“Help us, Lord! We’re perishing!” (Matthew 8:25)
A friend sent a packet of material to help me deal with the grief of my wife’s death. I appreciate his kindness and thoughtfulness. Included in the folder was his church bulletin and monthly mailout, which I enjoyed reading. That’s how I noticed something slightly odd.
The Sunday bulletin listed last week’s actual offering as, let’s say “$45,000.” Above it was the figure which the budget requires on a weekly basis, perhaps “$55,000.” Underneath it said, “Deficit: $10,000.”
Now, what we have here is a church showing that last Sunday’s offering, as generous as it was, amounted to a deficit, when all that happened was that on that particular Lord’s Day the contributions were low. They probably made up for it the next Sunday.
If I were their pastor, I would instruct the editor of the publication to delete the word “deficit” from the dictionary. “Use that word only when I tell you to do so.”
Some church members are automatically drawn to any bad report or negative slant they can find to attack or undermine the present pastor and church leadership. I’d just as soon not give them ammunitiion.
In the accompanying mailout publication, the previous month’s week by week contributions and budget requirements were listed. The first Sunday of the previous month, the income had almost doubled the budgeted requirement. This being December, people were catching up on their giving, no doubt. Most church people give more toward the end of the year.
And so the (ahem) deficit for the year-to-date had been reduced to $23,300.
Then, the second Sunday of the month, the congregation came through with another large offering, which put them ahead of the annual budget.
Still with me? They are now ahead of the budget.
However, the financial secretary or bookkeeper or treasurer (somebody!) listed it as “Deficit: +4,267.”
The deficit was given as a plus number. What everyone else on the planet would call a surplus.
Don’t miss this. The offerings were over the budget and yet they still listed it as a deficit, only with a plus sign.
Mathematicians in the audience would probably say that when a deficit is listed as a plus number, a negative deficit would be an actual plus. (Law of algebra: Two negatives make a positive.) But, who’s quibbling?
The point is that what we have here is someone seriously wedded to a negative point of view.
(Note: I ran this by my friend who sent the material. His friendship is worth far more than a sermon illustration. He figures was all just a slip-up and does not represent a pattern. But he gave permission to use it.)
Let’s assume, however, that such thinking does indicate a pattern of negativity, that the financial spokesperson is regularly putting a negative spin on matters. In that case, I have a suggestion….
Could someone please stand up in the next church business meeting–remember those?–and call attention to this? And could they suggest that we celebrate the giving of the Lord’s people and not complain about it?
Better yet, call it to the pastor’s attention in a phone call or hallway conversation. (In truth, I cannot imagine a pastor not seeing this and dealing with it. But maybe that’s just me.)
In two churches I served, we had conferences with the new treasurers on how to report financial statements to the congregation. It’s not that I minded the members knowing if we were in trouble financially. Which we never were.
What I did mind was taking something wonderful God was doing through His people and putting it in the worst possible light.
Every pastor and church leader knows the drill. The financial person stands to give a report. It comes out something like this….
–“The offerings are running low this month. But no one seems to be concerned.” (Immediately after the business meeting, I ask to see the financial spokesperson to make them aware of how their words were received. In almost every case, laypeople do not understand how important speaking faith is, as opposed to worrying God’s people.)
–“So far, it appears we’re having the worst year financially in the last five years.” (Never mind that the congregation has just built a new education structure debt-free or had the largest mission offering in the history of the church.)
–“We are running seriously behind the budget and I’m asking the finance committee to find ways to cut it. We have to be responsible stewards here.” (A better way of saying this would be to mention that while offerings are coming in below the budget, we are meeting all our obligations and every bill has been paid. We are not running in the red!)
I know precisely what the financial spokesperson is doing.
He/she is attempting to do one of two things: Either show the pastor that I’m on your side, that I’ll help you motivate the congregation to give more contributions. Or, show the congregation that I’m going to watch how every dime is being spent and this church staff is not going to get the church in trouble financially.
Neither approach is healthy. In the first one, the pastor is a better motivator of giving and a superior teacher of financial stewardship. And in the second case, undermining confidence in the pastor and staff is never a good thing.
I suggest that if a layperson is expected to give a monthly report to the congregation in a business meeting, before he/she does it the first time, they schedule a private appointment with the pastor to ask one big question: “How would you prefer I do this?”
Why should a layperson submit to the pastor? Because the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer of the Lord’s flock” (Acts 20:28). And, because submission is always a good thing in the family of God (see Ephesians 5:21).
As a pastor, I love it when a layperson making a report or announcement of any kind to the congregation speaks faith. After all, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) and “the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38). Anything we can do to encourage faith–confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him–is good.
What does speaking faith sound like? Maybe something like this….
–“As you know, we need to raise $100,000 by the end of the month to replace the roof on the sanctuary. This is a big order, but my friends, we have a big God. In the twenty years I’ve been in this church, I have seen God’s people do some amazing things–and I’m certain this is going to be one we will talk about for years to come. We can do this!”
–“Granted, we’re a little behind in the budget. But please note, all bills are paid and we are ‘in the red’ only on paper. The staff is being faithful. But let’s all do our part and keep Emmanuel Church strong in the Lord’s work!”
–“My friends, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!”
Give me lay leaders like this and we can move mountains.
“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Where is your faith?
Every congregation finds themselves in situations from time to time in which they have to make faith decisions. Either the end result of what they’re trying to do is not clear, the resources have not all come in, or not everyone is on board. They could sit there and wait until they see all things, but “we walk by faith and not by sight,” sit there and wait until all the resources are in hand, but “without faith it is impossible to please God,” or sit there and wait until everyone is on board, but doing the will of God is far more important than doing the will of Mr. Crenshaw’s old men’s class.
Every Christian family makes faith decisions. Will they be tithing the family income or giving to the missionary, moving to Brazil or Malawi or to the smaller house down the street, purchasing that new car or not. What does God want? To obey is faith.
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)