How Should I Finance my Alaska Ministry?

Alaska Natives

 

This week in Questions and Answers, we’re tackling a question from Tony, a man in Texas is who feels called to start a homeless center in Alaska and is looking for a way to fund the work. We’ve included an abbreviated version of Tony’s question below; you can see the full text here

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Question:

What we would like to do is buy an RV and drive up to Alaska and use it as a home at first until we figure out the best place to set up the center. At that point we will get a house and then we would like to use the RV as a tool. We were looking at putting an internet dish on it and turning it in to a online school where homeless could come and take classes for free.

The problem is we have not had a credit card or a loan in a long time, so getting a loan might be hard I have thought about having my parents cosign but not sure I want to drag them in to this. My current job will be going with me so that is how we plan on paying for the RV. I figure it is no different than getting a loan for a house or car. Instead of paying $1,200 in rent, a $600 RV payment and $600 to park the RV, plus electric and water, sounded like a good trade off to me. My house electric runs me around $350 a month, so living in the RV will be cheaper. We are well aware of the cold and we have been told what to do to weather proof the RV.

To raise the money we have sold 90% of our possessions and we have done an online fundraiser We have asked all our friends, relatives, the church we attend and other churches, and we have not even come close to the money we need. A lot of doors had opened up, so we were really thinking God was blessing it. But now we have been sitting in a house with no furniture well we have a kitchen table and a desk left. And everything is in boxes. I’m not sure if I am supposed to wait on God or he is waiting on me to take a leap of faith to bless the whole thing.

— Tony,  Texas

Answer:

Thanks for your question, Tony. I’m sorry that it’s taken me a while to respond to you — I’ve been on an extended break since the birth of my daughter several months ago. I hope I’m not too late to talk you out of this, though, because what you’re talking about doing is a very bad idea.

I don’t mean, of course, that the homeless center in Alaska is a bad idea — I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Alaska, and I’m familiar with the struggles of the native people there. Your goal is admirable, and I don’t doubt that God is calling you to help up there. But I do doubt that He wants you to use debt and bad purchases to do it.

There are several areas that give me concern here, Tony. First is the idea of borrowing money; second is the idea of using that money to purchase an RV; and third is the trouble that you’re having raising funds.

Debt burdens ministries

First of all, I want to tell you that debt is always a bad thing — it’s a form of financial slavery that can have sever consequences that last the rest of your life. And while it can be tempting to turn to debt when you want to do something that is really good for society or the Kingdom of God, it’s never a good idea. There’s no such thing as good debt, and borrowing money can be a crushing mistake for a ministry.

I have personally watched as ministries that I cared about deeply and contributed to for years closed their doors because of bad financial decisions — borrowing money to do big things quickly instead of going slow and steady. That’s an incredibly painful process, and it hurts both the ministers and the people they’re trying to reach. I don’t want to see the same thing happen to you.

Vehicles always depreciate

Now, onto the issue of the RV: You make an interesting case for spending money on an RV payment instead of on rent. Your math might be right — on a month-by-month basis, the average cost of RV payments (plus parking and utilities) might equal out with the cost of rent. But here’s what you’re forgetting: An RV is essentially a vehicle, and all vehicles depreciate in value.

In other words, you’ll be borrowing money and making payments on something that is dropping to a value of zero.

Why is this a problem? Because eventually, you’ll reach a point where the RV is worn out (and that’s likely to happen more quickly in Alaska than in the lower 48, given the extreme conditions up there). It’s not at all unlikely that the vehicle could depreciate faster than you could pay the loan off. In other words, you could end up upside-down in the deal, owing more on the loan than the vehicle is worth.

That’s not a situation you want to be in — if a weather event,  traffic accident or other misfortune causes significant damage to the RV, you may find yourself without a vehicle, without any money to replace it, and still having to pay off the balance of your loan. That could quickly torpedo your ministry.

God pays for what He orders

My final thought for you, Tony, is that the difficulty that you’ve had in raising money should tell you something about the feasibility of what you’re trying to do. I firmly believe that God pays for what He orders. And that leads me to believe that if you haven’t been able to raise the money that you need for this project, this may not be the right time or the right plan for your ministry.

I’m not trying to take anything away from your ministry or your calling. But I have to doubt that God would call you to a full-time ministry in Alaska without providing the funds to undertake it. This isn’t about a lack of faith — it’s about wisdom. It’s not wise for your family or your ministry to borrow a bunch of money to undertake a project that isn’t well funded.

