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Economics and church

Tough times shouldn’t mean cutting out ministry giving

By John W. Kennedy

People faced with a troubled mortgage, a shaky employment future, and skyrocketing gasoline and food prices may be tempted to reduce spending in a place that sends no monthly bill: the local church.

But Christian financial experts say there are numerous reasons why local congregations and parachurch ministries shouldn’t be on the budget chopping block in an economic crunch.

“When we are the neediest is when we need to give the most,” says Mary Hunt, founder of Debt-Proof Living newsletter and author of The Financially Confident Woman. “It’s a wonderful opportunity when Christians start trusting God more than MasterCard and Visa, and more than the equity in their homes to get them through.”

“Giving is not something we do merely because we have extra,” says Randy Hurst, communications director for Assemblies of God World Missions. “God’s kingdom goes forward because obedient believers sacrifice in making priorities of what really matters.”

Kregg Hood, senior vice president of Stewardship Services with AG Financial Solutions, echoes the notion that an ailing economy can become the gateway for Christians to commit their finances to God.

“Can you do more with 100 percent than God can do with 90 percent?” Hood asks. “In Scripture, the tithe isn’t tied to economic circumstances.”

Hurst refers to the way poor churchgoers in Macedonia kept giving, as outlined in 2 Corinthians 8:2: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (NIV). He notes that in Burkina Faso, the second-poorest country in Africa, 700 AG churches are supporting 180 missionaries to unreached tribes in their own country as well as to other nations.

“God provides us enough, not for luxury, but for good works,” Hurst says. “Giving is not a strategy for getting rich. It is obedience to God’s Word to accomplish His purposes. But in the process He blesses us to enable us to give more.”

Consumption society

Normally, most people have 10 to 15 percent of their income as discretionary funds, Hood says. “But in difficult times, the margin for error shrinks,” he says.

Hood notes that most people in America are better off than a decade ago, partially evidenced by the number of technological gadgets in homes now that didn’t exist before. During a financial squeeze it might be time to let go of some or all of those “indispensable” items, such as cable television, cell phones, Internet access and new DVD releases.

When cutting back, Christians shouldn’t fall into a pattern of charging more on credit cards — especially when it comes to contributions to church and ministries.

Many Americans have lived through boom times so long they don’t know how to react when the economy is flat. Much of the current gloom and doom seems overblown to those elderly who remember 23 percent unemployment in the 1930s, food and clothing rationing in the 1940s, and gas station lines in the 1970s.

Some Christians may need to admit they have relied on the equity of their home — which is now depleted — instead of the Lord to bail them out of an emergency situation, Hunt says.

“Most of us, without realizing it, have assumed ugly attitudes of entitlement,” Hunt says. “We’re not entitled to 548 cable channels. We’re not entitled to four cars when only three people live in the house. Everything is a gift from God.”

U.S. Christians who make missions trips or take vacations to other countries invariably return sobered by how much even the poorest Americans have compared to the rest of the world.

And Hurst notes that AG missionaries — especially those in Europe who are squeezed by the weak exchange rate for dollars — are facing a much tougher time than Americans. Some missionaries are not eating foods they normally enjoy, are adjusting their thermostats and wearing extra layers of clothing.

Advice to churches

Pastors and church boards need to exercise caution in embarking on building projects or new ministries in a challenging economic environ-ment, Hood says.

“Churches need to focus on being more efficient with what they have,” he suggests. “It’s not the time to recarpet because the style is outdated.”

Likewise, Hurst adds that while genuine needs will be met, it might not be the time to splurge with a crystal chandelier or marble floor in the foyer.

“Sometimes in human nature we go beyond what God would want us to do and get extravagant,” he says.

Just like individual consumers, churches must be wary of incurring too much debt, according to Hunt.

“When we expect God to provide for the obligations we get ourselves into, we make an arrogant presumption on God’s mercy for the future,” Hunt says. “Churches that move beyond their means can become an odor in the community if they are not able to pay their bills.”

Church leaders need to examine every budget item and ask if that expense is essential, Hood advises. If necessary, can the amount to be spent be reduced? Churches may need to reduce light usage, adjust the thermostat even if it means a little discomfort, sell off church vehicles and not replace departed staff.

When the country is experiencing financial instability, Hood says, churchgoers are receptive to financial insights from the pulpit. “In good times, people think they have everything under control themselves,” Hood says. “But during tough times people are actually more open to focusing their life on God.”

And Hood says donations actually may increase during a slump if leaders do a good job communicating the church’s mission and vision. “Some tremendous buildings were constructed during the Great Depression,” he says.

Meanwhile, Hurst says, Christians should be prepared to open their wallets and purses for godly, worthwhile causes.

“We should always take the opportunity to help, even if it’s just a little,” Hurst says. “Some may not be able to give as much in tough times as they did previously, but we dare not stop giving.”

Hunt says now is a time when families grow in their faith.

“Mom and Dad can demonstrate their values,” Hunt says. “There will be trials and we don’t know what lies ahead. But this is an opportunity to teach that we put our trust in God.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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