"We've all been tempted by them. Enticing investments that seem to make perfect sense at the time but end up leaving us disillusioned and out of pocket." (www.smh.com.au)
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson read the article with interest for in his view, many of these such articles make equally good sense in how churches work and therefore he has taken the sub-headings and applied them to churches.
The first is that of 'high returns' – someone will make a lot of money from any high return investment you make, and the chances that it will be you - are, lets say, very minimal (well, less than very minimal). Likewise, when a preacher sprooks that his ministry brings high returns in salvation stories, whereas the Bible clearly teaches that such a path is narrow and encountered only through the Holy Spirit, caution might be the better part of valour. Following Jesus is taking up your cross and it can be very rough going and walking through many muddy pools.
Annette Sampson wrote: "This is a true story. A property developer in the 1990s boasted of selling a truckload of apartments off the plan, all at a single ''seminar''. His trick? When told they could sign up for a deposit at the end of the presentation, most attendees went home to think about it. But when told there was a limit of two a person to give everyone a fair go before they were sold out, people rushed to join the queue."
The hard sell applies equally to church life. Giving abundantly for God's blessing is one such 'hard sell' and it applies across the board when it includes giving time and service. Often it could be better spent looking after your children and taking your family out somewhere. Eli is the classic Biblical example where he spent do much time in God's house and his sons ran riot.
Smoke and Mirrors
Again she noted: 'If someone is putting out a product with a very narrow focus and it's geared three times with a capital guarantee, it just sounds awkward. The cost of the guarantee must be enormous. I'd be very wary of exotic structures.' In other words, if you don't understand it, don't invest in it.
There are two sides to this. First, attending some worship services today has all the hallmarks of a pop concert and the preacher is so vibrant and excitable, one gets the distinct feeling that if you had the time to carefully analyse what he or she said, it would reveal more about smoke and mirrors. Equally, the smoke and mirrors of some worship services are so full of ritual that the reality of Christ in the preaching "misses entirely" the celebration of the resurrected Christ and the strength this brings into the Christian's life.
Annette Sampson stated: "There's an old joke that investors should avoid any investment with a former political leader or prominent sports person chairing its board or pushing it as an investment. Like most jokes, this one is based on truth.'
The Bible speaks to ordinary people. It has no need for fancy endorsements. Any preacher that vouches its truth by citing this or that celebrity has not quite understood why celebrity magazines in doctor's and dentist's waiting-rooms are 5-6 years old. The magazines are invariably wrong in their analysis of people's lives and are therefore pre-subliminally warned that when they have their consultation at the doctor's or with the dentist they get a "good dose of reality".
This time it's different
Annette Sampson noted: "Alarm bells should start ringing when people throw out the old investment rules and try to tell you the world has changed. The classic example of this was the dot.com bubble, when people threw out the old valuation matrix for companies and tried to pretend earnings didn't matter,"
Again, doesn't this sound all too true when experiencing some of the worship forms that are available today. One is required to think carefully whether the claims of Christ and only Christ have been given in the preaching. This applies across the board in all church life from the ritualistic to the flamboyant and all points in between.
Annette Sampson says you need to see the paper work and the fine print. Mark Tronson notes that it's no different to what we see in churches today – the great DVD presentation, the singing and the big bands, the smells and bells, and whatever else is on offer: the question is: is the Bible is preached, is sound biblical doctrine taught, or, do you get loads of home spun truths and terrific allegories and tales of fun and fortune?
"The managed investments industry is as susceptible to fads as the fashion industry and history is littered with investments launched at the top of the market to take advantage of past returns. Just consider the proliferation of technology funds at the top of the dot.com bubble, property funds in the property boom and emerging market funds when Asian markets were all the rage."
This is important says Mark Tronson. Attempting to follow what some other preacher has done - without knowing the background – ie: the history, the heartache, the pitfalls – that that particular preacher found along the way - is like blindly following some great fad and this will inevitably leave you more-the-sorry.
"Then there are the investments that simply can't deliver what they promise." Mark Tronson says he hardly needs to comment on this sub-heading in church life, for some offer a surreal notion (when they got home into the midst of life it evaporates), or a wealth and health notion (when their investment falls over or their next visit to the doctor provides true-reality).
A Sure Thing
Finally Annette Sampson quotes: Where people have really been hurt, is when they have been convinced something is so good they've put most or all their savings into it. ''People are told they can't lose so they cash up everything to get in,'' But if something goes wrong, you won't just lose a portion of your savings. You'll lose the lot."
There are two components in church life related to this. The first is that some Christians have given so much money they have left themselves very vulnerable financially. Moreover if they question where those funds have gone, it often initiates a slow but sure 'cold-shouldering' and an eventual leaving that church. Mark Tronson says he has had innumerable people speak to him on this issue over a life time in ministry.
Secondly, mature Christians understand that many missionaries depend on individual giving to sustain their mission activities. Local Churches (Parishes) have budgets and those budgets push the boundaries for their own activities and missions generally get a poor slice of the pie and then only specific missions (ie, missionaries known to them).
Faith financed missionaries are supported (in the main) by individual Christians. If such missionaries were to depend on churches, Christendom would have lost (and continue to lose) much of the evangelism that is carried out around the world. He says that local churches, that ask for "all your giving" are at least, out of touch and at worst, quite possibly, 'very dangerous'.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html