MESSAGE FROM THE MRCC MODERATOR, PROF. MJ MANALA

Introduction

The Maranatha Reformed Church of Christ is one of the quantitatively and qualitatively slow-growing churches in South Africa. The church is as a result among the financially poorest churches. The church has since inception relied heavily on the theological and financial support from the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (NRCA) for which she has always expressed appreciation and gratitude. While this assistance was and continues to be helpful, it proved to be unviable and unsustainable. When the realisation dawned on the two churches that the belief and dream the NRCA of being the sole provider of both theological and financial resources to the MRCC was neither viable nor sustainable, the spirit of dependence and entitlement was deeply entrenched in the latter. The support had turned the MRCC into a pathetically passive parasite that could not live independently without dire consequences for its ecclesial life and prophetic witness.

 

The dawn of the reality of non-viability and non-sustainability of the parasitical existence of the MRCC

Until 1989, the NRCA supported the MRCC as though there would never be an end to or scarcity of resources. While the foregoing situation seemed to be the impression of some leaders in both churches, some of the MRCC pastors were convinced otherwise. They therefore started to teach members about the Christian imperative to offer and of administering own paltry finances. These efforts to encourage the spirit of healthy Christian giving were at times scorned at by some NRCA ministers serving as the old Circuit Mission Board Superintendents. In the same vein, efforts to encourage independent responsibility in financial administration and theological articulation have been variously explained away by leaders from both churches.

In 1989 the reality of shrinking financial availability in the NRCA hit home quite heavily. That situation, for the first time forced serious consideration on the part of the NRCA of the need to have the MRCC attain financial self-sufficiency, self-reliance and sustainability. For that reason, the former introduced a subsidy dispensation that would shrink by 10% per annum with the intension of forcing the MRCC to raise and augment the subsidy from the NRCA that would be 10% less. That situation found the MRCC ill prepared to take the responsibility and attempts to motivate the latter church came to naught. Ministers and their families were affected quite negatively by the new developments. They saw their livelihoods dissipating before their very eyes causing serious distress and disgruntlement to their families. This situation continued until the NRCA found it shameful to continue giving the shrunken amounts to MRCC congregations as subsidies. Of course, for many ministers those amounts served as their total stipends with MRCC congregations ill prepared to take the financial responsibility.

Desperate situations demand desperate measures

 

In 1991, instead of accepting the responsibility to augment the NRCA subsidy and give increments to the MRCC ministers, the Synods agreed to and accepted a recommendation to allow ministers to engage in tent-making ministry. Through this decision the church was conceding that she was unable to carry the financial burden in respect of paying her ministers. The decision triggered a ministerial exodus of unprecedented proportions. Many of the MRCC ministers have and continue to flock to the SANDF and SAPS chaplaincy. Small as she is, the MRCC is hailed for having provided chaplains beyond its legal quota. For a small church like the MRCC this cannot be a healthy situation. The church and by implication, the MRCC, like all institutions needs full time staff to experience dynamic and healthy life and growth. Many congregations however, came to prefer ministers working elsewhere even though they were not getting satisfactory services simply because secular institutions where these pastors worked carried their salary costs. The spirit of dependency and entitlement is thus perpetuated in a different form replacing the NRCA subsidy with a salary from secular institutions.

 

In such a situation loyalty, humility, respect for, and commitment to the service of the church (MRCC) among ministers are thrown to the dogs, so to speak. There is therefore no longer an attitude that is conducive to growing and servicing the church of Christ with the requisite earnestness among some ministers. This lack, it is suspected has also found a place in the heads and hearts of our current theological trainees. If this is the case, the MRCC can only dream of the needed quantitative and qualitative growth as well as financial self-reliance and sustainability which will affect negatively our theological development, rendering the church theologically and administratively gullible even to some of the most glaringly unhelpful teachings.

