A few years ago I received an email from someone who had a question for me regarding the mounting debt issues at their church.
The email read:
“Our church is in debt. We owe the bank thousands. We now need the debt to function. We have become dependent on it. My spouse challenged the finance person, in private, about this and got no where. We suggested we stop doing stuff and paying so many people to run the church. These suggestions feel on deaf ears.”
Now, my perspective may be different than most in this situation, but since the question has been asked — and since I believe that many other Churches will most likely find themselves in the same boat one day — I wanted to take the time and respond here.
For a bit of background on my personal situation, let me make it clear that my wife and I have fairly radical views when it comes to the Church. Especially when it comes to church finances, offerings and tithes.
In our house church, no one took any salary. We used every penny received in our basket to buy groceries for needy families and to help people in our community.
Of course, most churches, do not operate in this way. In fact, most churches in America today are operating as a business. Because of this, these churches – like any other business – often suffer financially and face economic hardships that force many to make difficult decisions about staff, expenses and programs.
Like other businesses, Churches often lay off workers, cut back on programs and down-size their staff to make it through uncertain economic times.
But, could it be that God might be allowing the Church as we know it to go out of business so that she can realize that she was never intended to operate as a business in the first place?
I know, most Christians today cannot imagine Church without a paid professional clergy, a large building, a state-of-the-art sound system, and programs for youth and children. However, the historical evidence is that people have been operating without these things for literal centuries. These same churches have been making disciples and preaching the Gospel and serving the just fine, thank you. All without a building, a paid professional clergy, or programs or a thousand dollar sound system.
Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Jesus refers to His Church as a Family, a Body, an Organism and a Bride. He never treats her as a business and, in my opinion, the Scriptures reveal a very different DNA for Church than the model we’ve adopted here in the West.
One pastor friend recently shared that he had approached his board of directors at his church about not continuing to take a salary for his services. He wanted to take a job in the real world and not be a burden to the Body financially.
Honestly, the board’s real reason for not allowing my friend to work for free is because they wanted the leverage to fire him if he ever got out of line.
Over the last few years I have met three different pastors, all in California, who have found it necessary to let go of their church building and their paid staff due to financial hardships. In each case, these pastors made the decision to re-organize as a series of house churches.
What’s more: None of them would have taken the step towards House Church if their bank accounts had been flush with cash.
However, now that these churches have made the leap towards organic forms of “being Church” these three pastors have also discovered that, instead of shrinking in size, they are growing; both in maturity and in numbers.
So, instead of spending thousands of dollars a month on utilities and bills, they now spend hundreds of hours in community and in fellowship with one another every month. Better yet, they have discovered what it means to really be the Family of God without acting like a business.
Our house church, The Mission, ran for over 11 years. In that time, our family was very blessed to grow alongside others who shared our passion for living outward-focused lives of love. My family was blessed to open our home and discover true Koinonia fellowship and community with people who had a sincere desire to follow Jesus.
Because of this simplicity, we’ve all been blessed to encourage one another in our faith and to spur one another on to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.What’s more, we’ve been blessed to share our finances with one another, and with those we encounter in the community, who are in need. We’ve seen the power that comes when you can connect every dollar you give with the needs of actual people whose lives are sincerely blessed because of what we’ve shared with them.
Of course, this is no way to run a business, and that’s the whole point. Our passionate desire is to live our faith and share what we have been given without allowing profits or corporate strategy or thoughts of ROI to muddy the waters.
Perhaps God has other reasons for allowing financial pressures to put some Churches out of business? Who knows?
All I can say is that I have learned to be the Church in ways I never thought possible before.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.
Want Keith to come speak at your church or in your home town? Learn more HERE
His book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.
His Podcast: Heretic Happy Hour Podcast is on iTunes and Podbean.
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