One services industry leader is calling for a radical shift in church policies in Barbados in an effort to better serve members and the communities in which they operate.
In fact, Graham Clarke, Executive Director of the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI) said in a statement shared with Barbados TODAY, that with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating inequalities over the past several months, he believed the church “needs to see itself as an economy with the capacity to create a new, relevant and biblical model for addressing the glaring economic gaps within our communities”.
Likening the COVID-19 pandemic to the devastation caused by a hurricane, he said the time had come for a more social and economic model, designed to provide greater assistance to the poor.
The author, who describes himself as an advocate for the poor and marginalized in society, said: “The church should revamp its worldly hierarchical leadership structures which coalesce power at the top, to a more inclusive, egalitarian, servant leadership model which recognizes the value and contribution of those Jesus referred to as ‘the least among us’.
“A new model based on the concept of leading from behind as a shepherd should be embraced and adopted. The shepherd stays behind the flock, letting the weakest go ahead. This seems more like the biblical model to me,” said Clarke.
He insisted that the church should see itself “not just as a worshipping community, but as an economy that creates, buys and sells goods and services”. By doing so, he added, wealth would be created for members, encouraging self-sufficiency within the church and reducing or even eliminating poverty among members.
“I think the church needs to practice what I refer to as a reverse offering model, where the offering plate starts full of money instead of empty and is passed from aisle to aisle so that members can take out based on their needs, rather than put in,” suggested Clarke.
“Maybe this could be dubbed the Jubilee in reverse, which some churches practice as a revenue generating activity at least once a year,” he added.
Clarke said a new model of ownership of church assets also needed to emerge, adding that tithes and offerings should not be treated simply as gifts “to an often anonymous group of beneficiaries”, but as shareholdings for the givers in the assets that are created with those funds.
“This would help to build a culture of investment rather than a culture of consumption among members, and encourage a spirit of hope that is based on materiality rather than ethereality,” he said.
Clarke argued that the pandemic had destroyed lives and families, curtailed the most basic of human interaction, disrupted business activity and “exposed redundancies” in the way we work.
“From my perspective as an Evangelical Christian, it has even changed the concept of worship and what it means to be ‘church’ in these times. Where does the church stand in the midst of this crisis, what lessons will it learn coming out of it? If there is one lesson that the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced for me is that ‘being church’ is much more than going to church,” said Clarke.
He recommended that coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the church should seek to grow and maximize its assets for the benefit of the whole community, adding that “the excess capacity associated with many church assets is such a colossal waste”.
“Multi-million dollar buildings are only open for a few hours every week – on Sundays for worship and possibly a mid-week prayer meeting or bible study session. Often the debt burden on these buildings is carried on the backs of even the poorest members, many of whom do not even have a place they call their own. This is not the way it should be,” he said.
“Churches need to be built as multi-purpose facilities which can easily be converted into other practical solutions like gym, a basketball court, classrooms, a soup kitchen for feeding the poor and homeless and a centre where the community can use its services. The one-dimensional purpose-built church as a centre for religious worship and ‘holy worshipers’ alone is long past relevant,” said Clarke. (MM)