 

Unfounded criticism of helpful efforts

 

Some accusations that are levelled by some members against the church’s aggressive attempts to raise funds, based on pathetic perception that the church’s focus should only be on spiritual nourishment are totally misguided and mischievous. As an example, the Circuit of Ebenezer is being unfairly criticised as being biased towards materialism as a result of its aggressive fundraising during its pilgrimage events. These people argue without research- based evidence that more time is allocated to fundraising than to the Word of God. This is absolutely false. Of about nine hours, only two or two and half hours are dedicated to fundraising which means that about six and half or seven hours are dedicated to the Word of God presented in its varied modes. To give an example, the pilgrimage starts with the preaching of the Word which can take between thirty and forty five minutes, followed by presentations by different church leaders on various topics that support the gospel message then fundraising for about two hours which is followed as cherry on top by open preaching by members on the Word relevant to the occasion and a symbolic religious procession symbolising a visit to the empty tomb which tells the story of the risen Christ. Is two or two and half hours more than six and half or seven hours?

 

People who level these accusations are oblivious of the empirical situation of the MRCC. Perceptions leading to such accusations can only be the result of a heretically dualistic and poisonous teaching that not only separates the spiritual from the material but also regards the material as sinful and undesirable. These are people who believe in a theology that inspires “an individualistic other-worldly spirituality which has no interest in realities of the world” as Boesak said at the height of apartheid repression. He was calling Christians to awareness of the realities of apartheid South Africa’s tyrannical and repressive socio-political conditions. These are people who imply thereby that by creating material things God was terribly wrong. Ironically all of these people cannot for their personal lives do without material resources like money, food, clothes even some luxurious amenities. Some who articulate these accusations are ministers and theological trainees, both from Ebenezer and other circuits who often expect that the church should at all levels be able to afford all her delegated responsibilities. These accusations can only distract the church from carrying out all her responsibilities with regard to both spiritual and material needs of the church. In order to afford a larger part of her call, the church needs funds and these do not fall from trees, church members must work together to raise funds for God’s mission on earth. Hard work is the prerequisite for success. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States of America once said: “It is through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to better things.” It is not helpful to us or to the MRCC to turn ourselves into armchair critics with the hope of achieving anything. Former South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (2009) once wrote to Makhaya Ntini on his 100th Cricket Test: “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” We can also succeed in our efforts to take our church to the higher level if we are dedicated and passionate about growing this church.        

 

Desperate measures are not an ideal

 

We genuinely understand that the church has resorted to tent-making ministry as a desperate measure because of the desperate circumstances that the church found herself in. Such a situation can never be an ideal one. A pastor as a shepherd of God’s flock cannot only be available on weekends and in the evenings. The shepherd needs to always be available to attend to members, especially the elderly, the sick and other vulnerable people. The situation where the church is served by weekend or evening ministers should therefore be accepted as a temporary rather than a permanent measure. To achieve the objective of having the church serviced by full time ministers, the church should proactively work towards spiritual and financial growth. The work of the church does not consist only of spiritual services or proclamation of the gospel but also the organising and gathering of necessary material resources.

 

One of the burning issues discussed at the 12th General Church Assembly concerned a call to the church to pay ministers a living wage of R84 000, 00 per annum which is relatively very little but viewed as viable, achievable and sustainable for the MRCC congregations. The document that was presented for discussion on this matter also provided ways to achieve this objective. It may seem impossible but as our beloved former President Nelson Mandela puts it: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Other objectives that the MRCC needs to achieve are the strengthening of ecumenical ties which require sizable registration fees to various ecumenical organisations among them the World Communion of Reformed Churches. The church further needs to embark on diaconal or community services to help the needy – projects that require financial resources that need to be generated, first from church members and where possible also from internal and external donors. Importantly, the church needs to do extensive mission and intense pastoral work if it is to grow numerically and qualitatively. In order to achieve these objectives millions and millions of Rands are needed. An aggressive fundraising drive is therefore an absolute necessity. It is not an option!

 

 

Conclusion

 

Without genuine cooperation it will be difficult for the church or any organisation to achieve its goals. The MRCC therefore needs unity and solidarity of her members instead of the current finger-pointing, criticism and accusations. All structures and individuals need to join hands, heads and hearts together for the growth and health of this church. Each one of us must see the church as something bigger than himself or herself. The input of all members including the ministers who are working in extra-ecclesial institutions in the form of offerings, teaching and training of church functionaries is needed. We therefore appeal to all of you pastors, elders, deacons and members to complete the pledge form that was sent to all congregations. The church’s national office depends on all of you to function efficiently.

 

Please remember: UNITED, WE STAND BUT DIVIDED, WE FALL FLAT!!!