Instead of going forward this way, consider finding alternative routes to getting your ministry going. Can you rent a home in Alaska and use that as the base of your ministry, rather that borrowing money to buy an RV? Or could you partner with a local church that would allow you to use their facilities?

You may even need to start smaller than that. Perhaps you need to take short-term trips up there a few times a year to establish relationships and begin to build strategically in the community. This would allow you to put down a foundation for a long-lasting ministry without endangering your family’s finances.

Whatever you do, I wish you the very best. I hope that you’ll follow God where’s He’s leading you, when He’s leading you there, and not go rushing into things prematurely.

God bless you!

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Photo by US Department of Agriculture. Used under Creative Commons License.

Does God Bless Your Faith or Your Work?

Working Hard

Question:

Does God want us to work really hard and achieve excellence in our workplace? Or does He want us to work and wait upon His blessings or timing for everything? I am at a crossroad between working really hard or simply working average and waiting for His blessing to just pour out. I’ve been hearing so much about “waiting upon the Lord” but where does my own effort come in place? And how much of it should I exert and how much should just be on faith/waiting? 


— Jerald, Toronto

Answer:

Jerald, thanks for sending your question from Toronto — I love Canada, and it’s great to have readers there. You’ve asked a great question, and I’m glad you did, because it opens the door to a really important discussion that needs to happen more often in the Christian community.

I’m going to give you a short version of the answer first, then follow it up with scriptural references and explanations to give you more detail. [Read more…]

Should My Church Borrow Money for a Building?

Chruch For Sale

 

Question:

Is it ever appropriate for a church to obtain a mortgage for a property purchase? I attend a small church that is bursting at the seams but the fear of financing keeps us here.

We are renting our current building for $1,000/month with all utilities extra. We have no debts and maintain an account with $5,000.00 for regular operations. We have recently become aware of a large church building for sale at an exceptional price: $350,000. In just over 2 years we have saved $100,000.

Is it prudent to finance the balance if we negotiated the price to where we could pay a third of the price in cash? You can imagine the pressure on my church to make a wise Biblical decision for the next step.

— John, Ontario

Answer:

Thanks for the question, John — it’s great to have readers in Canada. You and your church are in a position that many churches have found themselves in over the years, and it’s great that you are trying to be wise in making this decision.

I’m afraid that you’re not going to like my answer too much: I believe that debt is slavery, and that all ministry organizations need to stay away from it. And some time ago, I wrote an article addressing this exact question: Should churches use mortgages? My conclusion in that article was that they should not, and my opinion remains the same. Still, I’m happy to walk through the particulars of your church’s situation to help shed some light on your options.

I’ve seen a number of churches get in trouble with mortgages in the past: Even though it seems like getting a building of your own is a great move for your church, the financial pressure that debt puts on your congregation can bring your momentum to a halt. I’ve seen more than one church dissolve completely over bad debt decisions like this, and I want to spare your growing church from experiencing this same turmoil.

Starting in a good position

Before we talk about these details, though, let’s discuss some of the good news about your current situation. Your church is in great financial shape — with no debt and a $5,000 operating fund you have total financial freedom, as well as some cushion in case you encounter some difficulty. (If you wanted to be really secure, you should consider increasing your reserves from $5,000 to around six months’ worth of operating expenses, but that’s a suggestion for another post).

The rent on your current place is actually very reasonable — perhaps even cheap — and even though you seem to be full, it’s a good situation. If you were in a higher-rent facility, you would have had trouble saving the $100,000 that you currently have to work with.

Finally, your church seems to be growing, and this is a great problem to have. It may make your weekly services a little cramped, but it’s great news for the Kingdom of God making an impact in Ontario. It’s also a good news for your revenue, as growing membership should result in growing tithes and offerings.

Churches vs. Homes

If you were an individual looking to buy a home, or perhaps even a business owner looking to buy an office or operating facility, financing 67% of the purchase would seem like a good deal. We encourage individuals to wisely use mortgages to buy homes and build wealth, because there are some key factors that make home mortgages much less risky than other consumer debt. But there are also some key differences between homes and churches that make this a problem for your congregation.

The residential real estate market is relatively stable and predictable because home values tend to appreciate over time, and because there is frequent enough turnover that it’s easy to appraise a property by looking at how comparable buildings have sold recently. But churches change hands much less frequently than homes or commercial buildings, which makes them incredibly difficult to appraise. That also makes it difficult to sell your church if you need to quickly liquidate your assets. And even if you did sell, you would have no guarantee of getting all of your money back from the sale.

