Why does your church have a bank account?
I know that it may sound absurd to even ask this question, but I think it is a valid thought, and something that every church leadership board or new church plant needs to be asking themselves. Any church that I have ever been a part of has spent a large portion of their time and energy discussing the topic of money. “Offerings have been down for the last few months, but with the holiday season coming up, giving should increase.” We plan and structure our ministries around our budget, which I tend to view as backwards.
In the “modern” world, the idea of “doing church” revolves around our building, our budget, and our charismatic speaker/leader. But, why do we need any of those? What defines the church? None of those three items really have anything to do with church, and yet we have made them part of the foundation. What defines us is who we are in Christ. We are the lost people who have been reconciled to God. We are those who have been made clean by the blood of the Lamb. We are those who now have freedom and life. A local church exists wherever believers gather to worship God and exalt the name of Jesus. By that definition, some churches should probably stop calling themselves churches.
Churches from all over the world can tell you that a budget does not make a church. In fact, the very idea of a church having money seems ridiculous. Local believers gather together wherever they can, worshipping and fellowshipping together. Maybe they have to meet down by the river. Maybe they have to meet at the local park in the snow. Maybe they meet in a damp basement. The location is completely irrelevant. So, also is the speaker. Churches gather to read and explore the Word of God. They don’t need a skilled orator who can hold the congregation’s attention for an hour. They don’t need a multimedia presentation. They have everything they need as they gather to learn from God’s Word. They don’t need an espresso on their way in; they are satisfied by Living Water. Our culture demands that our churches be comfortable and inviting. I don’t see much about the early church that was either of those things. I often feel that we have traded away spiritual richness for physical comfort and financial security.
I don’t think that the local church owning its own building is a bad thing. I don’t think that having a budget is a bad thing. What worries me is when those things become the priority. Recently, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist denomination announced that it was going to have to recall around 800 missionaries due to churches not providing enough support for their missionaries. What is more important than spreading the Gospel to the far reaches of the globe? According to the budgets of some church, air conditioning. We have comfortably cool churches in the summer and toasty warm churches in the winter. Or, we would rather pay a talented worship leader to come and lead us in the latest trending Chris Tomlin songs than we would pay to have someone reach out to people who are dying apart from their Maker. I hope the voice of the worship leader was worth it.
Priorities. What are our priorities? Our mission statements and vision statements of our churches may say one thing, but our budgets tend to tell the real story.