The Church Series (Churches are Stewards Too?)Pt. 38 (WARNING) Rated FG-7
Sheila and I attended a church that seemed to have everything, including adequate space for worship services, enthusiastic members, and plenty of parking spaces.
However, we quickly learned that there were plans for an elaborate new sanctuary that would cost millions of dollars.
“I believe this is God’s will,” said the pastor, who noted that the church would have to borrow a substantial amount of money to complete the structure. He described the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple, which he said was a standard for modern-day churches.
Shelia and I believed that if the new sanctuary really was God’s will He would provide the funds—in His time. But they were in the minority, and eventually the church borrowed $4.5 million to fund its construction plans.
Unfortunately, getting a loan wasn’t the biggest obstacle faced by the church. The leaders soon discovered that servicing their loan required tens of thousands of dollars in payments every month.
“It’s not unusual for large churches to endure $10,000- to $80,000-a-month mortgage payments,” says Dave Pollock in his book Business Management in the Local Church. “Consequently, during the last recession, the default rate on church bonds and mortgages increased dramatically.”
“It is assumed that God prefers to be worshipped in great edifices of glass and steel. I believe the mistake is that sometimes these buildings are monuments to an architect and may draw the curious to an engineering marvel, but [do these buildings] draw people to Christ?”
A good or bad example?
Churches should be among the best examples of good money management, since this topic is mentioned hundreds of times in God’s Word. Thus, churches will be accountable for their stewardship and for any negative witness it provides.
Unfortunately, Satan’s attack on stewardship has been very effective in modern-day churches, diverting God’s people away from sound biblical principles. Those principles should be applied in every aspect of financial decision making, including the following major issues.
Budgeting—Should a church have an annual budget? Some people say no because they believe a budget removes the element of faith and brings the church down to a worldly level.
On the opposite extreme are people who want to operate their churches like businesses, right down to eliminating “non-productive” benevolence programs.
Both extremes are wrong. A budget does not reflect a lack of faith but, rather, good planning (Luke 14:28-30). However, it must not override the spiritual goals of God’s church.
Savings Accounts—Church members commonly set aside money in savings accounts, but should churches do the same?
There are many references to saving in God’s Word (Proverbs 6:6-8, 21:20). In fact, a surplus should be normal to a church serving God. After all, God has promised to provide for every good work.
The key is to avoid establishing savings accounts for the wrong reasons. Churches may hoard money rather than save it for God’s work. The money is not allocated to any needs, present or future, and represents a lack of trust, just as in the case of the rich fool described in Luke 12:16-20.
Freedom from Debt—Perhaps no single issue regarding churches and money is more controversial than church debt. Some argue that if borrowing, within limits, is allowable for Christians, it must be allowable for the church too.
Borrowing is allowable, but should churches settle for what’s allowable or for what’s best? We know that God holds Christian teachers to a higher standard (James 3:1), and deacons and elders also are held to a higher standard (I Timothy 3). Since each of these is under the authority of the church, shouldn’t we assume that the church is held to an even higher standard?
Churches borrow because they lack surplus money to fund the projects they want to build. However, this money may be lacking because church members aren’t giving and/or God is withholding provision for something that isn’t His will.
Christians often are hindered in giving because they are financially bound by debt. And projects that appear to be God’s will on the surface may be nothing more than a strong desire for a better place in which to worship.
The church is to be a light of God’s truth in a world of darkness. Our world is out of sync with God’s Word on borrowing, and the evidence is reflected in high rates of bankruptcy and divorce.
When churches adopt the world’s philosophy of borrowing, they lose opportunities to become testimonies of God’s faithfulness and provision.
This is not to condemn or judge leaders of churches that borrow. They are doing what they have been taught. But we need to begin teaching that God can and will provide what He ordains by giving surpluses to His people at the appointed times. We also need to teach the benefits and importance of giving.
As David Pollock points out, there are many churches across America that have chosen to avoid debt, even though these churches are large and thriving.
“They have decided to build debt free and, in some cases, have delayed expanding until they could afford to do so,” Pollock says. “I am aware of two churches in Southern California—one rents a high school on Sunday with an attendance of about 4,000, and the other has converted a warehouse into a 1,200-seat auditorium that even has a balcony.”
Some Christians believe that churches must have large, elaborate buildings in order to attract people. However, these churches are attracting people because of what they teach, not where they teach.