One reason that we encourage home buyers to get mortgages to buy homes is that home values often rise in predictable ways, and owning a home is a key wealth building tool. But a church isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be — interested in building wealth. For a congregation, purchasing a church building is a “buy and hold” proposition. You don’t plan to sell the building in 15 years at a profit. You plan on being there forever. So the incentive that individuals have to buy homes quickly (in order to maximize appreciation) doesn’t really apply to you in this situation.

Debt is slavery

The bigger problem is that debt is financial slavery, and the Bible specifically warns us against it. If you take out a mortgage — even just $200,000 — your congregation will be obligated to make the monthly payments against that loan, no matter what is going on. If your giving income goes down, your growth momentum stalls or you have some other financial emergency, that mortgage payment can become a noose around your neck, severely limiting the church’s options to make necessary financial decisions. If the problems get too bad, they can even force you “out of business.”

A church building should be a blessing for its congregation. But when debt is involved, buying that building can quickly turn into a curse.

Don’t get me wrong: I want your church to buy a building. But I want you to buy it with cash, not financing. The fact that you have saved $100,000 is a great start. I think you should continue saving — and even ramping up your fundraising efforts — in order to amass the $300,000 to $400,000 that you need to buy a building outright. If you focus your efforts to do this, you might be able to raise the money in just a few more years.

Creative alternatives

There are some other creative options that might help you get around your problems. If you’re truly running out of room in your current space, you could consider running two or more services to accommodate everyone (many large churches have been doing this for years). You could also find an intermediate space — a bigger place that you can rent for a reasonable monthly amount while you continue to save for your own building.

There may also be a creative way to get into this new building now, depending on how flexible the sellers are. You could ask if they would be willing to lease it to you instead of selling it. If they are, they may  consider a “lease to own” agreement, by which you slowly buy them out of the building over the course of several years. You could also set up a lease with an option to buy — in this scenario, you could have a regular lease, with the understanding that the congregation has the option to buy the facility outright at a predetermined price several years from now, when you could theoretically have saved enough money to finance the entire purchase with cash.

If one of these options works, then great. If it doesn’t, don’t despair. God knows your needs, and He will provide for them in a way that is consistent with His principles. Don’t let yourself believe that this is the only building that will work for you, or that borrowing money is the only way to get it. We serve a God with abundant resources, and He will bring you His best in His time if you are faithful to trust him.

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Photo by Taber Andrew Bain. Used under Creative Commons License.

Where, and How Often, Should I Tithe?

Freshly Cut Hair

Question:

I am a hairstylist and I work for a franchise-owned hair-cutting salon chain. The pay is only $9.00 per hour and I get some tips (not a lot, though). I’m struggling financially and don’t make enough to support myself.

How does God want us to tithe? Does He want us to give away our tithe money right away, such as the same day as soon as it is in our hands? Or should it be put into a checking account and a check written and mailed to a ministry or charity on the same day that we get a paycheck?

I know that God has to come first in everything and of course that includes tithing. But I’m not sure how to come up with a good foolproof system to tithe that would please God. What would you advise?

— Claire, Massachusetts

Answer:

Thanks for your question, Claire. This is something that many people ponder when the issue of tithing comes up.

First of all, let me commend you for your heart of obedience in this area. It’s no small thing to give away 10% of your income, especially when you’re having a tough time making ends meet. The fact that you have the desire to obey scripture and tithe says a lot about your faith in God to provide for your needs.

We certainly believe that God wants us to tithe: Scripture makes it clear that the tithe belongs to God, and that He promises to bless us if we are faithful to tithe to Him.

Where to Tithe

We also believe that in today’s model of spiritual community, which is based on the early church in the New Testament, that tithing is intended primarily as a way of funding our home church congregations. Quite simply, tithing makes church happen: Without faithful givers, our local churches wouldn’t be able to maintain their facilities, pay pastors or fund community outreach.

So my first answer to your question is that you should tithe to your local church. If you belong to a good church in your community, you have some responsibility for helping to keep it financially healthy. You fulfill that obligation by tithing regularly to the church.

If you aren’t a member of a solid local church, I’m afraid that this talk of tithing is putting the cart before the horse. God commands us to live in fellowship with one another through the vehicle of the church. If you’re not connected to a church, you’re missing out on a lot that fellow believers have to add to your life, and you’re robbing those same people of the wisdom and encouragement that you could be giving to them.

