Monday, December 05, 2011

Very Personal Life of a Church Planter: Finances

Part Two of the Very Personal Life of a Church Planter:
by Jim Moon, Jr.
This is the 2nd half of a letter I sent to church planter friends in South Florida. The first half is here

About the Very Personal Financial Life of a Church Planter
The apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 5 that most men long for respect and most women long for security. Both are ways to seek significance. Both are God-designed but sin-warped. Both respect and security will be challenged growth points during the process of church planting.

As with intimacy, finances can be a large but mostly hidden point of contention between you and your wife. You will face temptation to consider short-cuts or cheats that will provide you with the money or gratification you think you have to have. Like past sexual conduct, financial decisions made prior to starting a church plant can hinder intimacy, cut into available resources for rest and limit flexibility to give generously.

Finances are a more visible aspect of the very personal life that can impact public opinion of you and your church. Whether we like it or not, most people outside the church form their initial opinion of every pastor through the lens of what they see with TV preachers, read on the news, remember from past bad experiences or hear by way of gossip. It isn’t pretty. You are guilty by association until proven innocent by your faithfulness over time.

Take pains to set up your personal/family finances and church financial practices to be dependent on the Lord, above reproach, trustworthy and able to withstand scrutiny.

1. Avoid debt. Have a rigorous plan to pay off all consumer debt (everything except mortgage) before assessment. Seriously limit or avoid student debt even if it takes more time. The crisis of student loan debt may be the next systemic road block we face to getting church planters on the field. (See ‘I Owe U’ by Krstina Bell, TIME October 31, 2011)

It’s best to ask people to support a church planter who has paid off personal debts. Your wife should not be required to work to make payments on debt. There will be a lot of stress planting a church and you all have limited time for your marriage, family and church priorities.

2. Spend wisely within your family and church context. You and your family should live on a written budget within the context where God calls you to plant and the means he supplies you. Some planters have larger reserves and family resources than others. Be sure your spending adjusts to God’s call and provision for your family, not over-adjusts to the expectations of your culture.

There is a need to fit in. I hate TV but got cable. I bought different clothes and even learned to play golf to fit in. The temptation to get an upgraded car did pass through my mind, but really a used Accord is fine. It is wise to live on the humble side of your context.

3. Always tithe. You lead by example here. If you don’t tithe, you have no moral authority to ask others to tithe. And ‘tithe’ means 10%.

4. Save. You’ll need margin in your life and the flexibility to give to important projects. Can’t do that if you are scraping by month to month. Current wisdom is have three to six months of your expenses in reserve.

5. Raise all your support before you move or start public worship. This is your part-time job until it is completed. Raise at least 80% prior to moving to the field. Experienced fund-raisers will tell you people give to ‘anticipated vision’ so your urgent need to get support in place goes away after you move to the field and once you start public worship. If you are stuck here, find a coach who can help you.

Corporately as a Church Plant
1. Team finances. For the protection of the church’s name and those who handle the money, have a team where every role is double checked. A good sending agency will have these policies for you to follow.

Examples: Two people count the offerings, two people have access to all files, you do not have direct access to check signing or specific amounts people give. You will save yourself and your volunteers and staff much heart ache and potential scandal and rumor if you protect everyone by implementing these safeguards.

2. Open budget discussions. If you start with a launch team, discuss finances openly and frequently. Then quarterly open discussions about expenses and income build trust with those who join in after you start. People take notice when a church does not keep secrets!

3. Take offerings teach appropriately about money. Several scratch planters have found suspicions about money so high that they started public worship without taking up an offering. They opted for a locked box in the back of the worship space. This was wise for a season. However every church must be taught appropriately about money.

Take advantage of other programs to train people in budgeting, debt, spending, tithing, giving etc. Financial Peace University is more accessible to unchurched people but has only 1 of 13 lessons on giving. Crown Financial is a small group Bible study formatted series. Both are solid.

4. Preach about money as the Scriptures bring it up. Plus set aside annual times to emphasize giving. You can and should inspire people to sacrifice, but the pulpit is not the place for the nitty-gritty training so folks can get out of debt, live on a budget and free themselves up to give cheerfully. That is best done in smaller contexts and training.

And remember, tithing and sacrificial giving is part of following Jesus because it is our part of taking up our cross daily. We aren’t calling people to a life of comfort but to a life with a cross. We are called to bear one another’s burdens.

Who Bears Your Burdens?
One temptation is to put your faith in your finances. But that won't save you. Finances are a terrible savior, whether you have a lot or too little for your comfort.

Christ Jesus has taken the full weight of all your debts on Himself on the cross and knowing everything about your finances, God the Father punished Christ in your place. Trust Him, not your financial support. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness bought for you on the cross and he will provide everything you and your family need.

Action Items:
1. What financial road blocks and speed bumps do you need to address this month? Or in your church plant ministry plan?
2. What resources do you need to find and implement for your family and your church plant in the next six months? Next year?
3. How do you need to think differently about finances in light of Christ's work on the cross?