Monday, September 16, 2013

An Ugly Secret

This is the season for church budgets.  A few churches operate without them,  but most churches give them "Holy Writ" status.   When prepared and adopted, these church budgets become the grand directive for the life of the church.  Outsiders might think top billing would belong to the Bible, but the real insiders know it is that document prepared with calculators, spread sheets, financial campaign reports, and enough graphs and charts to choke several elephants.  No large successful church would dare to operate without one and most smaller churches consider having one to be a sign that it has moved up into "Big Boy" status.
However, there is an ugly secret to be told about church budgets.  The secret is that it is a flawed process which creates them. What makes it flawed is the way the sacred community allows its work to be shaped by secular influences.   In most churches a budget is prepared and then monitored through the year by a Finance Committee.  This committee is usually filled with church members who are bankers, accountants, financial consultants, and small business owners.  When someone with such credentials joins the church, they are seen as "shoo-ins" for the Finance Committee.  And so, from the very beginning this important committee gets filled with good knowledgeable folks who have a profit/loss mentality.   In this financial world of the church, gifts are spoken of as income while ministries are regarded as expenses.
One of the really strange things about the church is the way it seems to take such delight in adopting secular practices into its mode of operation.  Suddenly the church is no longer the Body of Christ in the world, but a small business to be managed by a CEO Pastor and its governing board.  Market place business practices and staying in the black become more important than God's vision for His Church.  After all, God's vision for the church will likely require re-structuring the financial priorities which nurture the institutional church at the expense of the spiritual community.  Most Finance Committees are too invested in caring for the needs of the institution to allow such radical change.

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