When I went through medical residency, I got paid the same whether I ordered 50 lab tests on a patient, or didn’t order any at all. When I got out though, I learned that doctors in their own practice make more money when they order more stuff. When they make more money, they can move into a better office, thereby attracting more patients and, thereby again, make more money. Doctors aren’t just in the profession of health care; they are also in the health care business.
So, what about church? Isn’t it the same? It isn’t just religion. It is the religious business. Just like the doctor, if the church brings more people on staff they can do more stuff, more people will attend the church, they make more money and can pay, and even raise, those salaries. It is a sad thing, but we have all seen it. Many people are in the religious business because it gives them a steady job.
You may think I’m a cynic, but the religion business brings in about $1.2 trillion dollars each year. If American religion were a country, its budget would be the 15th richest in the world, beating out 180 other countries. At the same time, American streets are full of homeless people and the gospel can’t get to the ends of the earth because we don’t have enough money to pay for it.
Take a look at the list below and, based on your knowledge of the New Testament, put it in order of importance.
- Funding missionaries
- Building a church building and/or paying costs related to that building
- Caring for the poor and needy
- Paying the salary for church staff
- Taking care of widows and orphans
There isn’t an exact right answer, but numbers 1, 3, and 5 should go to the top and numbers 2 and 4 should go to the bottom, if number 2 should be on the list at all (Remember that we are looking at this through the eyes of the New Testament. Churches didn’t build buildings until the second century.)
Now, look at the same list and order it in the way that your church prioritizes. On average, churches spend 90% of their budget on salaries, property and operations, with 10% going to ministry to the needy and to missions. To break it down, when you put $100 in the church offering plate, $40 goes to the pastor and other staff, $20 goes for the building, $30 goes for support of programs, insurance and other stuff, $5 goes for “domestic missions”, which I hope includes helping poor people, $4.90 (98%) goes to missions among people that already have access to the gospel, and 10 cents goes to missions among un-evangelized people groups.
If the supposed highest priority of the Church is the Great Commission, then that is obviously upside down. Therefore, I wish to admonish us all, including those responsible for church budgets, to be strategic in the way that we allocate money.
First of all, we have to recognize that, if we are really slaves of Jesus (Ephesians 6:6), then all of the money that passes through our hands doesn’t belong to us, but to him. Don’t keep God’s money.
Secondly, throw out the tithe rule. The first century Christians hated it because they were separating from Judaism and it was just another rule from the synagogue.
The problem with tithing is that, if my income was 10 million dollars last year, I would be giving 1 million to God and, in good conscience, I would keep 9 million for myself. That is way too much money for a mere slave. That is why Paul said that each of us should give according to our income (1 Corinthians 16:2). The best way is to prayerfully work out how much money you need to live on and give everything above that to the Lord.
This is where I will lose the people that make a good income. When you have a lot of money it is painful to really consider how much you need, versus how much you want. Wealthier people like the 10% rule because it much easier and allows you to keep more for yourself.
The last thing to remember is that, God doesn’t love you more if you give more. He loves you 100% every day. But you have lost brothers and sisters out there that need to be brought into the family through the gospel. And there are homeless and hungry people in your community that you can help. It is a joy to hand out God’s money to strategic causes.
Main point: There is a limited amount of money given to needy causes each year, and not all needs are equal.
So what? As a steward of God’s money, you must be strategic in what you do with it. Don’t just put all of it in an offering plate.
I could not agree more. I fear the reality is that the Church budget reflects a larger issue of our personal budgets. The Church budget is upside down because the budgets of it’s people are the same. The Church is no more than a refection of it’s people. Change will never occur until we repent or our own materialism. Love you guys.
If I understand you correctly, you are saying that even Christians are selfish and the stuff that they do as a church is largely to scratch their selfish itch.
That very last line really resonates with me. I have often felt a discord with what I WANT my offering to go to (actual ministry to the poor or to missionaries) vs what I know it will go to if I just put it in the offering plate. But then I feel guilty somehow that I’m not giving all of it to the local church…
Another thing I struggle with is the notion of retirement planning which is recommend by 100% of everyone giving advice on finances but seems contrary to the thoughts in James 4: 13-17 about confidently making plans for the future.
It is hard to get over that feeling of guilt. I usually give money directly to what I think is wise, and when the plate comes around I put in $10 as a tax to pay for that guilt. I have heard sermons using Malachi to say that you must give through the local church but I think that is an inappropriate manipulation of scripture. Others would disagree, though.
Would love to hear your thoughts on retirement planning like the comment above mentioned. We have had several financial advisors come through and talk at the residency. We are not planning on starting any funds for retirement but a lot of other residents we respect and love are.
Please never stop writing this blog!!
The answer that I heard, when I was your age, was that Jesus did talk about making and following through on plans. I wasn’t crazy about that answer, though, because Jesus also talked about not making plans. And he talked about not storing in barns. As I have gotten older, though, I think that I see what those guys meant when they used those verses.
In several places in the NT Jesus talked about the reality of old age when one is beyond the ability to care for themselves. The verses about making plans do apply. Plus the verses about children caring for their parents–implying to me that there does come a time in which older adults can’t keep working and may need to rely on their children, or on their savings.
My take is that, being greedy and saving up in barns, while neglecting generous giving to the poor and missions, would be wrong. But making insurance payments and saving up a bit each month is wise. I don’t want Jesus to come back and catch me with a personal fortune in investments, but neither do I want to neglect saving for myself and spouse while I am working and have opportunity. I feel like that is wise, rather than selfish, saving.
Grace is tricky. If there were strict rules, they would be laid out in the NT. On the other hand, I don’t want to take advantage of grace and be selfish toward God. These are the two things that I keep in mind when dealing with so many questions like this.
Thanks for the encouragement about the blog. I’ll do my best to keep it going.
Thanks that is helpful. I have another question. We were talking about where the tithes from our church should go. I said 75% at least to unreached unengaged areas overseas. But then someone else said that the second greatest commandment is love your neighbor so the most should be going to our neighborhood. But I feel like we can give time to our neighbors and money should go overseas? I am struggling with how to balance this.
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Please be patient. I’m going to answer your question in my next blog post, okay? Tell your friends.
Thank you for the answer 🙂