“Prescribe and teach these things.” (I Timothy 4:11)
“Ladies and gentlemen of the church staff, we your church’s financial leaders have called you together today to inform you of some unfortunate changes we’re going to have to make since our church’s offerings have been running low.”
That’s how the ministers on the church staff regularly learn of cuts being made in the budget, their ministries, their income, their benefits.
The church contributions are running low, so the committee looks for a place to cut.
This is how it’s done. And it has to be the worst way imaginable to deal with a financial crisis in the church.
There are several problems with this machete approach….
1. These people–the ministers on your church staff, the God-called shepherds of the Lord’s flock–are being treated like hirelings. The disrespect they’re being shown is enormous.
2. The ministers were not asked for input into these decisions but were told how “things will be.” The superiority complex of financial committees in the typical church is an embarrassment for followers of Jesus Christ. You get the impression that they alone are charged by God with this responsibility. In many cases, even the pastor has no input.
3. The committee is going about this backward.
That’s what this little article of ours is all about.
The last thing a church needs to do in times of financial woes is to cut salaries and programs. But typically, it’s the first thing a financial committee wants to do.
That’s why only the most mature and Godly people, the ones with hearts of faith and wise minds, should be in leadership places in churches.
A church must never place someone on a committee just because they own a business or manage one. No one should be assigned to the church’s financial committee because he/she is a CPA or works for a bank. A million woes have descended on God’s churches because of such wrong-headed decisions.
Committees dealing with money problems in the Lord’s church should attack the issue following a number of spiritual, God-honoring actions, including these which follow.
1) Leaders should tell the Lord.
Set aside a serious time of prayer in which you ask the Father what to do.
I can hear someone protesting, “Tell the Lord we have a problem? Like He doesn’t already know?” That’s exactly right.
In Matthew 6:8, as our Lord was urging His disciples to pray faithfully, secretly, and sincerely, He settled this matter for us. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
He knows, but tell Him anyway!
As a committee, pray. As individuals, pray. Pray prayers of faith, fervent prayers, backed up by your own obedience to the Lord. (What does this mean? Simply that if the members of your committee are not giving generously and faithfully, forget about praying. Pull out your checkbooks and show the Lord you love Him and love this church. Then, He might hear your prayer.)
Beware of the tendency to do something! Likewise, guard against the counsel of church leaders who have no interest in praying, little confidence in praying, and no time to pray, but want you to “do the manly thing and cut the budget.”
Once again, this is why only the godliest and most mature should be in places of leadership. Otherwise, prayer drops to the bottom of their agenda and is seen only as “checking God off their list” or “tipping their hat to the Almighty.”
Nothing tells the story on a congregation like the people it chooses as leaders.
2) Leaders should tell the people.
After a time of praying, the Lord may lead the pastor and financial team to inform the membership about the financial situation. There are various ways of doing this, some more disruptive than others.
The most disruptive–and therefore the most urgent–is to call a special meeting of the congregation where the leadership lays out the numbers (income, outgo, history, financial needs facing the church, etc) and takes questions from the membership. We once did this in a church I pastored. We were staggering under a severe load of debt–it took over half the budget to meet the monthly mortgage–when we learned the sanctuary needed a new roof immediately, costing over $100,000, money we did not have. We gathered the congregation, laid out the need, took questions, and the people gave the money.
The slightly less disruptive approach is to take a portion of a Sunday morning service for this. The entire financial team (this could involve one or two on the staff, plus the finance committee) appears on the platform and makes a presentation and an appeal, usually with no Q and A.
Next below this, is for the pastor to give the information and make an appeal from the pulpit on a Sunday morning..
The best way–just my opinion, you understand–is for members of the financial team to go into Sunday School departments and using a board and markers, explain the situation the church is facing, take questions from the members, and make an appeal for stronger giving.
3) Leaders should teach stewardship principles.
A pastor was complaining to me about his church’s dwindling resources. “We’re having to make serious cuts.” I said, “When was the last time you led the congregation in a strong emphasis on stewardship?” He answered, “I’m not going to harp on money all the time. I am not one of these prosperity preachers!”
I said, “Then you are failing your people big time. They will stand before the Lord and point the finger at you for not leading them to get this part of their lives in order. Many will not have treasure laid up in heaven because you the pastor did not teach them. Many are burdened by debt because you are not teaching them stewardship. Furthermore, the work of the Lord around the world is underfunded because you are afraid to speak on money to your people.”
Only the courageous should ever go into the ministry. The cowards die a thousand deaths in advance–running from problems, cowering before bullies, hiding from needs, burying God’s resources rather than stepping out on faith. If this sounds like the fellow in Matthew 25:25–how can you ever forget this reference again!–it should, because that’s us.
It’s not just the pastor, but also the financial leadership of the church that needs to keep a constant emphasis on stewardship education before the congregation.
During the Second World War, the American people were constantly being asked to “buy War Bonds.” In fact, it’s almost impossible to listen to classic radio recordings from those years without hearing repeated appeals at the beginning or end or even within the programs themselves in which citizens were urged to spend less on themselves and more on helping to win the war. The emphasis was constant.
Stewardship education should be ongoing, but also an annual emphasis of one type or other should be planned and conducted with energy and love. Educate the people.
4) Leaders should trust their ministers, bring them in as a group and lay out the financial situation, and seek their input. All wisdom about things financial does not reside on the finance committee. They need to hear from the congregation’s shepherds.
5) When all avenues have been exhausted–when prayer has been made for a period of time, the congregation has been informed, stewardship principles have been taught and urged upon God’s people, and the ministers’ input has been sought–if there is no other recourse than to cut the budget, the leaders should ask the ministers to recommend places to cut.
I can hear someone protest, “They will never suggest we cut their salaries.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Also, keep in mind that the finance committee does not have to follow their suggestions, only solicit them and take them seriously.
“Lord, bless your church. Give us Godly leaders who believe it’s your church and not theirs, and that you want it to succeed far more than they ever could. Give us faithful men and women in places of leadership who will do nothing until they have asked for Thy will and waited until they heard from Heaven. For Jesus’ sake.”