Sunday, June 17, 2007

Emergency Budget

In the fall, I mentioned in one of my messages that we were facing a financial problem--our giving does not equal our expenses, and we have been drawing on savings to make up the difference. I noted that the source of our financial problem was three-fold:

  • Not tithing, or giving a tenth of our income, as God instructs us in the Bible (dividing the money given by the number of households who are members or regular attenders, if we assumed that we were tithing, we would also have to assume that all the families in our church are near federal poverty levels).
  • Not growing (attendance figures for October 2005 and 2006 were nearly identical)
  • Overstaffing (a church of our size cannot support two full-time pastors for a prolonged period)
Looking at these three factors, I also noted that change in any one of the three would solve the financial crisis. If we were to start tithing (but not necessarily growing), we would not have any problem meeting expenses. If we were to begin growing (but not necessarily tithing), we would eventually have enough people to share the financial burden and meet expenses. Or we could meet expenses by cutting staff.

Any one area would fix our financial problems, but that doesn't mean that the three areas are equal in importance--because the first two issues are spiritual issues. In other words, our financial failures have been caused by our spiritual failures, and addressing this as a financial issue does nothing to alleviate the spiritual failure in our congregation. It would only sweep it under the rug; it would only deal with the symptom, not the problem.

The reason that we are overstaffed is because we expected to grow, and we staffed ahead of our growth so that we could be ready for it. Now, I'm happy to report that we have grown some since we last talked about all this in October; unfortunately, nearly all our growth has been from people who were already attending other churches--we have not been accomplishing the core task that Christ gave his church of making disciples. And the growth has not continued, it has leveled off, and it is still not enough growth yet to sustain two pastors.

In preparing the 2007 budget, the Church Council approved an ordinary budget that contained significant cuts from the 2006 budget (which we have been operating under), as well as an "emergency budget" that would go into effect if the savings account balance fell below $5000. On June 8, I got a call from Taryn Barlow, our Finance Core Team leader, that we had reached the emergency budget threshhold.

The Church Council had an emergency meeting after church on June 10. The elders discussed the issue on June 12. And the Church Council met again on our regular meeting date of June 14 to tackle the implementation of this emergency budget. Here is a summary of what will happen now under the emergency budget:
  • Pastor Brent and I have received reductions in our salary of 15%; as a result, we have received permission from the elders to pursue additional outside employment to supplement our income. I will be reporting to Olive Garden on Thursday afternoon to begin training as a cook. Pastor Brent is still looking for another job.
  • The secretary and custodian have both had their hours signifiantly reduced. They will now be working less than half of their previous hours, beginning July 1.
  • Nearly all ministries of the church will be either eliminated or made to be self-funding.
  • Soccer Camp (July 9-13) has been given special permission to take place as advertised and promoted in the community due to a special gift to underwrite it.
  • The emergency budget will be reevaluated in October to see if adjustments can be made.
When I last posted two weeks ago (I was on vacation last week), I mentioned how the elders and I realized at National Conference that we weren't being obedient as a church to the Great Commission:
We are still not where we want to be. As we took a hard look at our church, we
had to face the fact that we still are reaching very few new people for Christ.
While there are a handful among our attenders who could be considered recently
unchurched, most of our new families have come from other churches in the area.
That kind of growth, of course, does not grow the kingdom of God, only our tiny
little empire. Christ calls us to be fishers of men, not swappers of fish from
aquarium to aquarium. We currently have a breakdown (or several breakdowns) in our fishing strategy, and we will be addressing those. Pray for us.

I believe this financial situation is due to our disobedience as a church. We have decided as a congregation not to address our spiritual problems of not tithing and not growing; as a result, we are forced to cut staff. At this point, we are only losing staff hours, not staff people. But if these measures fail to fix our deficits, we will be forced to start letting people go. We need to take a hard look at ourselves.

  • Why have we not been developing relationships with unchurched people?
  • Why have we not been inviting people to church?
  • Why have we not been inviting people to other events (Lugnuts game, work day, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) that would expose them to others in our church and perhaps eventually get them connected?
  • Why have we not been taking postcards and handing them out when given the opportunity?
  • Why have we chosen to give less than a tithe?

We need to answer these questions for ourselves because these are the responsibilities we all have as followers of Jesus. If we're not fulfilling our responsibilities, we have to ask ourselves, "Why?"

For me personally, I'm prepared to admit that I have made excuses for myself. I have tried to justify my disobedience in this area by pointing to everything else that I do and thinking that "someone else" should step up to the plate. I have had to realize that I have not led this church properly in this area by setting the right example, and that is part of the reason that the church hasn't stepped up to the plate--I haven't been modeling it. How can I expect others to do what I'm not willing to do? I'm looking forward to this change in my work schedule, which will force me to interact with unchurched people on a regular basis at the restaurant and build relationships with them.

God has seen fit to force me to do what I have been unwilling to do on my own, and I see this whole situation as an answer to prayer. I have been praying for over two years now that God would do extraordinary things through our church. I have been praying that we would be faithful to the call that he has placed on us. And he is using these circumstances to bring us to where he wants us to be; I believe he is trying to get our attention to zero in on where we have gotten off-track.

The truth is that we haven't really cared about lost people. If we did, we would have been reaching out to them. Now that God has our attention, we can see whether we really want to follow him or not.

Please pray for our finances, but especially pray that God would begin to change the heart of our church to bring it in line with his heart. Pray that he would change your heart, if you are one who has not been on the front lines of this spiritual battle for the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family.

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