Banking on God: Church Finances, Part 2


Yesterday, I mentioned the problem of cost overhead in our churches. It’s a big problem, too, as many of you thought your church should spend its money on more important things than mortgages and office supplies.

Let’s not talk about those first. Instead, I want to alienate every pastor who reads this blog by tossing out one word: bivocational.

I look at it this way: We should most definitely pay our pastors. We should also pay the head of the children’s ministry. In fact, we should pay a lot of people, because, let’s face it, the church secretary is truly the one who runs the church. Next to the Lord, that is.

I think those folks are worth money. However, I also think we spend too much money on staff salaries, especially at these massive churches that have 100+ people on staff. That’s nuts. And it’s a big drain on the mission of the church.

How so? Well, we somehow found a way to separate the lowly from the priestly class, a sort of sequel to the Old Testament’s temple system, the very system Christ fulfilled and therefore put to rest.

That separation gave us a full-time clergy and the “well, someone else is doing the ministry for me, so I’ll concentrate on everything that isn’t ministry” laity, an artificial distinction that pretty much denies the idea of the priesthood of all believers. As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, some are “more equal than others.”

In many ways, this has been a train wreck for pastors because no one treats them like a fellow brother in Christ. They are not one of us, so to speak, a view that facilitates all manner of craziness (cults of personality, depression, marital infidelity, and so on) that derails churches left and right.

Still, the greater hurt comes when those who aren’t “professionals” decide to lay down and do next to nothing to advance the cause of Christ. Sadly, under the bifurcated system of ministry we have today, that’s all too often the outcome.

Which is why I believe that pastors need to have a job outside the church. Even if it’s only a small part-time job, the pastor needs that dose of reality, that connection to the life his flock leads. Talk to some pastors and it’s all too clear they have no idea what goes on in the cubicles today. (I know. I read books by pastor/teachers talking about the modern work world and they just have no idea.) That works against them in many ways. I remember a pastor who preached that it didn’t matter what you looked like or how old you were, yet at the same time there were people in his congregation who were getting Botox injections so they wouldn’t be the old-looking one in the office and therefore subject to the first pink slip when the next round of downsizings came.

But more than that disconnection with the world of their congregations, having pastors work in the “real” work world affords churches the chance to have more than one pastor. A church could hire two pastors for the cost of one if both worked outside the church a few days a week. For a lot of churches who can afford only one pastor, having two bivocational pastors for the price of one full-timer would open up many more options and better broaden the giftings of the leadership in that church.

I also think that having bivocational pastors forces the people in the seats to step up. And that’s always a good thing. No one should be irreplaceable, even a pastor, and the more the congregation takes over the roles it should be handling apart from the lone office of the pastor, the better for their church.

Like I said, that won’t curry me any favor with the pastors who read this blog, but that’s my stance and I’m sticking with it.

I’m also going to quote this:

And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
—Matthew 17:4

Our tendency in the Church is to want to pitch that tent. This is why we have so many church buildings. In 2007 dollars, the price tag would have been $55 million...That tendency is also why the Lord Himself oversaw the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. He wanted the Church to get out there. To move. To not be tied to one place, to a building that can so easily become like cement shoes.

When it comes to church finances, for many churches, that church building has become the impediment that keeps them from running. Its very convenience slows them down, keeps the people thinking small, keeps them stuck in one place, imprisoned by a multi-million dollar mortgage.

But the temple? Well, you are the temple and so am I. Wherever we are is where the Church is. The Light moves where we move.

Track revivals around the world. Those revivals last until someone decides to pitch a tent, until the building committee comes together. Then it quietly peters out. That’s why revival burns bright in Chinese house churches and not so much here. It’s why God is using the poorest of the poor in today’s world to be the best evangelists of the message of Christ. They don’t even have the money for the tent so many others want to pitch. Somehow, making do with what they have is good enough for them. Because they’ve got another paradigm, a heavenly one.

I can’t help but think that our churches can be better by making do with less. By not being tied to the earth by wealth any more than a lone individual should be. Yet you look at so many church building projects and they seem a lot like this:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:16-21

I look at that passage and it’s all too easy to see a church enamored of numbers talking about even bigger numbers and a place to store them all. Tearing down the old church building to build an even bigger one, and in the process losing sight of what really matters to God.

As Americans, I think it’s knit into our DNA to have a building. The American Dream’s foundation is built on home ownership, and I suspect that ideal translates into our compulsion to erect a church building. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, a church abhors being plain. Funny how expensive it is to rig up a church building for maximum entertainment and comfort value nowadays.

Between paying staff and paying for a building (and its upkeep and utilities—ask to look at the electrical and heating bills sometime), a big chunk of cash goes away from fulfilling the overall mission of the Church, especially as it pertains to the world outside the walls of that very building.

I think a church that ran without a full-time pastorate and a semi-utilized building would find itself less burdened by titles and mortgages and more burdened by the lost. It would be a church that cornered on a dime rather than running up on the sidewalk like a semi.

