IT'S THAT TIME of the year again. As a department head, your job includes submitting a ministry budget for the following year.
This year you are in need for a pair of new remote control, IP enabled, tilt/pan/zoom, 1080p cameras to stream the Sunday morning worship services. The problem is that at $2,300 a piece, they do not fall under the "impulse purchase" category. You have to budget for them. The challenge comes when facing the harsh reality that affects not just churches, but all nonprofit organizations.
The exercise of proper stewardship is difficult these days when our culture is bombarded from all directions with "invitations to give" to all sorts of worthwhile causes. Even in growing, healthy churches, giving is down and the demands of ministry cause the church's budget to go up.
In addition to this harsh reality, the piano is in need of tuning, the kitchen needs upgrades to pass inspection, the mission budget was cut again and the staff hasn't had any raises for the third consecutive year. Your senior pastor's world is so far removed from technology that he genuinely wonders why we don't forgo the remote controlled cameras, and ask Aunt Edna to just hold up an iPhone and Skype the sermon every week from the second pew.
With all this to consider, what is a poor tech director to do? In my opinion, there are two critical questions we should all be asking when putting together a budget or making a significant purchase. And in case you are wondering, neither of these questions include how to find something to convince, coerce or extort the senior pastor to approve
Critical Question # 1:
What is God calling us to do? One of the causes for the downfall of so many ministries comes from asking the wrong questions. In the case of budgeting and finances, many churches and departments
begin by asking "What can we afford to do?" or "How much money do we have this year?"
I believe this is a very dangerous place to start. If the church were to operate this way, the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospels would've never taken place. Jesus could've asked the disciples, "How many loaves of bread do you have? Five? Is that it? And only two fish? OK. Good enough. Go make some fish sandwiches for the first four or five people you find."
Thanks be to God it did not happen this way. It never does. In the end, through God's blessing, a large multitude was fed and there were even leftovers. I find it very encouraging to know that the little we have is always enough in the hands of Christ. So we don't begin with the words, "What can we afford to do?" Instead, the church is to ask "What is God calling us to do?"
It's a subtle difference, but it sets the stage for a very different kind of ministry. If we believe God directs the work of the church, we have to believe as well that when God calls, God provides. Or as I've heard some say before, God pays for what God orders. If you don't believe me, ask Abraham, and Miriam, and Moses, and Joshua, and Ruth, and Esther, and Peter. You get the idea. One disclaimer is in order. Discerning the call of God is easier said than done.
When it comes to defending a church budget, the God-call card is an easy one to play (and abuse). It is also incredibly disarming when it comes to having healthy conversations. Remember that the call of God generally comes after a time of prayer and discernment, involving the voice of the church. Once we have asked the first critical question and wrestled with the answer, we are ready to ask the second question.
Critical Question # 2:
What can we afford to do? I know. I know. Didn't I say we weren't supposed to ask this?
Actually, I said we weren't supposed to ask this first. It is not a good foundation for ministry. That said, at some point we are supposed to actually count the loaves and fishes. If it is a matter of budgeting, it is also a matter of faithful stewardship.
Stewardship is best defined as the proper and prayerful care of all God has entrusted to us. In the case of church expenses, we are dealing with the sacrificial and heartfelt offering of God's people. We know when church members give to God they are giving more than just their money. Every offering plate, direct debit and online gift represents hearts given to God's service. These gifts are precious, need to be handled with care and used in the wisest way possible. Budgeting with this in mind is incredibly complex. On the one hand we are to treat God's gifts with care. On the other, we cannot compromise ministry quality or effectiveness.
God deserves our best. I once heard a megachurch pastor address a group of recently ordained pastors, when he asked, "How much ministry do you think can be done with a hundred dollars?" No immediate answer was offered. The pastor then broke the silence and simply said, "With a hundred dollars you can only do a hundred dollars worth of ministry." How true. The second critical question may be unpleasant,
but it is absolutely necessary. What can we afford to do?
Two critical questions.
Two very different approaches to ministry. Two 1080p remote controlled IP cameras still to purchase. What is one to do? Here's an idea. Maybe the church is called to live in the tension. First, discern the call of God. Second, take count of how many loaves and fishes God has provided.
Then go and find the absolute best deal you can find!