I am going to begin this by saying that I don’t have the answer. I want to be clear right up front that I am as perplexed about this as the next person. But… I do have some things on my mind and hopefully, this will spawn a bit of a discussion.
A while back, I was teaching a course on Discovering God’s Way of Handling Money and I wrote almost daily emails to my class hopefully keeping the subject fresh in their mind throughout the week. One of the first emails I wrote had to do with Faith or Fundraising. I had been receiving (and still do) mailings from different Christian organizations requesting funds for their ministry. I know that I gave $50 to one of them 5 years ago and I still get monthly mailings from them asking for more money. They have most likely spent that whole $50 trying to get me to donate more. I haven’t opened a letter from them in years. It goes directly to the trash. So, I ask you…is that being good stewards of God’s money?
The church that I attend is currently having a space problem. We don’t have enough room to offer small group studies for adults or children on Sunday mornings. In fact, our Sunday mornings are getting more and more packed. It is obvious that we need more space. Our first attempt was to rent the gymnasium across the street for our services and let the kids have full use of our currently building. That relieved the space pressure – but for various reasons, we also lost a large number of people. About a month or so after we moved to the school, we decided to move back. Once we moved back to the church, we started filling up again. So, what do we do? We know we need more space but as a church, we want to be good stewards. Temporary buildings or more permanent buildings? Do we look at other locations? If so, will the people move with the church? I don’t have the answers. I see good points and bad points to all of the alternatives.
Another question I always ask myself is how much of our tithe should go toward financing church expenses? This is a big issue for me since I am a preachers kid. We grew up being paid by the members of the church my Dad was a pastor at. But the big question is, what is the tithe for? Is it to support big buildings and large salaries paid with modern tools like this check stub maker? (I will be the first to tell you that most full-time ministers don’t make large salaries – but there are those small percentages that make a lot of money.) Large staffs of church workers? Programs, programs and more programs? Or is it to care for the homeless, the sick, the widowed? Jesus conducted his ministry without a building or a salary. So did the disciples. Paul worked so his parishioners didn’t have to support him. When we give our money to the church we attend, how much should be spent on facilities and salaries and all of the expenses that go along with it, and how much should be dedicated to caring for the sick, homeless and poor? What is our primary function as a church?
My idealistic mind says that we should be spending as little as we have to on “overhead” and the majority of the money received toward caring for the homeless, the poor, the sick. Some have suggested that we only use 10% of the money given to cover the overhead and the rest toward caring for others who need it. That means that for a church with a $100,000 budget, $10,000 goes toward administration and $90,000 toward caring for those in need. Do you know of a church that does that now? I tend to lean toward more of a middle ground option. Here’s an example I read about. A church decided that it needed a larger building to meet their current needs. It was decided that the church needed to raise $500,000 to build a new multipurpose building. The leadership of the church was also in tune with what their primary mission should be so the leadership approached the church with the proposal that although they needed $500,000 to build the building for the church, they wouldn’t start building until they raised $1,000,000. $500,000 for the building and $500,000 to be used to directly benefit the homeless, sick, poor and needy in their community. Can you guess whether or not they had trouble raising all of the money? Of course the congregation got behind the leadership and giving actually went up. They raised the money faster than they had planned for.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t have any answers yet. For me, every question begets another question. I see a legitimate need for a full-time staff to serve the needs of the local congregation – more and more who have never attended church before. There is also a need for the church to be actively serving the needy in their community both financially and physically. Here’s a thought. If churches actively supported organizations and ministries that served the homeless and needy in our community, those organizations wouldn’t have to spend millions on fund raising.
One last question to leave you with – As Christians, what is our main purpose here on earth?
I’d like to hear from you….
Want to know where your money goes when you give to your favorite charity?
Charity Navigator is a great resource.
