eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime. This saying has been done to death but it captures the empowerment paradigm. The only way to deal effectively with paternalism and dependency is to empower people to fish for themselves. As we teach church planters, "the resources are in the harvest. Don't keep looking back to headquarters." Movements empower ordinary people on the front line to take responsibility for themselves and their mission.
The control mechanism is not organizational systems and who holds the purse strings, but our common calling, values and mission.
Conclusion Methodist movement was one of the most dynamic forces for mission that the world has ever seen. Yet John Wesley's prophecy of the ultimate decline of a movement came true for the movement he founded. Despite his concerns, Methodism eventually settled down to enjoy and protect its achievements. The process may have been inevitable but it took generations to unfold. As it declined in vitality it gave birth to other movements such as the Salvation Army and Pentecostalism and the process began again.