“Biblical budget? Giving most of what comes in to take care of needy people and care for our community? With all due respect, pastor, it will never work! You will be one of the needy people! We won’t be able to pay your salary and the church will collapse because we won’t have a good place to meet. Just think of how much hard work it has taken to get this church to where it is now, don’t throw it all away. Yes, we want to give to the poor and our community but the time just isn’t right yet.”
The church council member that said the above was a long-time friend and was much respected for his heart for God as well as his good business sense. He and his wife had joined our church plant effort in the early days so we had shared a lot of victories as well as set-backs and even personal tragedies. So my heart was open towards him; I loved him and trusted his advice. So I put the idea of conforming our budget to Biblical principles on the back burner. After all, I thought to myself, “A worker is worthy of his hire, right? The Bible teaches that we shouldn’t muzzle the oxen and that elders who teach are worthy of double-honor. And we do need a nice meeting place so that people can come and hear the gospel and get saved and discipled.”
So we kept the budget about the same for years – about 50% going for our meeting place, 25% for my salary, and 25% for ministry expenses, benevolence, outreach, and denominational tithes. That last 25% got spread pretty thin so there really wasn’t a lot of financial help available for the poor or for outreach. We did let personal needs in the congregation be known though so that people could offer help privately. And we took special missions’ offerings. However, looking back, I wonder if we couldn’t have done a whole lot more to help the needy and to reach out to our community.
So as we approach this subject of church budgets and how we spend the money that has been entrusted to us, let’s acknowledge upfront that it is a complex subject and none of us are perfect. In fact, probably all of us could do better when it comes to lining up our budgets with what the Bible teaches. So the first step for all of us is to gather our leadership team and begin a process of seeking the Scriptures and hearing from the Lord as to how we should use the finances that we have been given.
Stop for a minute and think about it. Don’t skip this vital first step of seeking God. After all, most church budgets are all about spending money that has been given by people who feel that when they are giving to the church, they are giving to the Lord. Plus, the Bible teaches that every good gift comes from God and that it is our Heavenly Father who is taking care of us and providing for us. So doesn’t it make sense that our first step in setting up a budget or writing checks should be to spend some time seeking God and asking Him how He wants us to spend His money?
There are other articles on this site that talk about spending time seeking God at the beginning of church council/board meetings (Biblical Board Meetings, Board of Prayer) so we won’t belabor the point here except to say that this is an absolute must-do. We absolutely must seek God and ask Him how He wants us to spend His money. And we must look to His Word for answers and guidance as to His will. To not do both – pray and read the Scriptures for His instructions -- risks being disobedient at worst and complacent or taking Him for granted at best.
Let’s not take Him for granted nor wander away from Him in disobedience. Let’s search the Scriptures and find out what His will is. It doesn’t take long to realize that Jesus was big on giving away possessions and giving to the poor. Nor is it hard to figure out that Jesus and the apostles weren’t big on raising money for buildings or furnishings but simply went from house to house sharing the Good News of the kingdom. They did, however, receive food, lodging, and donations to help meet their needs. Plus the Apostle Paul told Timothy that elders whose job is teaching the Word are worthy of double-honor and financial support. So there is a Biblical basis for supporting those who work full-time for the Lord and His church. But should it be a means of getting rich and having far more wealth than those who are giving the donations?
Preaching the Gospel or shepherding a church as a means of getting rich is foreign to the New Testament. Jesus walked from place to place and stayed with whomever would provide Him a place. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker at times so that he could preach the Gospel without being a burden on others. Serving God, then, is not only for the paid professionals. Every Christ-follower is to serve God in the way that God has gifted him or her. And most don’t get monetary compensation for it. They are rewarded in other ways.
But there are a few who are called by God to preach the Gospel and teach the Word and be compensated by the church. But these salaries should not take up the lion’s share of the church budget. If they do, then two things usually happen: 1) The paid professionals wind up doing most of the work and the rest of the Body fails to mature and grow in Christ. 2) The money left over after paying the salaries isn’t enough to meet the needs of the poor, the outreach expenses, community care, meeting place expenses, ministry expenses, and other needs that come up as we love, care, and instruct each other and our community the way the New Testament tell us we should.
Of course, in many churches and ministries, paying salaries isn’t such an issue because almost all the money that comes in goes towards paying for a meeting place. Whether it’s for rent or a mortgage and maintenance, many churches (especially church plants or young churches), spend 50% or even more of their income on their meeting place. There simply isn’t much money left for salaries or the poor or outreach or any of the other ministry needs. We get so locked in on the idea that we have to have a meeting place that is ours 24/7 that we forget that we only need the place for a few hours each week and the rest can be done in homes or restaurants or whatever.
And yes, it is fine and Biblical to have a public meeting place. New Testament believers met in homes and in public places like the temple. But does the public place have to be ours 24/7? Does it have to have all the bells and whistles to put on a big performance every Sunday? Does it have to have the best furnishings, Sunday school rooms, sound system, nursery, parking, etc.? Could we sacrifice a little on Sunday morning so that we have money left to help the poor or do some outreach or fund a ministry?
Many churches today simply go month to month and year to year without thinking about what their budget should be or could be. We ignore basic Scriptures about giving to the poor and not being in debt. We just do what we have always done and hope there will be enough money to cover all the expenses the same way we did the year before. Let’s stop and think about what we are doing. Let’s take some time to pray about what our budget should look like. And most of all, let’s ask God how He wants us to spend His money.
Let’s Pray Together:Lord, our money is Your money, forgive us for not always recognizing that and for not asking You how we ought to spend it. Open our eyes to new ways of doing things and whatever changes You have for us when it comes to our budget. Thank you for providing for us so well. We love you and want to please You. Give us wisdom and help us with our financial needs that we lift before You now… (continue praying as you feel led)
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion
Most of us should have some idea of how the church we attend or lead spends its money. If not, find out by asking church leadership in a respectful and honoring way. Then pray for God’s will to be done with the church budget. Pray for specific things that seem out of alignment with God’s revealed will in the Word. Pray for those who are involved in the decision-making process – pastors, board members, staff people, etc.
Pray for churches and organizations in the Body of Christ at large. Pray for financial integrity and for God’s will to be done in their budgeting and spending.
Ask the Lord what your role is in this issue. Ask Him if He would have you speak to anyone in leadership about any concerns you might have.
Give to churches and organizations that are open about their financial practices and put a priority of budgeting and spending according to New Testament principles.