HIGHER THINKING BLOG
Budgeting Insights from the Early Church by Dr. Gary G. Hoag
Four Church Budgeting Insights from the Early Church
God cares about the faithful handling of church finances and so does the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). I am privileged to serve on an ECFA Advisory Committee offering counsel linked to the development of financial literacy resources for churches.
One topic that I will speak to is church budgeting. Steward leaders who serve congregations of all sizes wrestle with budgeting issues. This post aims at offering four church budgeting insights from the earliest letter of the Apostle Paul: Galatians (c. 48-49). Therein, he gives specific instructions that together provide a paradigm for the allocation of church resources. In accounting terms, four “budget centers” emerge for the early church and for us today.
Galatians 2:9-10 reminds God’s servants, whether they minister among Jews or Gentiles, to “remember the poor.” What does it mean to remember the poor? Jesus urged disciples to care for “poor” outcasts from society as if they were caring for him (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). This includes sick, naked, hungry and thirsty people, as well as prisoners. What percentage of your church budget is allocated to serving the poor?
In Galatians 6:6, the Apostle Paul gives another clear guideline to the churches of Galatia: “the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” Just as workers receive a wage for their work, their teachers (often called “pastors”) labor at teaching. Paul does not tell God’s people to “tithe” as that is Law language, but says to “share (koinonia in Greek) all good things” with their teachers? Do you instruct your church to “share” so that the needs of those who provide instruction in the word are supplied? What percent of your church budget is allocated to caring for the needs of your pastors and teachers?
Near the end of this letter, the last two areas appear: programs and proclamation. Galatians 6:10 reads: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Christians in local churches are portrayed as “the family of faith.” What do family members do? They care for one another. Programs are modern parallels to this as churches deploy gifted people to serve the needs of the body. What percentage of your church budget is allocated to programs for the family of faith?
Local churches in Galatia in the first century and around the world today are not private clubs that serve only committed members. They “work for the good of all” and they do this whenever opportunities surface. That means churches make the most of every opportunity to proclaim Christ to the world in word and deed. This includes outreach in your Jerusalem (your city), Judea and Samaria (your region), and the ends of the earth (around the world). What percentage of your church budget is allocated to proclamation or missions?
A closer look reveals more than four “P” words. Each of these “budget centers” points to groups of people that God loves very much. He loves the poor and pastors. He loves the family of faith served by programs as well as those who are lost that may find the way to life through our proclamation efforts. Conspicuously absent, however, is another “P” word that surfaces as a cost center for many churches: property. The early church did not pour money into buildings because they were the building of God. Should we?
What excites me most about our church (that our son helped plant in Littleton, Colorado) and the church our daughter attends in Santee, California is that neither owns its gathering place. Once a church thinks it owns property, really it owns them. If you have property, use it for God. If you don’t, you likely have far more resources for ministry and less burdens linked to property management.
What if times change and our churches experience government persecution or seek church funds? I pray our reply mirrors this response from a Roman deacon to the Emperor Decius (c. 249-251). The Emperor Decius demanded their treasure. A deacon answered for the whole church, and required one day to comply with the order of the tyrant. When the term was expired, he assembled all the blind, and the lame, and the sick, that were supported by the church and pointing to them, told the Emperor, “These are the riches of the church, these it’s revenues and treasure.”
Someday all stewards will have to give an account before God (cf. Romans 14:12). For those responsible for church budgets, my advice is to put God’s resources in play in service to the poor, care for your pastor(s), offer programs for your congregation, and proclamation efforts that do good to all people. Call it preparation for your final audit!
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament – Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as ECFA Press Author and International Liaison as well as visiting professor at numerous seminaries. He has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity as the Generosity Monk. To receive his daily Meditations, visit www.generositymonk.com
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