Does your church embezzle God’s money?

In David Platt’s book “Radical” he recalls while preparing to go to Sudan, that he was reading a certain Christian news publication that recorded two contrasting headlines side by side. He states “On the left one headline read, ‘First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.’ A lengthy article followed, celebrating the church’s expensive new sanctuary. The exquisite marble, intricate design and beautiful stained glass were all described in vivid detail. On the right was a much smaller article. The headline for it read, ‘Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees.’ Knowing I was about to go to Sudan, my attention was drawn. The article described how 350,000 refugees in western Sudan were dying of malnutrition and might not live to the end of the year. It briefly explained their plight and sufferings. The last sentence said that Baptists had sent money to help relieve the suffering of the Sudanese. I was excited until I got to the amount. Now remember what was on the left: ‘First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.’ On the right the article said, ‘Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan.’ Five thousand dollars. That is not enough to get a plane into Sudan, much less one drop of water to people who need it. Where have we gone wrong?” I’ll admit, and thankfully, that Baptists as a whole give tremendous amounts of time and money to missions of all sorts, but even so, it’s extremely important that we not only pray about our churches’ budget, but analyze it practically and make some changes. When people tithe in your church, where is that money spent? The Bible teaches that pastoral staff should be paid, but a fresh new reading of those texts revealed to me that the pay should only be enough to meet their basis needs: food, clothes, etc. Concerning pastoral salaries, most pastors are likely not overpaid, but some are. Where is the money spent in your church? Does your church spend thousands of dollars entertaining the saints to ensure a good experience and that they will continue to come back? Has it become a contest with another church in the area? Are people really born-again if we have to provide for them a $5000 dollar concert to ensure their interest in church? While reading the book “Radical” I was often brought under deep conviction about my pastoral leadership. Just a few months ago we completed a new sanctuary at Enon. Granted, we did a lot of things to cut costs, saving likely 250,000 in labor costs, etc, but still ended up borrowing over 200,000 for our building. I have questioned the decision to build and have asked God to forgive me if I led our church to do something He ultimately didn’t want. I know God can use the building and has, but I wonder daily what we could have used the money for that we are paying the building off with. In the New Testament you only see Christians meeting in homes or borrowed buildings. Buildings, like other property owned by the church, often become a money pit and an object of higher reverence than merited biblically. While in Honduras, as in Brazil, I was struck by their lack of concern for their buildings in which they worshipped in. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t unreasonably wreck-less or careless about their building, but it was just a facility to use to facilitate a group of people for worship, and not something thousands of dollars will continue to be poured into. In America we pave parking lots at the cost of 100,000+ dollars because people don’t want to get their cars muddy or women might have certain shoes on that are hard to walk in gravel with. How can we untangle ourselves from the web of materialism in our church budgets? That’s up for each individual church to wrestle with and come to a conclusion about, but we are spending way too much on buildings, concerts, entertainment, and not enough on Kingdom matters. Wouldn’t a good goal for a church be at least 50% budgeted toward the Great Commission and 50% focused on internal matters of the church? What is the ratio now in most churches? I would guess it’s more 70-80% internal and the rest, what’s left, to missions. Some Christians will point to Matthew 26:6-13 that records Mary anointing Jesus for His burial. The disciples complained that the money could have been used to give to the poor, but Jesus said that Mary, spending a lot of money on Him that day, did a good thing. Jesus goes on to say “Why trouble the woman? For she has wrought a good work upon me. For you have the poor always with you, but me you have not always.” Some would point out that their spending of money for elaborate buildings etc falls under the same concept that Jesus spoke of. The problem with that is that I’m not sure we are really doing all our spending of Kingdom money for Jesus. Much of the spending could be directed toward our pride in a building, program, etc, and not something that is “needed” by God for the Kingdom. Also, in the context of those verses, Jesus was being anointed for His burial, a one time event, and an event that was necessary for the Kingdom. Jesus certainly wasn’t advocating ignoring of the poor, but was simply saying that for this one instance, take care of me while I’m here, later you will have the poor that you can give money to. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.” Could it be that on that day we will be held accountable as to how our church budgeted God’s Kingdom money. If we spent it all on ourselves, ensuring the saints will come back to church in a entertainment crazed society, making sure our buildings are ones in which people will be impressed with and continue to frequent, etc, will we be charged with embezzling God’s Kingdom money on that day? If your church gets bigger, my hindsight advice would be to take a large percentage of them and plant a church, and that would free up some space in your sanctuary. Instead of spending thousands to entertain your adults and youth, take them on real practical ministry outings that challenge their faith. You might not have as many attendees, but you could change the world. Instead of women’s an men’s groups that consume a large part of a churches’ budget, use that group to outreach to local needy people and do your Bible studies on site of the mission (how many Bible conferences/etc, do we need to spend money on?). We are infatuated with numbers, and measure our success with such. To ensure the numbers stay high, money is needed. Contrast that to Jesus’ ministry. He started out with thousands, ended up with 11 at the cross, and actually only one of those attending that event. After the ascension He had a 120 member congregation in the Upper Room. Jesus spend His life for those disciples, but not loads of money. He taught His disciples how to carry out the Great Commission, but with little entertainment with the exception of Peter’s big mouth. The ones in it for the bread left long before the cross and never came back. God help us to not spend Kingdom money trying to get the bread eaters to attend our worship services. God help us untangle ourselves from this web of materialism that has swept into the church, this web of the American Dream controlling our budgets in order to ensure church growth or more likely, goat herding. I personally pray for forgiveness and for each of our churches to search our budgets to see where all of God’s money is actually going. Is it going to His Kingdom work or to our Kingdom work? There is hope and time for change. Maybe some of you need to start a church and set up the right budget from the beginning and change your community with outreach that requires more time, grace, love, listening heart, than money. Grace and understanding to us all, Pastor Kevin Boone

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