In one church I served, people were divided on the issue of how to budget in tight financial times. Do they support local church expenses or benevolence beyond the local church? Passionate people on both sides of this issue argued their diverse positions. It is an understatement to say that their passion made for very interesting congregational meetings.
Believing that the contentious debates were not as productive as they might be for this congregation, I offered them a different way forward. I suggested that we apply Jesus’ teaching regarding love of self and neighbor and use it to guide for budgeting for operating and benevolent expenses. If we saw our congregation (our operating budget) as our self and our benevolent budget (Our Church’s Wider Mission) as our neighbor, we might find a way forward.
If we were in a position in which we had to cut our operating expenses, instead of automatically cutting OCWM enough to make up for the shortfall in operating expenses we would determine the percent of the cut that we needed to make in the operating budget and we could only cut OCWM by that same percentage amount. Or better yet, if at the end of the year we ended with a surplus, instead of keeping all of the surplus for ourselves (loving of self), we obligated ourselves to pass on the percent of our surplus to OCWM (loving our neighbor).
This faithful practice worked well because it addressed an inherent problem in the budget process — the neighbor does not have a voice or physical presence at that table. The neighbor (in this case OCWM) was not at the table to give voice to why that ministry was vital to all of our sister churches. By comparison, there are always many voices at the table who will say why the congregation’s budget should not be reduced.
Once we put this method into practice, it worked well for us for year after year. The contentiousness of the meetings disappeared. But better yet, our congregation was using a Biblical approach to a very practical part of its work. There is nothing like living out the gospel.
More resources on Philanthropy, Stewardship and Faithful Finances.