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It’s no secret that black churches collectively generate over $56B per year. With this infusion of cash into an institution that vows to lift the mental acuity and spiritual zeal of black people, why are so many of the black congregants continuing to find themselves struggling? Why do the occupants of the immediate area around many of our black churches struggling? I was in a conversation the other day with a lady who grows her own fruits and vegetables. She not only grows them, this is how she earns her living. However, as of late, she’s been feeling discouraged.

She went on to explain to me that every time there is a church function, she eagerly brings her goods to the church as donations for those in attendance, yet a very small percentage of the members of the church are patrons of her business. There can be multiple reasons for this but it doesn’t excuse the underlying problem that, unfortunately, many of our organizations (and social network) rarely act in a reciprocal manner, especially if you are not a “connected” member.

Why would this be acceptable? The Bible clearly says to bring your tithes and offerings to the storehouse, but it also says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So are we saying that the attitude of the church is separate from the individual teachings of the Bible? Does this mean that churches can operate separate from behaving like an individual? We fail to understand that churches are not buildings and pews. They are people. Knowing this, we should also know that the church should behave similarly to Jesus. Its focus should be to enrich and lift the people, so the people can enrich and lift the church.

I posted a debate on my Facebook to open the discussion about churches tapping their members for services that it needs before opening the opportunities to the general public. One Facebook friend felt it would be a conflict of interest for a member to provide services to the church, while another felt the church needed to support its members by being a patron of the entrepreneurs in its congregation.

I actually agree with the latter. I also believe that it is irresponsible for churches to only focus on extracting the 10% of earnings from its members without having regular discussions on what members should be doing with their other 90%. You see, churches, especially mega-churches, are being run by business and financially astute persons. Taking funds from an insolvent member of a church who is barely surviving in this economy, especially when pressure is applied through emotional appeals or fear of Godly retribution, is borderline of exploitation; this is worse when the pressure is coming directly from the pastor.

Churches should explain practical applications on how members can reap what they sew into the church instead of an inspirational speech filled with platitudes and rhetoric. Shouldn’t the congregants be taught how to sell themselves and build revenue for themselves just how the pastor sells himself and the teachings of God every Sunday? Members who earn more would tithe more. But I also know that some pastors’ strategy is to keep the members unhappy because unhappy people tend to frequent the church.

When folks get happy, they sometimes forget about God. But, this is not for the church to monitor, that’s only if the church truly believes God will provide. My opinion is the church should not be above the people nor should the people be above the church. This only makes sense since the church is “of” the people. Don’t misunderstand me. I absolutely believe a pastor should be taken care of by his flock. I would even go as far to say that pastors should be taken care of enough to not have to moonlight in another career. However, I believe that we also need to ensure pastors do not confuse “care” with greed.

This discussion is not popular. It’s also why many of my requests to present a lecture of my new book, “Rebuilding the Black Infrastructure: Making America a Colorless Nation” has been rejected. Yes, I discuss the failings of the church in it but also highlight the opportunities. The questioning of the church is easily dismissed by church leaders who choose to use Biblical scripture to make followers doubt their inquiries on the practical applications of the church. I am not asking the church to layout the groundwork of their strategic spiritual development.

I am asking that churches make reciprocal investment into their members a top priority, just as they expect the members to make it a priority placing theirs into the church. It seems only fair and a practice that would be mutually beneficial to both the church and the “people.”

Devin Robinson is a business and economics professor and author of Rebuilding in the Black Infrastructure: Making America a Colorless Nation and Blacks: From the Plantation to the Prison. Contact him at devin@devinrobinson.com.

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