We also believe that financial giving is a great thing to do, and a big part of how God wants us to handle our money. It’s great that you’re interested in sending money to ministries or charitable organizations. But we believe that these gifts are in addition to the tithe to the local church — they don’t replace tithing. If you want to give to a ministry organization, that should be a gift that comes out of your abundance. You shouldn’t withhold the tithe to your local church because you’re giving to an outside organization instead. On the other hand, you probably don’t have the money to do a lot of extra outside giving right now, anyway.

When to Tithe

Now to your question of when to tithe: The Bible doesn’t specifically address timing issues when it comes to the tithe, so there’s not a strict rule in scripture to refer to. Instead, we each have to figure out the tithing schedule that makes the most sense in our own lives.

I know many people that make a point of writing out their tithe check as soon as they get paid. This helps them to follow through on the idea of giving to God first, before they do anything else with their money. I think this is a pretty good way to go, because it makes a priority of the tithe and helps you to avoid the temptation of spending that 10% elsewhere.

There are other ways to tithe, though. If you have a thorough, well organized monthly budget, you probably have a good idea of how much money you’ll have coming in every month, and when it will be coming. A good budget should have a tithe built into it. So if you know how much your tithe will be every month, you can schedule that gift whenever it’s convenient for you.

Some people like writing a tithe check at church every week; others plan it just to coincide with their pay periods. Laura and I actually just write one check for the entire month, because the amount of our tithe is built into our budget, and it’s easier and more convenient to write one check every month than to make multiple payments.

Fixing the Income Issue

Before we go, I do want to address one other thing that you brought up: You’re having trouble making ends meet at your $9/hour job, and I don’t blame you: Anybody would have difficulty tithing and making their other financial obligations at such a low wage. I don’t believe that God means to burden you with the tithe. Instead, I believe that He wants to bless your faithfulness with more income.

So part of what you need to think about in your life and financial planning is how to get your income up. I’m familiar with the budget haircut chains that you’re talking about, but I also know that there are self-employed stylists working in independent salons that make quite a bit more money than the hourly rate you get now. If you enjoy the work you’re doing, perhaps you should consider making the move to one of these full-service salons where your income could easily double.

I hope that helps, Claire. God bless you!

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Photo by Watashiwani. Used under Creative Commons License.

Should I Borrow Money for a Mission Trip?

Mission Trip

Question:

My husband and I are currently planning a missions trip. It’s very expensive, so we are raising support. We hate the idea of borrowing money, but if we continue purchasing plane tickets, etc. for this trip, we will have to borrow money from my brother (no interest, but it’s against, ‘owe no man anything’). Would it be wrong for us to borrow money from my brother until the rest of the support comes in, to avoid being in debt with the bank? Or should we hold off on making purchases regarding this trip until support comes in? 

— Michelle, Toronto

Answer:

Michelle, congratulations on your decision to venture out onto the mission field, even for a short-term trip. Mission work is one of the most important callings in Christian life today, and this experience is sure to make a big difference in your heart, as well as in the lives of the people that you’re going to serve.

Mission trips are often expensive because of the costs of travel, and many people do raise support to cover those expenses. I’ve taken many mission trips in the past, and have raised support to cover the costs of quite a few of them.

Having said all of that, I don’t think it’s a good idea to borrow money from your brother to pay for the trip. I have several reasons for saying that, which we’ll analyze one at a time:

1) You don’t want to be a slave to your brother.

In general, you have a good understanding of the dangers of debt, and you’re wise to stay away from a bank in trying to come up with money for this trip. On the surface, it might seem like borrowing money from your brother is the perfect alternative — after all, he’s not going to charge you interest, and you have a good relationship with him.

That relationship, though, is what would make borrowing dangerous. Proverbs 22:7 tells us that “the borrower is slave to the lender,” which means that if you borrow money from your brother, you enter into a kind of financial slavery to him. There’s a big difference between a healthy brother-sister relationship and a master-slave relationship, and I don’t think that God intends for you to replace the good one with a bad one.

If everything goes right, you might pay off the loan to your brother quickly, and all will be well. But if things don’t go well — if support is slow to come in or if you encounter more expenses than you thought — you could have trouble paying him back. And that is going to have a negative impact on your relationship with your brother.

Were I in your shoes, I wouldn’t be willing to risk the relationship.

2) Good intentions don’t make bad strategies good ones.

The second reason why I would avoid this strategy is more philosophical: Borrowing money is always a bad financial strategy. And even the best of intentions can’t magically transform a bad strategy into a good one.

