August 2008

Budget priorities should reflect kingdom work

August 26 2008 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

If you are not talking about money in your church, you are ignoring one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. How Christians and their churches deal with money tells more about them than all the pious platitudes and evangelistic slogans they could ever post on their jewelry or signs in front of the building.

This is money talk time as churches deal with 2009 budgets in the midst of constant gloomy news. Some parts of our state truly are struggling economically. Metro areas, on the other hand, are faring better generally than the nation as a whole. So, “the economy” cannot be the universal excuse as you deliberate — and pray? — over your missions investments, salaries, utilities and education priorities.

When my children pestered me with requests, I often parried those pleadings with the excuse “We don’t have money for that.” In truth, sometimes we did have money enough for the request, but the plea was for an item that did not fit into the family financial priorities. Buying those designer jeans would put the two shirts and a sweater needed for school in jeopardy.

I too often hear “budget” as the simple, universally understood and too frequently accepted reason for a church’s decision to cut what should be essential elements of ministry.

What are the first priorities for your church budget? If you started with a clean slate, what would you write down first to say, “Here is how we are going to invest the first dollars that our members give?”

Maybe the pastor’s salary would be first, so you can have a shepherd to lead. That is a good starting point and that salary ought to reflect both his responsibilities and your expectations and appreciation of him. Other churches might put a building payment, repair or improvement first if you were starting from scratch.

“Zero based budgeting,” or starting from zero every year and making every line item justify its funds is a nice concept. In reality, most of us want to base future spending on what has been spent in this area previously. Items that made their way into the budget once — maybe decades ago — tend to keep their spot, even if they no longer function effectively.

When that happens a church’s priorities often fall prey to the expediency of carrying items into the next budget year to keep from offending a church matriarch who administers that area. This year as you consider the investment of the precious gifts from your members, please be brave enough to prioritize for kingdom work.

Evaluating those priorities requires you to ask anew, “What is our church about?” “Why do we do church?” “Do we have a purpose larger than providing a comfortable gathering place for our family?”

Does the wedding committee need $1,500 at the expense of shrinking Royal Ambassadors literature? Do you need new carpet at the expense of cutting Cooperative Program missions giving? Does the parsonage need a new furnace at the cost of the pastor’s raise?

If your missions mentality has become more “serve us” than “service” you are likely to look for pots of budget money that you think you can tap without pain to cover local needs. Here is where Cooperative Program missions giving is at risk; as well as subscriptions to the Biblical Recorder; and special offerings for international and North American missions that many churches budget, rather than receive separately. Tapping those budget items to meet local needs is a dangerous and diminishing deed.

It is dangerous because it erodes the world vision, the “go ye therefore” admonition of Jesus as he laid out the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28. It is diminishing because a church that loses its world view becomes smaller, shrinking into itself like the wicked witch of the west in Wizard of Oz when splashed by Dorothy.

When individuals and churches pull into themselves so that the only things that matter are things of local concern, the church becomes less a part of a global fellowship of believers than a simple cell of self-absorbed religionists.

The Biblical Recorder is a kingdom tool that informs and inspires readers about the work of God among North Carolina Baptists, locally, nationally and internationally. You are reading this so you have some appreciation for the ministry of information the Recorder offers. Your efforts to keep the Recorder in your church’s budget and to expand subscriptions will be rewarded with increased awareness among your members and a greater appreciation for and commitment to their role in the broader kingdom.

Now, to the personnel issues in your budget: I am always amazed when I hear church members exclaim that staff salaries command such a large portion of their budgets. I remind them that ministry is people. Churches minister through relationships established by members and staff. Staff organize and lead members for effective ministry. Ministry is people.

Steadily rising costs affect your church staff just as much as they do you. While it may seem like an oxymoron to encourage you to keep missions giving up and give your staff a raise at the same time, both are important priorities.

I am on the stewardship committee of my church. I remind members that no one gives so that the church can “meet its budget.”

People give because they understand how their dollars enable ministries that change lives. In your stewardship campaign this year, highlight changed lives made possible through generous giving and you will see your people respond to meet all your needs.
8/26/2008 2:16:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Day of reckoning for charitable givers

August 8 2008 by By Norman Jameson

It is easy to list a staggering series of blows the North Carolina and national economies have suffered in recent years, blows that sting individually but combined threaten to bring us to our knees.

