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.

  1. Funding missionaries
  2. Building a church building and/or paying costs related to that building
  3. Caring for the poor and needy
  4. Paying the salary for church staff
  5. 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.