Money is one of those topics that is really complicated in general, but even more so when brought up within a faith community.
Churches have messed this one up so bad that wars have been fought and countless people have lost their faith. Things like the prosperity gospel are a part of that and not only poison our credibility, but fundamentally go against the teachings of most religious traditions. When talking about finances at church, there are landmines everywhere- often due to things like greed, dishonesty, or wrecklessness creeping into church leadership.
On the other hand, so much good can come when churches leverage their resources to build community, care for the poor, and seek justice. In fact, according to a recent USA today article, churches often outperform governments, foundations, and NGOs when it comes to benevolence, philanthropy, and relief efforts, “about 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based”. I’ve seen this first hand as faith-full people I know have worked to end human trafficking, shelter the homeless, offer counseling to the broken, provide for refugees, and more.
Over the years I’ve become convinced that generosity, more specifically sacrificial generosity, is a good thing for the human soul. Our relationship to money cuts down deep into our being and can reveal where our heart is, and often it’s not where we say it is. If we use finances as a gauge of our heart, than our lives mostly orbit around ourselves, our fear of scarcity, and things like entertainment and eating out, not justice, mercy, and compassion.
I’ve also become aware that the value of church and its potential impact is tied to finances in some way. In an ideal world everything would be free and God would just deposit monthly resources into our bank accounts, but that’s not the world we live in. It turns out we have choices when it comes to what we do with the time, talent, and treasure that passes through our control during our limited moments on earth.
And that brings me to last week when our scrappy little church’s finance team met to talk through our budget for next year. As we looked at our shoe-string budget I was inspired by the fact that we give a quarter of our Sunday offerings away each month to an outside cause and can still mostly pay our own bills, but also filled with tension around this subject. I’m very much still learning how to talk about money in a way that both honors the pain and mistrust that many feel when faith communities bring it up, but also acknowledges the reality that being a part of church should not be a consumer experience, but something that requires the sacrificial generosity (not only financial) of us all.
So here are some of my unfiltered thoughts that were swirling around my heart as we talked money. I share these as both a confession to things I’m working on like pride, judgment, entitlement, and lack of faith, and also as an honest window into the practical realities of organizing a sustainable faith community.
“how do we talk about $ and not be weird?”
“my colleagues make more than me”
“what’s a retirement plan?”
“kingdom benefits are great but real benefits would be nice someday…”
“we seriously do so much good out of so little money, it’s insane”
“why is the Bay so f-ing expensive?”
“it’d be nice to work at a rich church”
“oh wait, we’re a rich church by many standards”
“if only people gave like they do for gyms, yoga, tv subscription, eating out…”
“seriously though it seems like people feel entitled to church being free”
“but if it wasn’t for the generosity of some people, none of this would have been possible”
“I wish we could afford childcare or a kids ministry or a children’s director”
“maybe that whole tithing thing is a good idea.. i dunno”
“actually I’ve heard some awful talks on tithing and seen it manipulated in the worst ways, I’m NEVER doing that”
“why did I decide to weddings, funerals, premarital for free again?”
“if we had a little bit more money we would seriously start the revolution, Kanye, could you tweet Zuckerberg for us and set up a meeting?”
“I’m so glad we don’t spend $ on stupid shit like fog machines and stage lighting or billboard advertisements”
“it’d be great to have our own space some day”
“I hope we never have a space that we have to manage some day”
“why doesn’t people’s giving match their belief in the power of this community?”
“I suck at this”
“I’m probably the entitled and privileged one”
“what do we do if people stop giving?”
“I wonder what it’s like to have a real job?”
“I probably couldn’t do anything else…”
“it’s amazing that I get paid for this.”
“we actually have it pretty good if you think about it”
“thank god for our finance team, they are way smarter than I am”
“at the end of the day we’ll be OK, God has always provided, always, and it’s the privilege of my life to be a part of this community”