As the climate of financial stress continues to cloud our nation's hope, there's a powerful silver lining for discerning church leaders. We have an unprecedented opportunity to help people where it pains them the most.
In ancient times, Apion told the story of Androcles and the Lion, where a lowly slave wins a lion's life-long gratitude and protection by removing a thorn from its swollen paw. Just yesterday, I read Aesop's version of the story:
A slave ran away from his master, by whom he had been most cruelly treated, and, in order to avoid capture, betook himself into the desert. As he wandered about in search of food and shelter, he came to a cave, which he entered and found to be unoccupied. Really, however, it was a lion's den, and almost immediately, to the horror of the wretched fugitive, the lion himself appeared. The man gave himself up for lost. But, to his utter astonishment, the lion, instead of springing upon him and devouring him, came and fawned upon him, at the same time whining and lifting up his paw. Observing it to be much swollen and inflamed, he examined it and found a large thorn embedded in the ball of the foot. He accordingly removed it and dressed the wound as well as he could; and in course of time it healed up completely.
The lion's gratitude was unbounded. He looked upon the man as his friend, and they shared the cave for some time together. A day came, however, when the slave began to long for the society of his fellowmen, and he bade farewell to the lion and returned to the town. Here he was presently recognized and carried off in chains to his former master, who resolved to make an example of him, and ordered that he should be thrown to the beasts at the next public spectacle in the theater.
On the fatal day the beasts were loosed into the arena, and among the rest a lion of huge bulk and a ferocious aspect. And then the wretched slave was cast in among them. What was the amazement of the spectators, when the lion after one glance bounded up to him and lay down at his feet with every expression of affection and delight! It was his old friend of the cave! The audience clamored that the slave's life should be spared; and the governor of the town, marveling at such gratitude and fidelity in a beast, decreed that both should receive their liberty.1
Today, people all over the world suffer like Androcles' lion, and the thorn is money stress. Christians and non-Christians alike cite money issues as their number one felt need.2 Now, more than ever, is the time for leaders to use the Androcles strategy to reach out to families and communities. When we bring the healing wisdom and power of God to bear in the very place that pains people the most, it transforms our churches and helps us reach the unchurched in powerful ways. "Today, 'preaching to felt needs' is scorned and criticized in some circles as a cheapening of the Gospel and a sellout to consumerism," writes Saddleback's Rick Warren. "I want to state this in the clearest way possible: Beginning a message with people's felt needs is more than a marketing tool! It is based on the theological fact that God chooses to reveal himself to man according to our needs! Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of this."3
So how do we get the thorn out of the paw? How do we transform the spiritual and financial lives of our people? Here are two ways.
Locate the Thorn
The prophet Jeremiah lamented that Israel's leaders "dressed the wound of my people as though it were not serious." Instead of finding and removing the thorn, they just put on a bandage. The infection continued to fester. In leadership, it's so easy dress the lion's wound without first finding and removing the thorn. A host of deeply-held attitudes and beliefs about money need to change in order to get true healing.
As leaders, we need to get past preaching and talking about the issue, and get actual transformation. The lion didn't need a sermon about the thorn. He needed to have the thorn removed! When we figure out how to actually create change instead of just talk about change, watch out world! We'll create tremendous value and become the transforming, life-giving "salt and light" we're designed to be. And we'll win some powerful friendships with a lot of lions.
Use the Right Tools
After we've discovered the root causes of our money problems, we'll heal the lion by using the right tools to extract the thorn. With surgical precision, we can bring powerful healing and transformation by using effective content, small group interaction and accountability, weekend preaching, and measurement tools to make changes in vital financial behaviors. We designed Breaking Free so that churches can meet America's number one felt need, transform their lives, and strengthen the house of God.
With the right tools, we, like Androcles, can extract the thorn, heal the lion, and build our community into a powerful, lion-like force for good.
Erik is a transformation expert and the author of the personal finance small group and seminar program, Breaking Free: Financial Strategies that Transform Debt into Wealth. Take our free MoneyFinder Quiz to see just how much payoff Breaking Free can create for you!
1Aesop, Aesop's Fables (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003), p. 48-9.
2Dr. Frank Luntz, What Americans Really Want . . . Really (New York: Hyperion, 2009), p. 45-7.
3Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 295.