The mission trip that you want to take is undoubtedly a good and noble thing. and it’s easy to think that because you’re undertaking such a good endeavor, it somehow changes the equation when it comes to debt and wisdom. But the truth is that it doesn’t. Debt is always going to be a bad plan. Borrowing money for good reasons doesn’t change that.

We encounter this kind of thinking a lot among people that want to borrow money to pay for things like education or adoption. Sometimes people go so far as to refer to this as “good debt.” But good debt is a myth.

If you’re really committed to living a debt-free life, this mission trip should be no exception.

3) God always pays for what He orders.

Here’s a final, spirtual way to think about this issue: If you believe that God has called you and your husband to go on this trip, you also need to believe that He will provide you the financial means necessary to make it happen.

I believe that our God always pays for what He orders. He doesn’t tell us to do expensive things, and then leave us without the resources to accomplish them. Remember, God owns everything in the universe, and He gives us the things that we need to do His work. And He never tells us that we should borrow money to do it.

As I said, I’ve been on a lot of mission trips in my lifetime. On several of them, I was in no position to pay for them myself, so I had to raise support. And each time, God came through — I always raised enough money to take the trip, and often more than enough. Later, as I grew older and had more resources, I was able to pay for some of the trips myself.

I don’t know where you and your husband are financially, Michelle, but I believe that God is going to make a way for you to do what He has asked you to do. That might mean expanding your network of support, or perhaps picking up some extra work in order to pay some of the cost of the trip yourself. It may even mean delaying your trip until you’re able to pay for it without borrowing money.

What ever it means, remember this: God would never send you on a mission without giving you the tools to accomplish it. Doing things God’s way may be slower or require more faith than borrowing money. But in the end, doing things God’s way always brings God-sized results.

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Photo by Breezy Baldwin. Used under Creative Commons License.

Should You Quit Tithing if You’re in Debt?

Debt and Tithing

Question:

If you’re in debt, is it alright not to tithe?

— Alwin, India

Answer:

Thanks for your question, Alwin! It’s great to have readers in India, and great to have you asking important questions like this.

The short answer to your question is “No, it’s not alright to stop tithing if you’re in debt.”

I’ll explain this answer using two different approaches: first, a biblical approach, followed by a logical approach.

The Biblical Answer

The principle of tithing — giving 10 percent of your income to God — is first introduced in the Old Testament, and then confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Tithing is a command from God, but it comes with a promise of blessing if we’re faithful to obey.

There are some people who try to invent reasons why tithing doesn’t apply to us today (and those people will probably berate me in the comments section of this article). But they’re wrong.

Tithing is based on the principles that God owns everything, and that the money and things that we have are really just resources that He has given us to manage for Him. Because He owns everything, He has a right to ask us to set aside some of “our” money for the work of His kingdom. And because He gives us everything we need, we can trust His promises to bless us and provide for us in abundance if we are faithful to Him.

Now, to your question: It seems that you generally accept the commandment to tithe, but you’re asking whether extenuating circumstances like debt ever create a situation in which the commandment doesn’t apply.

If tithing is a principle that comes from scripture, it would take another principle from scripture to negate it or to create an exception to it — just like the only way for a government to repeal a law is with another law. But that second principle that you’re looking for doesn’t exist in scripture. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself, after all, and there’s no teaching in scripture that invalidates the teaching of the tithe.

The Bible does have a few things to say about debt — usually warning us to stay away from it. But it never indicates that being in debt gives us a pass on other financial responsibilities.

Here’s another way to think about it: You wouldn’t claim that your debt releases you from your responsibility to feed your children, would you? Then why would we believe that debt releases us from our spiritual responsibilities?

The Logical Answer

There’s another way of approaching this question and arriving at the same answer, and that is through a simple logical exercise.

Tithing is a principle of good financial management — and part of God’s Master Plan for your money — that goes hand-in-hand with other wise financial behaviors. Debt, on the other hand, almost always comes from financial mistakes and unwise behavior.

When we’re ready to start paying off debt, what we’re really doing is slowly reversing the unwise decisions that we’ve made in the past. The best way to do that is to begin applying wisdom to your financial life.

So, if tithing is part of financial wisdom, and you need financial wisdom to solve the debt problem that you’ve created with foolishness, it follows that tithing should be part of your process.

If it’s not, you’re essentially saying that you’re going to fix one foolish decision by making another foolish decision. When have you ever seen that work?

Changing Hearts and Minds

Getting out of debt isn’t just a mathematical calculation — it’s a process that involves your heart, your mind and your soul. It’s usually undisciplined thinking that gets us into debt in the first place. Escaping debt requires you to discipline your heart and mind, and commit to long-term change.

