Once (a very long, seven-year “once”) I worked at a church as a Christian Education Director. My primary (but certainly not only) responsibility being to oversee the Youth Group, teaching them and providing them with educational and ideally also socially beneficial activities throughout the year. These events have mostly kind of blurred together in my memory at this point, but I do have a recollection of one lock-in (sleepover at the church) where all the teens were more expressively bored than usual. The occasion of the lock-in was a fundraising, bread-baking venture for the youth group mission trip later in the year. While the bread was baking, the adult volunteers and I had planned an assortment of other, smaller activities for the teens, from Bible study to silly games. But the kids that night were having none of it. “Miss Jenn,” they moaned (I was neither a spiritual director nor a pastor at the time), “We’re so bored.“
Finally I had had enough. “Look, you guys,” I said. “If you’re bored, that’s your own fault. Miss Jean and Dave and I have all given up our weekend for you, we’re here, and we’ve set up these activities. You have been to this event before. You know what it is–you didn’t have to come to it. At some point, whether you’re having fun or not is up to you and what you put into this.” Poor kids. The current culture had not informed them of such realities. But they took it to heart and the evening got much more fun for everyone after that.
I was reminded of this some years later, when teaching Stepping into the Story. During one particular season of that course, the majority of the group were participating on scholarship. Even though these courses have a tuition associated with them, at the Pilgrimage we recognize (because we have experienced it ourselves) that sometimes God invites us into a deeper relationship with Him through our courses which cost money–in a season when we have no money. It’s important to us that if people are genuinely sensing that call, that they be enabled to accept the invitation. It’s also important that our instructors be paid. Sometimes the gap is covered by kind donations from others. This is one reason we have Pilgrimage Outfitters.
I had reached out to the Outfitters for donations to cover the students’ course costs, and people had joyfully come through. About a third of the way through the course, though, I realized that the level of engagement of each member of the class was directly proportionate to the amount of money they had invested in it. The person who had paid the entire cost of the course was fully engaged. Those who had had most or all of the cost covered by someone else appeared, I suddenly realized, to be waiting–just like those teens years ago–for me to make it “fun” for them. We had a conversation about it (it may or may not have been as forthright as the one with the teens–I did remind them that other people had provided out of their own pockets for them to be here), and the remainder of the course was fully participatory and simply beautiful.
Neither Stepping into the Story nor the other two Pilgrimage spiritual development classes are simply Bible studies. (There is a Pilgrimage Bible study, too, that meets twice a month at no charge, about which I will tell you in a week or two, but you can message me with questions if you get impatient.) The classes are full-fledged, college-level courses taught by people trained in the fields of Bible and/or spiritual formation and direction. As such, the associated tuition is very reasonable compared to what it might be to take something similar at a Bible college, seminary, or even some other personal development organizations. Compensating trained professionals should ensure that the instructors bring their best to the course…and also, it turns out, ensures that participants bring their best to the course.
Jesus famously said not to store up treasure on earth but to store it up in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I think this is frequently interpreted and taught to mean, at its most simplistic, Be more spiritual and less material. Or, Stop treasuring money and possessions and just care about your Immortal Soul! I suppose there is something of that in what Jesus was saying, although frequently those interpretations slide off either side of the fundamentalist/progressive wedge into something weird, unhelpful and maybe even harmful. Plus, if you think about it, the fact that Jesus was God-as-matter and didn’t usually seem to divide things up into “spiritual/physical” categories seems like plausible grounds to reassess that interpretation.
I’m utterly convinced that Jesus Himself longs to be our treasure in the way we are His. But I also have lately been wondering if in context and intent, His teaching about treasure in heaven was more about how and in what we invest our earthly treasure–our physical resources–including our money. He knew that people value money–and what’s more, that we demonstrate what we value by where we put our money. And where we don’t put our money. This is why there are, for example, such things as boycotts.
In our current economic system in particular, while we may lament that sports figures make more money that teachers, there are still enough people who are willing to buy high priced season tickets, or even just one ticket to a game as a treat, that sports figures still make more money than teachers. This isn’t really intended to be a critique of professional sports. My point is, people show where their hearts are by where they put their monetary treasure.
There is a long and sordid history of professional religious people who have swindled their devout flock, been financially unethical, greedy, stingy, and immoral. It’s not something that can or should be ignored or swept away. But in my experience, unless a person has actually been financially defrauded in that way and lived to see the situation more clearly, if they bring up religious charlatans as a reason that no clergy person or Bible teacher or spiritual director should be paid for what they do, it is because that person’s heart is somewhere else, and that is where their money is going instead. It’s okay. It can go there. I don’t think Jesus was actually stating anything that unusual there. He was making a statement of fact–and urging us to put our hearts and our treasure in a place that’s eternally sustainable.
Because when your heart is for the Kingdom of God and He points you to a ministry or a program where the Kingdom of God appears to be growing (this one or another one!), your treasure will follow–whether you pay for a course for yourself, or become a sponsor of the ministry to help someone else. And when you invest your treasure in the Kingdom, your heart will follow, too.