bits from bob....

Thinking about Money and the Church

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Money is an important part of our lives. In our contemporary world, we need money to live and survive. It provides a common medium of exchange and allows us to measure our lives--not only our possessions but also our work and other aspects of own personal lives. Money allows us to establish relative values and becomes (fortunately or unfortunately) a medium of establishing priorities. God recognizes the importance of money in the human experience in this temporal world. The Bible says a lot about it. One author has counted 40 verses on baptism, 275 verses on prayer, 350 verses on faith, 650 verses on love, and 2350 verses that relate to finances and material possessions.

Martin Luther observed that people must go through three conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook. The story of the person who wanted to be baptized with their billfold in their pocket is likely mythical, but has been used often to make an important point. One of the hardest parts of our life to "convert" involves our finances. Seldom are the head, heart, and billfold converted at the same moment. The challenge, "Put your money where your mouth is," is more accurately communicated in Jesus' words, "Your money will tell where your heart is."

Churches put as top priorities in their budgets those ministries which are nearest and dearest to them. Sometimes the budget priorities have little to do with the work of the church, but include items that have become a traditional part of the budget over a period of time. Early in my ministry, I worked with a church that had a standing practice to spend 50% of its annual contributions on mission work. The leaders led in that priority--regardless of other pressures. I remember a time when many churches funded at least two special evangelistic series each year as a standing practice. Churches spent a lot of money to bring in a first-class evangelist and because of that investment spent even more to prepare and to follow-up. Such events paid big dividends with sufficient preparation and follow-up. I was involved in another church that prioritized the family Sunday school and an annual VBS drama event. The money spent and the priority placed insured that Sunday school attendance was normally about 90% of worship attendance, and the annual VBS attendance surpassed average weekly attendance at worship.

Church budgets reflect priorities. I can see a church's priorities by looking at its budget. I do not have to spend much time evaluating activities or meeting with the leaders to hear what they think they priorities are or should be. The budget tells the story. In too many churches, the first priority is salaries for local ministry staff and costs to provide buildings, offices, resources, and materials. We may make ourselves feel better about this system by noting that we are really paying our ministry staff to be evangelistic, but the reality is that most of the time a majority of the time spent by located ministers is spent in meeting the needs of the local church with a very small percentage spent in reaching outward. It is a unique minister who bucks the expectations of that system and makes multiplied evangelistic contacts or conducts multiple evangelistic Bible studies each week.

What is the solution? The solution is to align our heads and hearts and pocketbooks. What we know and what we want to happen must be reflected in our budgets--regardless of the costs and sacrifice necessary. We must commit ourselves to missional outreach in our budgeting process, and not only in our words. Jesus says that our hearts will follow our treasure. The church must hear afresh the challenge of taking the gospel to the entire world. The church must see anew its responsibility to help raise up and train effective ministers and missionaries who are evangelistic and committed to taking the gospel to the lost. Otherwise, we will continue to spend a majority of our financial resources on ourselves, regardless of how we may spin it to make it seem different.

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Last updated July 24, 2011