Summary: Discover two gems helpful to balancing ministry and money in this short sermon aimed to help church leaders stay faithful not fearful.
Pastoring in America means dealing with the dollar. It’s what we have to come to grips with in a culture where “church” has largely become a business. In fact, some shepherds tragically view Washingtons and Lincolns just as necessary, if not more, than the Holy Spirit, people, or the Bible. Which is why, when the annual budget meetings roll around, many pastors consider ministry and money as equals. We assume the more – or less – you have of one, the more – or less – you’ll have of the other.
Lately I have begun to wonder if that is true. I have been brought to wrestle with this issue, not only from my regular reading through the New Testament, but from my own experience as I have watched our church leaders deal very diligently, faithfully, and biblically with our own yearly budget, especially in these times of apparent economic uncertainty.
While our young church has a track record of somewhat rapid growth in both people (ministry) and finances (money) since our inception in 2004, this past year was more of a normal year. Actually, it was below normal; we only saw our weekly attendance increase by about 9% and our weekly giving increase about 1.5%.
So as we looked at monetary increases in the budget (which is usually the way American churches indicate an increase in ministry), we found ourselves in that place of delicate tension – Are we not trusting God enough? Are we presuming upon God too much?
Our desire was to be good stewards of the resources God had entrusted to us by planning accordingly, investing wisely, and saving appropriately. These were biblical principles laid out in Proverbs to which we were committed. We also wanted to be men aware of the times, much like the sons of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32). In our case, the “times” indicated a continued slow economy, with unemployment remaining at unusually high levels. Yet, the spiritual forecast showed incredible opportunities and open doors; there was no lack of need or vision.
I’ll cut to the chase – after much work and prayer, we set a 2010 budget that was only 2.5% greater than last year’s, a step some might call cautious. We called it streamlined. Others may think it fearful. Even unspiritual. Without faith. And that’s when I began wondering, “Does ministry really have to stop just because we have tightened up the flow of money?”
It was in reviewing the faithful work of our elders that Jesus made me strangely aware of the answer early one morning: No! Admittedly, I was timid to take this stance because it would seem as though I was trying to reduce the value of certain ministries that received little, if any, extra funds. Or like maybe I was trying to couch the real issue in spiritual jargon. Or, worse yet, that if we really didn’t need as much ministry money as we thought, then we might not get it in the years to come either. Yikes! After all, everyone knows that if you do a good job in your ministry (i.e., spend what you’re allotted and show results), more budget money is the reward, right? That’s been the unwritten rule among most church staffs. That staff rule, while unwritten, needs to be called out as untrue. It too quickly and falsely associates ministry and money in a way that isn’t biblical. Sure, it is cultural. But I don’t believe it is scriptural.
So what is biblical about the connection between the two? While I have not exhausted the answer to that question, here are at least two things I do believe to be biblical about ministry and money:
1. Ministry isn’t a commodity governed by the market; it’s an opportunity empowered by the Spirit. The early church wasn’t looking for permission from society or approval from the culture. They didn’t test the market to see if it was ripe for disciple making. Instead, the early believers took the command of Jesus seriously and “witnessed” of his resurrection the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. They didn’t check to see if “witnessing” was in the budget, or if the apostles had approved an evangelism category under “outreach.” No, they just did it.
I realize this is hard for some of us to accept because we are so engrained with the American style of ministry. But try and see it as a first-century Jew or Gentile believer. There was intense persecution, little organization, minimal resources, and many obstacles. Yet, a contagious and courageous people rose up and, led by the Spirit that Jesus left, continued his work anyway. The result? Christianity spread over the known world! Essentially, a “down” time culturally was actually an “up” time spiritually for the early church.
As pastors, we don’t need to believe that, if the market is slow and the budget flat, that the work of the church has to be as well. Quite the contrary! In times when money is sparse, opportunities are endless. Please don’t think you have to have one to chase after the other. Remember – While money may not be inconsequential, it certainly isn’t indispensible.