I was browsing when I came across your post. I must commend you on the refreshing view you have and the attitude you have concerning the poor as opposed to pouring money first into the building. I am reminded of Stephen’s statement-“God does not dwell in buildings made with hands.” I have personally seen people struggling and losing their homes while churches collected several million a year while expecting a crisis or benevolence fund with it’s small amounts to take care people’s needs. What we fail to understand is that all of the tithe, all of the giving in 2 Corinthians never went to a building. It all went to meet people’s needs. Predominantly, giving in the Bible went to help people, not buildings. We have lost the central focus of what God wants us to give to and that is to help people. As he says in 2 Corinthians-“he that had little had no lack, and he that had much had nothing left over…that there may be equality.” Some day pastors will stand before God and answer for why they pressed their people to give to buildings and not those who lack. God cares about people, not buildings. He owns the earth and the fullness thereof. It is he that said to David, “when did I ask you for a house?”
Hi there, Interesting thoughts, however when buttoning up a shirt if the first button is wrong, then no amount of ajusting will fully correct the problem.
Take a look at what is assumed in your post.
1 that there should be a tithe
2 that there is a need for paid pastors
3 that there should be paid staff in the church
The examine these issues carefully in the New Testament, (note I said the NT, the church is not in the Old Testament) you may find some interesting answers.
what I do like is the honesty of your blog.
Warm greetings in the Lord
Thank you for your comment. Yes – I do assume certain things. I live in 21st Century America. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have a need for paid pastors or staff. We wouldn’t need to own large buildings. Everyone would live modestly and give the rest of their income to help the needy. That ideal most likely won’t happen any time soon. What I was writing about specifically concerned how we do church today. I know there are small congregations that don’t have any paid staff. If you have 500 people showing up for a service, how do you manage that. Not all 500 people are at the same stage in their spiritual journey. Some will be looking for meat while others will be looking for strained peas! Beyond a certain point, it becomes a full-time job to manage the different programs. Could it be a volunteer position. I suppose that once in a while, you could find someone that has the skills and the time to do this on a volunteer basis but that isn’t the norm. Most of the time, it would require someone doing this as their job. That takes a salary. So, where does that salary come from? If you have 500 people showing up at one place, where do you put them? In Jesus’ day (and location) they could all stand outside. Try that in Chicago in February! The way we live today vs. 2000 years ago is so different.
Like I said. I don’t have the answers. I have wanted to plant a church for years but I don’t have the time to work my full time job and Pastor a church. My Dad works 12-15 hour days as a full-time Pastor. How would I do that and work a full-time job? I wish someone had the answer. I do enjoy the discussion though! Keep the comments coming!
Great thoughts. Certainly balance is required. A lot of churches strike the wrong balance at times. One consideration not mentioned is that the church is there for the congregation as well as the poor and sick community. There are members with a lot of needs, some financial, some not. Some may primarily need a safe place to worship and be really introduced to God. It can be easy to see churches as a bunch of Christians getting to gather to help the needy, but in reality we are all a little bit uglier than that. If there is no where for someone who doesn’t have a strong commitment to Christ to sit, they will not come. Also, there needs to be some paid church staff, but churches have to be careful about selecting people committed to service. They need to be able to feed their families like anyone else, but they are organizing volunteers to a large extent.
Thanks for your comments. I am sorry I am so slow in reading them. I guess you can’t have a discussion if the moderator isn’t moderating!
If you review the comment I made just prior to yours, you will see that I too am perplexed on how to care for the current congregation. Since I wrote this post in 2007, I have continued my journey. I feel as though I go in circles. I guess that I have come to the realization that the lost, sick and poor exist in our current congregations so in reality, we are using our resources to care for those who are sick. I don’t go to Flatland Church anymore but I think they strike the right balance with their two locations. One in the suburbs and one in the poorer, downtown community. It’s a great use of resources. Check them out! Thanks for reading the blog!
Keep the discussion coming!
As a pastor, there are two thigns I have never done. I never presented this “new teaching” as “the tithe,” and I never laid this man-made concoction on the brethren claiming God requires 10% of one’s gross earnings to go in cash to the local church for life. What I have taught is: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Tim 5:8) and “Owe nothing to anyone” (Ro 13:8). Those calling for this tithe are doing so claiming God’s authority behind their message and often warn of consequences for robbing God. One definition of extortion is to get (money, etc.) by violence, threats, misuse of authority (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1974). This new teaching is extortion.