Most marriage and family therapists agree that one of the most common contributing factors toward marital disharmony is directly related to financial pressures within the home. Money does far more than talk; often it ravages.
We should not be surprised, then, when finances impact other areas of life, including the kingdom priorities and plans of local churches. Movement toward multiplication often exposes financial fears about the future as well as poor fiscal decisions of the past. In kingdom life, money does far more than talk; often it takes prisoners.
Some would like to think that financial pressure doesn’t shape the missional posture of church leaders. But imagine the pressure on the average North American pastor. There are certain fixed costs required to merely maintain the church facility—not to mention the needed technical modernizations that most assume are necessitated for a trajectory of growth. Then there are the budgetary demands of the plethora of ministries owned and operated by the church. The legacy of the church growth craze results in an ecclesiastical offering of a buffet of programs rivaling the feeding trough at the Hungry Heifer. Nothing particularly exceptional, but what we lack in quality we make up with in volume. And each of our unexceptional sacred menu offering needs cash. Always more this year than last. Sprinkle in a few big events that anchor the church calendar and we’ve got enormous fixed ministry costs that leave us precious little wiggle room. Finally, we must account for personnel. The upkeep of the facility and the management of the menu requires quality leaders with commensurate financial packages.
What’s a kingdom-hearted pastor to do?
The facility exists because of the generous giving of church members and deferring maintenance leads to disaster down the road.
Ministries are often sacred to certain constituencies and many have a track record of impact that’s difficult to discount. Start cutting ministries on a whim and many congregations will be quick to search for a new shepherd.
The staff are real people, sometimes dear friends. Telling them to find new jobs is a difficult prospect to imagine.
It looks like we’re stuck.
Principle #4: Learn to Live Off Less
- Own Your Commission
- Take Spiritual Responsibility for Your Jerusalem
- Make and Multiply Kingdom Disciples
- Live off of Less
- Prime the Pump
- Send Co-Vocational Teams
- Add in order to Sustain Multiplication
- Continually Celebrate Kingdom Advance
For multiplication to happen, church leaders must intentionally learn to live off less. They should anticipate the loss of financial and human resources that multiplication necessarily entails. There will be key givers who are now using their generosity to fund another work. There will be fewer givers overall. There will be fewer people to lead in the various ministries of the church. Wise leaders, recognizing these inherent costs, will prepare to live off of less in advance and build in ecclesiastical margin for a kingdom movement.
This preparation is analogous to an anxious couple expecting their first child. They understand that a new baby comes with certain costs—diapers, formula, cribs, clothes, and a future education. Some will decide that one spouse will forego their vocation to stay at home and raise their child, meaning a sizable decrease in the family’s monthly revenue inconveniently coinciding when their family expenses are actually increasing. Rather than waiting until the baby is born, wise parents prepare in advance by learning to live off of less. Some put the entire paycheck of one spouse in a savings account for months in advance in order to develop a sizable emergency fund and to train themselves not to depend on that revenue within their monthly budget.
The same is true for any church desiring to multiply. Living with open hands requires margin within our resources, both financial and human. Creating a deeper bench by backfilling essential leadership positions with budding new leaders is a competency to be mastered. Leaders to be sent out can work themselves out of a job and put someone relatively new in their place while the experienced leader is still around to provide mentorship and advise. This creates a culture where the church is not dependent on all of their leaders when the time comes to multiply. This practice puts new leaders in the spotlight early on rather than elevating them out of desperation when leadership voids are created.
Additionally, much like our fictitious couple, wise churches will hive off the financial giving of a subset of the congregation and prepare the church’s budget as if it is off limits for their day to day operations. Rather than utilizing all resources of the church in fixed expenses, churches can create a ‘multiplication fund’ that saves a sizable percentage of the church’s revenue in preparation for multiplication.
Finally, leaders must simplify everything in order to learn to prepare themselves for multiplication. The thought of selling extraneous assets, shutting down unessential programs, or releasing unnecessary or ineffective staff can be emotionally overwhelming. But small steps must be taken in that direction.
Leaders must continually evaluate what they can do without. Instead of assuming that growth necessitates a new children’s wing or educational building, what if leaders thought first about how growth might fuel multiplication, leading them to actually downsize facilities rather than increase them? Perhaps leaders could look for ways to streamline or combine ministry programs rather than adding others to an already overtaxed church calendar. Staffing needs are no different. When vacancies emerge and people transition to new roles, what if we thought first about how that vacancy might allow us to combine tasks among the current staff in order to free up financial resources to invest in future multiplication. Or, even better, what if we considered how we might commission high capacity leaders serving in associate roles to lead our efforts in multiplication elsewhere, and replace their function through a mobilized laity?
Learning to live off of less isn’t easy—not in a marriage, and certainly not in a church. But it is an essential practice of kingdom stewards. Without it, the church in North America will continue to be stymied in self-preoccupation and miss the mission of multiplication for which God has designed them.
Jeff Christopherson is an author and Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board.