A quick list for your memory's sake would include the loss of virtually all textile and furniture manufacturing in North Carolina; a housing glut and mortgage crisis precipitated by lender greed and investor ignorance; an inflation monster stretching and flexing to exert itself; personal indebtedness that puts countless families on a bubble that would burst with a single missed paycheck; a war that is draining both the treasury and a generation even while it slips to the back pages of our consciousness; a loss of confidence in the decisions made by leadership at every level, whether in the white house or the parsonage; a health care crisis; world food crisis from rising prices for staples like corn and rice; pending insufficiency of Social Security and increasing local tax burdens.

That's the short list.

Combined, these realities peck at our confidence like chickens worrying (YouTube) a barnyard trough. Confidence is the foundational mortar for our way of life. We buy a house confident that we will have work to make the payments. We educate ourselves and our children confident that such efforts will lead to the most fulfilling career possible. We make travel plans confident there will be fuel for the planes to fly or at any fueling station where we stop the car.

Churches plan and build larger sanctuaries, education space and family life centers, confident that they will meet both current needs and accommodate growth that is "sure to come." Pastors and staff move their families and lives from one place to another, confident that the disruption is a part of God's plan for them and that the church family they are joining will love them forever and treat them in a way that demonstrates that love.

We base budgets on that confidence. We make commitments to charitable giving, campaigns, pledges, church budgets, missionary support, civic organizations and other non-profits based on the confidence we have that our income will remain stable and a paycheck secure.

The effect of consumer confidence sitting near its all time low is that we draw in. When the gales blow around us, we feel the wind, even if we're in a secure shelter. But what happens to your commitments when confidence erodes?

Writer and priest Tom Ehrich, writing for Religion News Service, says the churches that have taught the proper place of stewardship in the Christian life will do fine in this current confidence crisis.

"This is when faith communities earn their stripes," he says. "People need care. They need to be helped over the hurdle of panic at not having much money, and over the larger hurdle of having to rethink their lives and values. Now is the time for churches to offer career guidance, values clarification, free events that will be just as enjoyable as extravagance, financial and housing assistance, and glimpses of a God whose steadfast love is never tied to prosperity."

"Congregations that taught stewardship will have the funds and staff necessary for such ministry," Ehrich said. It is the churches that let members look at congregational support as ‘charitable giving’ that will find it difficult to keep their budgets above survival level.

Enjoying the love of God demonstrated through Christ and the security of Jesus' words in Luke 12 that the hairs on our heads are numbered and that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside the knowledge of God, Christians are encouraged to have a confident, generous spirit. Through biblical teaching we realize we are stewards only of the blessings God puts in our hands and never owners.

Taught properly, we give first fruits, we trust the church's stewardship even while realizing it is not a perfect organization, and we give in gratitude.

Churches whose members think of budget support as one item among others in their list of "charitable giving," such as donations to favorite museums, schools and scout, will be in trouble.

As Ehrich said, "Charitable giving flows from generosity, of course, but within it is a strong element of control, noblesse oblige, and calculation of tax advantage. That doesn't leave much room for the humble submission of true gratitude."

In other words, “charitable giving” is not from a heart commitment, a sacrificial devotion to the mission of the organization, a response to a command. For five years I helped non-profit organizations raise money for special projects. Many organizations beyond the church do good things and meet real needs, and many generous people support them in good times. But when difficult times strike and confidence erodes, those "charitable donations" dry up.  

Churches whose members see their giving to church as a “charitable donation” will not thrive in the tough economic times that call for commitment and sacrifice. At the very time our neighbors most need a shining beacon, the services only a church can offer, each church faces relentless pressure to cut spending—or worse, to cut giving to missions.

Teach stewardship, not charitable giving. When we realize we are stewards of vast riches and not miserly distributors of limited blessings our generosity will speak volumes to a world that has lost its confidence. When our churches are able to reach out selflessly while others are pulling in and hoarding because we’ve taught stewardship, their light will be bright.




8/8/2008 6:39:00 AM by By Norman Jameson | with 0 comments