What Happens in Vegas

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TT1With a tinge of uncertainty, a large group of pastors kissed their families goodbye two weeks after 9/11 and caught their flights to Las Vegas. Like many of the other spouses, Yvonne did not want me to fly so few days after the airline hijackings. What if a second wave of attacks were planned? My cavalier reply masked my own apprehensions. The conference agenda was compelling enough to take the risk.

Jim Gilmore, co-author of The Experience Economy, would lead us through three days of immersion in the casino world where millions of dollars are invested to draw customers to gambling establishments. While we would not stay at a gambling hotel or engage in betting ourselves, we were to learn how they attract so many customers. Gilmore and Pine suggest people seek transforming experiences and are willing to pay for them. They specialize in helping all types of companies to provide life-changing encounters in their businesses. Certainly the Church would have an edge in the transformation department.

The Church Marketing Model

TT2We found ourselves at midnight on the rooftop of Caesars in the VooDoo Lounge, watching the planes filled with new waves of casino customers as they approached the airport. A few of us were talking with Mr. Gilmore about his marketing model when he made an unexpected comment. “This model does not apply to the Church.”

When we pressed him to explain why, he pointed to Jesus cleansing the Temple of the money changers. He argued that profits and Church do not mix. Neither do staging life-changing adventures.

Hosting the Spirit

Certainly, staging mystery feels manipulative in the body of Christ. Hosting mystery, on the other hand, is the Church’s stewardship. Holy life-change marks the vibrant congregation. No one stays the same in God’s presence. Healthy churches seek to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth with a vulnerability that regularly leads to transformation.

The Money Changers

TT3What about the money changers argument? Remember that Jews coming to the Temple for worship were expected to offer sacrifices of doves and other animals to atone for their sins. The money changers facilitated the purchase of animals to be sacrificed. Many scholars believe the vendors in the Temple, who were probably swapping Roman money for Jewish coins at a profit, were likely 1) too close to the places of prayer, 2) scamming too much profit from the exchange like the tax collectors did and/or 3) may have been bribing the Temple leaders for a prime spot to do business.

Until Christ ushers in the new heaven and new earth, the Church barters in currency. Pastors pray for benefactors, typically members who give their tithes and offerings, who financially support ministries. Such benevolence catalyzes generosity in individuals, one of God’s more stunning qualities when it shows up in human beings. Money serves as a means to soul shaping. Hoarding it deforms our hearts; wisely managing it reforms our affections.

Gilmore spoke well in one sense. Manipulating the worshippers for the sake of commercial gain is a stench to God’s nostrils. Somebody ought to find a whip and do some House cleaning. Any financial abuse demands correction. That midnight debate in the VooDoo Lounge underlined the dangers of monetary gain by exploitation, whether in the business world or the congregation.

Income and Employment

Earning an income by rightful employment and wise investing, especially when those profits are invested in God’s mission in sacrificial ways, perfumes God’s nostrils. Somebody ought to stand up and cheer when individuals steward money well.

John Wesley is sometime quoted as saying “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” The problem, as Kevin Watson reminds us, is that Wesley did not actually say this. Wesley was altruistic, but also pragmatic. What he did preach, with great clarity in his sermon “The Use of Money,” was to earn money in noble ways, save it for right purposes, and give it with holy generosity.

The love of money devolves into Gollum-like aberration. Faithful stewardship of God’s assets entrusted to us seeds redemptive commerce and beautiful mission. When money is used well, societies are transformed, not just individuals. Narcissistic impulses morph into behaviors that point to the hope of God’s Kingdom. On that account, Gilmore had it right.

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Dr. Thomas Tumblin served ten years in ministry at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church (Tipp City, Ohio) before joining the Asbury Theological Seminary faculty in 1999 as Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Associate Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program. In 2003 he moved to half-time as Professor while serving as District Superintendent of the Findlay and Northwest Plans Districts of the West Ohio Conference. Dr. Tumblin returned full time to Asbury Theological Seminary in 2008. He serves widely as a consultant to local congregations and as a leader in the academy. Dr. Tumblin and his wife, Yvonne, are the parents of three daughters and reside in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

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