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
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.”
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
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
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
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).
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