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

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