Thursday, October 1, 2009

It’s the economy, stupid. Or is it?

"It's the economy, stupid" was a phrase in American politics widely used during Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush. For a time, President Bush was considered unbeatable because of foreign policy developments such as the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War. The phrase, coined by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, refers to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession.

In order to keep the campaign on message, Carville hung a sign in Bill Clinton's Little Rock campaign headquarters that said:

1. Change vs. more of the same

2. The economy, stupid

3. Don't forget health care.

Although the sign was intended for an internal audience of campaign workers, the phrase became something of a slogan for the Clinton election campaign. Today the phrase is often repeated with various other words substituting for “economy,” like “It’s the deficit, stupid” or “It’s the war, stupid.” (For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_the_economy,_stupid.)

Today, three presidents later, the economy is still foremost in the news. Last week I heard on the news that economists say the recession is over. Last night the same newscasters announced the closing of Saturn, an American automobile manufacturer. Which is it? Is the economy getting better or worse? Likely, it’s both. Economists are saying the stimulus package has made a positive difference on the economy; that the economy has bottomed out and that the recession is over. That doesn’t mean that companies won’t continue laying people off, that industries won’t continue to close, that you won’t have to take another pay cut just to keep your job.

Things are tough. People suffer, therefore churches suffer, therefore the denominational groups like associations and state conventions suffer. I talk with church leaders across Houston and the U.S. almost daily. Everyone is saying the same thing. The new phrase is becoming “resource challenged” (meaning giving is down, they’ve got less money, they are cutting budgets, reducing staff, and making other adjustments). Even if the recession is bottoming out and the economy is turning around, there is going to be a delay before things get better in churches. Just like there is a lag or gap between the time you turn the water in your shower to hot and the time hot water actually begins to come out of the shower head, there is a gap between the time the economy begins to improve and churches experience an increase in giving.

What does this mean for UBA? Even though the economy is getting better, we are likely to be even more resource challenged in 2010 than we were in 2009, all of us: our associational staff, the Mission Centers, student ministry, all our ministries. We have a great team. We will find creative ways to get things done. That’s our commitment.

For us, it’s really not the economy; it’s the mission that drives us. We long to see God’s kingdom come in our various areas of responsibility: inner city work, student ministry, church work, leadership development, among blacks, white, Asians, hispanics, all people. We long to see our city transformed by the power of God. We long to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our lifetime. That’s why we do what we do.

That leads me to say thanks to all our ministry partners. We know times are tough for you as well. Thanks for sharing your resources with us. Thanks for keeping us in your budget. Thanks for believing that what we do is important enough that you continue supporting our work. As Robert Schuller once said, “Tough times never last. Tough people do.” We will last, and we will do it together.