It’s a hard sell, though.

I keep hoping some day that we get a flat-tax or value-added tax in this country, but then you’ve got an entire industry of tax-prep and legal people screaming bloody murder that their livelihood—based as it is on the arcane, cryptic mess our tax code is—will up and go poof. I’m sorry, but it needs to up and go.

And so it is with the way we do church, especially when it comes to spending too much of our money on things that may not be advancing the Kingdom. Too many people are deeply invested in the crusty institutions our churches have become. They’ll find a way to hang on kicking and screaming, resisting what may be better for us in the long run, so that they can maintain the status quo.

Unfortunately, the status quo ain’t doin’ all that well for us anymore.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

The Two Christianities: Comparison Table


JesusThis week we’ve looked at insights I received last weekend concerning American Christianity’s bifurcation into two streams of thinking and operation, Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity and Internally Motivated (IM) Christianity. To go back to the sources, please read “The Two Christianities” and “The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback….”

To put a final note on what we’ve discussed—and thanks to all you readers for an outstanding discussion!—I offer a table comparing EM and IM Christianity:

Externally Motivated (EM) ChristianityInternally Motivated (IM) Christianity
Our theology/doctrine is…ConservativeConservative
Our praxis is…ConservativeLiberal
The covenant that forms the basis for our belief system is…The Old—The LawThe New—Grace
Our mission:Preservation of power structures that serve as evidences of godlinessDisciple-making
Our source(s) of motivation and power is/are…Existing political and social authorities manipulated to preserve systems and institutions deemed godlyThe Holy Spirit
Power rests on…Dynamic, media-savvy, big-name leaders who determine which power structures are worth supportingNameless, faceless individuals who love not their lives unto death
Power is maintained through…Fear of lossDying to self
Failure is perceived as…Losing the culture warNot fulfilling the Great Commission
When threatened, our response is…An eye for an eyeTurning the other cheek
When threatened, we become…Aggressors (or martyrs for the cause should we fail)Joined to Christ in His sufferings
We counter threats with…The systems and institutions we empowerHumility and patient endurance
We suffer for…Our causeThe Lord
Persecution is to be…PreventedExpected
Christianity exists to be…PreservedGiven away
Our faith is…A means to an endIts own reward
Evidence for our faithfulness exists primarily in…Following a strict list of do’s and don’ts derived from the BibleManifesting the gifts and fruits of the Spirit
The community of faith exists primarily to …Preserve the American civil religion and protect the rights of the faith communityReach out to the lost and build up the household of faith
The community of faith seeks justice for…ItselfFor all
Our attitude toward benevolence is…God helps those who help themselves (though we may intervene for the very worst cases)Acts 2:44-45
We meet the needs of those who…Most directly benefit our causesAre needy, regardless of their ability to benefit us
We have what we have…Because we have done what is rightBecause God is gracious
We are righteous because of…Our compliance with the moral code we’ve constructed from Biblical principlesWho Christ is
We seek relationships with …Our own kindAll people
We make our way in society by…“Christianizing” secular systems and cultureDiscerning by the word and the Spirit what is worthy of our time and attention
We root out sin in…OutsidersInsiders
We judge…The secular society and its cultureThe household of faith
We believe people are motivated to obedience by…External forces (usually political when dealing with secular society) applied through a Biblical moral codeBeing born again, filled with the Spirit, and fellowshipping within a grace-filled community
We validate our apologetic through…WordsActions
We spread truth through…DebateThe way we live in obedience to Christ
Our ministry is the ministry of…Reproof and correctionReconciliation and compassion
Our spiritual focus is…InwardOutward
Our leadership is…Concentrated in a few powerful peopleDispersed throughout the group
We prioritize…Earthly goals first, spiritual goals secondSpiritual goals first, earthly goals second
We are…GuardiansAmbassadors

I’m sure more comparisons exist. I thank readers for prompting some of comparisons seen here. Some day in the future we may revisit this issue and I’ll add more to the table.

Until then, I pray that this week’s discussion has blessed you and made you consider moving on past the EM life into that of the IM Christian.

The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback…


The Two Christianities” post from yesterday seems to have touched a nerve out there in the Godblogosphere as it generated more traffic to this site than anything ever posted here.

I believe that others out there have insights into this issue. For that reason, I’d like to open up the comments for readers to contribute on a few select questions regarding the post. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.)

The questions:

  1. What evidences of EM Christianity do you see in the West? In your own church?
  2. Beyond the traits listed in “The Two Christianities,” what other characteristics define EM Christians, and how do those characteristics manifest themselves in practice? (Also answer for IM Christians.)
  3. How does one transition from being an EM Christian to an IM Christian? What resources might help the transition?

As a fourth input, any other insights you might be willing to share on this topic would be appreciated. I’m hoping to put together a summary post later this week.

Thanks in advance for your comments!