Thursday, June 4, 2015

In the details…

Lots of pastor types think the phrase, “The devil’s in the details,” applies to budgeting and church finances. Present them with a balance sheet and they’ll react like it’s Satan’s spawn. I don’t, honestly, blame them! For starters, when ministers discuss money, we’re dealing with something that’s sensitive. Most folk don’t have as much as we’d prefer, or need to have. So there’s an understandable hesitation about pouring salt on wounds that church members may have, but aren’t readily visible.

Then, there’s the fact that the church budget includes the pastor’s salary. It’s awkward to discuss a document that says how much you’ll get paid if people just keep freely giving their money. I know… Of course, the pastor’s salary is about more than an individual. It’s how the church values the work that any pastor does. Same goes for musicians, janitors, anyone an organization compensates. That conversation, though, rarely seems so theoretical. Typically, it’s held when you know who’s receiving these funds, whether you like her vision, his preaching. At that point, money talk can get personal, and uncomfortable. So many tacitly agree to avoid the issue.

But here’s something I’ve learned about church finances: there can be glory in the details too! After all, besides the Bible, we have few better resources than our budget to tell us what our community care about. In other words, those dollars and cents and line items transcend greed v. compassion, failure v. success, scarcity v. abundance. They’re about identity. Who we are as God’s people can be interpreted from them. And maybe we don’t like sometimes what they say! But at least our budget tells us something we should know, and therefore, the foundation on which we can grow.

That matters these days, because among the hardest thing every church faces- and many Christians face too- is figuring out who they really want to be. And not in the shallow sense of contemporary or traditional music, young families or intergenerational. I mean that we need to understand the direction we’re willing to walk to follow Jesus. That requires choices. Too frequently, church folk won’t make choices. How many church signs read “Everyone’s welcome!”, as if they’re the first to consider that idea interesting? Too many. And it’s not interesting. Unless you REALLY mean it, and welcome gay people, poor people, conservatives, liberals, the handicapped, bigots, Spanish-speakers, repentant child-molesters… Well, then, that would make a unique church.

But most churches don’t actually mean “everyone is welcome”. They just want to sound nice. Which means they don’t want to accept the choices they’ve already made about who they’ll be, who they intend to serve, or include in their relationships. And the problem with that is, when we don’t intentionally claim our identity in Christ, we give power to other, less-holy forces in our society to choose our identity for us. We let the privilege of wealth or class, ethnicity or gender, whether our team “won” the last election or not, dictate who we’ll be, who we’ll invite to dinner, who we’ll extend an invitation to fellowship. None of that is Christian.

What’s Christian, instead, is a community of people pooling their money to help struggling neighbors get a step ahead in life, donating their time to delight others with joyful music made unto the Lord, paying someone to lead them in that most counter-cultural of experiences these days – shutting up and listening for a word of challenge, insight and inspiration (not mediated by a smartphone) – in the hope they’ll be made better for it, and through them, God’s world.

That’s why I like budgets and church finance conversations. They tell us who we want to be. Besides, I had good mentors teach me how to read those documents and not be afraid! 

As you know, we recently finished our pledge campaign for next year’s budget. Therefore, our leadership is making those choices at present. You should know that we’re very grateful for your ongoing support, trust and generosity!

You should also know that we haven’t received as much pledged support as we anticipated. We’re still several thousand dollars short in meeting our hoped-for budget. If you can give more, we’d be grateful. Also, for those faithful givers who haven’t pledged: thank you and please keep giving! But if you can tell us what you anticipate giving, it will help our plans be as accurate and responsible as we’d like them to be. Thus, to everyone, please all pray about your pledging and respond to me, Mike or John quickly. We’ll meet to consider our budget- that is to say, who we are, who God’s calling us to be- after church June 14. Thank you for helping make that possible.

Grace and Peace,
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