There’s a scandal going on in the church today.
It is one of the biggest scandals in church history, yet it remains invisible to most of us.
No, it’s not the sexual sins of some of our leaders. It’s not the physical, emotional and spiritual abuse of church members, or the cover-up of those sins. It’s not the self-righteous legalism on one side, or the moral compromise on the other. It’s not even our tendency to quarrel and back-stab each other.
Those scandals are horrifying, for sure. Many of them have been well-documented and need to be exposed to the light of day even more.
The scandal I’m talking about has flown under the radar for a long time – centuries, actually. It’s so common we seldom think of it as the sin it is, or how badly it hurts people and tarnishes the reputation of the church in the eyes of those affected by it.
The most widespread sin of the modern-day church is poor stewardship.
Too many churches are mishandling the money that has been entrusted to us. Many churches are enslaved by unsustainable debt. More churches close their doors every year because they are unable to pay their bills than for any other reason – maybe more than all other reasons combined.
No, this is not just a giving problem. Or a bookkeeping issue. It’s sin. And it is a scandal.
But it remains a virtually unknown and invisible scandal.
Here’s one small example of it.
Bad Stewardship Hurts Real People – And Our Testimony
“They won’t rent to you because you’re a church.”
With those words, the whispered voice on the other end of the phone confirmed what I had suspected. For months I’d been trying to rent a property for our church to meet in on Sundays, only to be turned down each time by the company that owned the building we wanted. But I never got a valid explanation. So I kept at it.
The voice whispering the truth to me on the phone was the receptionist who I had talked to on multiple occasions. She knew I was frustrated and she wanted to help. After hearing what she said, I got angry. I was about to give her a piece of my mind about religious non-discrimination, but she kept talking. Her next words shocked and embarrassed me.
“I’m a Christian, too,” she told me, “so I’m ashamed to say this. But the reason they won’t rent to churches is because the last four churches we rented to never paid on time and all of them walked away owing us thousands of dollars.
“Everyone else we rent to has a proper budget and pays on time. And if they didn’t, we’d sue them. But what can we do when a church doesn’t pay? My boss isn’t a Christian, but he doesn’t think it’s right to sue a church, so the only answer is not to rent to churches any more.”
I apologized to her on behalf of the body of Christ for how her business had been hurt financially. Then I thanked her for her honesty and we said goodbye. I hung up, saddened again by the behavior of people who sully the name of Jesus because we’re not keeping our financial house in order.
Bad Stewardship Hinders Generosity
Churches regularly complain that people don’t give as much to their church as they used to. That is true. But one of the primary reasons people don’t give is when they see a ministry that’s not treating their gifts with good stewardship.
No one wants to give to a church just to help us pay off our debts. Especially debts that we should never have incurred in the first place.
A church that is struggling to pay off its debts is not free to do what God is calling us to do.
The Bible couldn’t be more clear on this subject. According to Proverbs 22:7, “the borrower is servant (slave) to the lender.”
When we default on our loans, we are stealing from the people who supplied goods and services to us. When a once-vibrant church has to disband and sell its building to pay its debtors, the church as a whole becomes just a little more irrelevant and a lot less trusted to everyone who sees it happen.
But a church that honors its obligations and works within its financial means is free to do ministry and bless people. Including the ministry of being a good example of financial stewardship that others can learn from.
People want to give. God wants to provide. Our churches need to be places worthy of those gifts and that provision.
It’s About Integrity, Not Money
Do a Google search for church giving trends and you’ll find thousands of articles about how people are giving less and how to get them to give more. Then do a Google search for trends in church debt and you’ll find … exactly the same articles.
There are thousands of articles about how people are giving less and how to get them to give more, but almost nothing on how many churches close every year due to overwhelming debt – not to mention those that are falling behind on paying their mortgages, rent and salaries.
We place almost all the blame on the shoulders of tithers and givers (or non-tithers and non-givers), but we pay almost no attention to how well (or how poorly) most churches are managing the funds that are given to them.
Jesus said it best in the Parable of the Talents when he told us we have to be faithful in the lesser things (like money) before he will entrust us with greater things (like an expanded ministry).
Monetary stewardship is a test. A test of our integrity. A test that too many of us are failing. This may sound terribly unspiritual to some, but we can’t pray our way out of problems like this, because bad stewardship undercuts the impact of our prayers.
Churches must have more integrity in the way we manage the money that’s been entrusted to us.
The ministry of the church depends on it. The effectiveness of the church depends on it. The reputation of the church depends on it.
This is not a money issue. It’s an integrity issue. We need to do better.
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