This headline grabbed my attention…According to this article from Christianity Today, quoting a report from the Giving USA Foundation, American churches collected 114.9 BILLION dollars in 2014. (Numbers not available for 2015). We look at how church budgets break down on average. As we have discussed here before most of that money goes to keep the lights on and supply for the internal structure of the churches, as opposed to benevolence giving. (giving to those in need). If the popularity of Bernie Sanders has taught us anything it is that young people are more interested in our collective monies being used to help individuals and not to perpetuate the status quo, although they don’t care that said money is taken by force.
Let’s use the number collected by the Evangelical Credit union on church budgets to determine approximately how much of that money is being spent on what:
Breaking these numbers down a bit we see some interesting things.
This includes salaries, both full and part time, pension plan contribution, other benefits and taxes paid on behalf of employees.
Office supplies, postage, travel and membership dues.
Utilities, maintenance and upkeep, debt (Mortgage) any other debt or fees associated with the building.
Children and youth programs, Adult programs, evangelism and outreach efforts, (benevolence has been pulled out to its own category)
Building fund and cash reserves
Both local and international.
The numbers seem a bit off to me, even if you allow for program expenses to be outreach a full 82% of church budgets are paying salaries, building and to keep the lights on. Spending that is is some way inward facing. That is 94 BILLION dollars being spent by churches in the US to pay their pastors, buy their buildings and run their organizations. Charitywatch.org would give us a failing rating.
Of course, Charitywatch isn’t a fair comparison because pastors and staff are not strictly overhead, they are actually doing the work of the ministry in many cases. If we assume that half of the Pastors’ salaries are not overhead, but ends of our giving then our numbers are a little better at 53%. I am not sure of the best solution here, but I have been bothered by that 82% number ever since I read it. It feels like that money is more like paying country club dues that it is advancing the work of the Kingdom of God.
This is one of the primary reasons I have been attracted to the house church or cell church models over the years, it feels like a more efficient use of our collective resources. That being said I am part of a traditional model that thinks about this regularly and doesn’t actually fit these numbers for various reasons.
What do you think about these numbers?
Unless you are one of those dictator Pastors who always does what they want regardless of wise council or you don’t bother to pay attention, eventually you are going to disagree with something your church is doing in regards to money. Then what? Do you stew in bitterness and harbor resentment towards your leadership? Do you stop giving and hold your money ransom until you get your way? Do you attempt to talk things over with leadership in hopes that they will listen to you and change their erroneous ways?
Probably none of those.
Giving to your local church is not the same as doing business with a restaurant whose political policies do not line up with yours. It is fine to boycott a place because you don’t like what they do with their profits that is your right as an American. But your local church is a place that is supposed to help you grow in the Lord and the leadership of your local church, what ever form it takes, are responsible for shepherding you, and they will answer to the Lord for how they do that. We can all be very sinful in our attitudes about money so if you find yourself upset about how your church is dealing with money here are some things to consider.
The money that God has entrusted to us belongs to him. He has entrusted us as stewards of his many gifts. If God has called you to be a part of your church then he also knows and did know how they would handle his money. That is not to say that church leaders can’t make mistakes, but as I already said they will have to answer to God for their actions as leaders of the church not you. If this disagreement is over something minute then we should consider simply letting it go with prayer for our leaders to gain wisdom or for God to help us see the wisdom in their actions.
This obviously isn’t to say you should be reckless with God’s money but remember that you are part of a larger body and occasionally that means is giving up your right to be right.
When I did a quick survey of the best pastors I know, to a man, they all said they would want to be addressed directly. Now depending on the size of your church this may be a logistical issue, but you should still try. Those who lead a church are only human and they may very well be in error. However, you should enter the conversation humbly as well. It may be that you are wrong in this matter. If you are a member of the church they should be willing to listen to your concerns and walk you through the situation. Maybe you will help to correct them or maybe they will help correct you. You have to be prepared for both possibilities and humbly pray for God to work on both sides.
I believe in a free market and the right of a customer to vote with their wallet and do business elsewhere. However, this is not that situation. If you are thinking about withholding your money because of this disagreement and you have already talked with your leadership then you should ask yourself, “Why?” Are you doing this to manipulate your leadership? Are you doing it because you really believe there is a sin issue involved with what the church is doing? The former would not be acceptable while the second one may. I would still seek wise council before making any rash decisions. It isn’t easy when you have a church money disagreement, but it is a great opportunity to grow in grace.
Have you ever been in this type of situation? How did it go? Tell me below in the comments.
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