The best way to get out of debt is to buy in to God’s way of handling money, and do it 100 percent. If you say “I’m going to do all of these other things, but not tithe until I’m out of debt,” you’re not really committing to God’s way of handling money. And if you’re not committed to His methods, you can’t count on seeing His results.

Tithing is a sacrifice, for sure, but it’s the kind of sacrifice that benefits us in the end. Just like physical exercise requires us to sacrifice some energy now to gain long-term health and energy later, tithing is a spiritual and financial exercise that makes us more spiritually and financially healthy in the long run.

Your struggle against debt could be long and arduous, but don’t let one bad decision lead you to another. Trust God’s promise of provision, and then work as hard as you can to get out of debt and walk in financial freedom.

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Photo by Steve Hankins. Used under Creative Commons License.

Why Do Some Christians Struggle Financially?

Wise Old Man

Question:

If we are faithful God will provide. What do we say to those who are faithful yet find that their needs are not provided? Or is it that they are not really being faithful and we just don’t know the entire story?

— Vincent Duncombe,
www.richsinnerspoorsaints.com

Answer:

Thanks for the question, Vincent. You submitted this question in the comments section of this article about how God provides for us and expects our obedience. While I answered it briefly in a follow-up comment, I thought that this question merited a more in-depth discussion.

You’re raising a question that has come up over and over again in Christian circles. We believe that God promises to provide for our needs if we are faithful to follow Him. But we all know Christians who are struggling financially. So what gives?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” It depends on a whole host of factors, actually. But there are some fundamental principles that will help us navigate through these difficult waters.

Ownership, righteousness and wisdom

Perhaps the most fundamental principles are these two: God owns everything, and He gives us everything that we have. Whenever we talk about money and resources, we have to maintain this perspective. Even the things that belong to me don’t really belong to me — they are God’s resources that He has entrusted to me to manage.

Next, we need to understand the difference between righteousness and wisdom. Though these ideas are very closely related, they’re not exactly the same thing, and it’s possible to have one without the other.

Righteousness refers to walking in holiness with God. Living a righteous life means staying away from sin and obeying the commands that God gives us. One of the primary concerns of the Christian life is endeavoring to walk in righteousness.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is not exactly about morality, but about insight and good decision-making. Wisdom is about being able to see danger in the distance and avoid it. It’s about knowing what kinds of actions, attitudes and disciplines will cause you to succeed, and applying those things to your life.

Righteousness + Wisdom = Success

I take the time to differentiate between these two ideas for a key reason: To have true, biblical success with our finances requires both righteousness and wisdom. And I think that many times Christians fail to enjoy their financial potential because they’re strong in righteousness but not in wisdom.

When we talk about God providing for those who are faithful to follow Him, we’re really talking about righteousness. Sin causes poverty, but the Bible teaches us that prosperity is a fruit of righteousness.

Sin leads us down paths that have all kinds of financial pitfalls, but when we walk in morality and integrity, we steer clear of many of these dangers. And since everything in the universe belongs to God anyway, He promises that He will always meet the needs of people who are faithful to follow Him in righteousness.

But we also have to remember that God gives us resources for us to manage, and this is where wisdom comes in to the equation. When God provides for us with jobs, money and other resources, we still have to decide how we’re going to manage those resources. If we manage them wisely, they can meet our needs for a long time and help us to build wealth. If we’re foolish with them, though, we can find ourselves in need again very quickly.

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about how we should manage money. It teaches us about budgeting, saving, investing and giving. It talks about hard work, discipline and diligence. If we apply all of the wisdom of Proverbs to our financial resources, we can’t help but to be successful.

Christians without wisdom

So, Vincent, here’s how I see this all working out: Too many Christians have learned to walk in righteousness — aligning their lives with the basic morality of God’s word — but have not learned to walk in financial wisdom. They may be faithful, but they struggle with money because they are not wise.

In my experience, many Christians who are having financial trouble are just like many unbelievers who are having financial trouble. They don’t have a good budget, they aren’t disciplined in their spending and savings, and they rely too much on debt.

God is faithful to provide for us when we are faithful to walk in righteousness. But in order to win with money, we have to add wisdom to righteousness. If we live foolishly with our money, we risk squandering the very resources that God has entrusted us with.

That’s why God, Money & Me exists, and I suspect it’s why your blog exists as well. I believe that God is always faithful, but that we need to do a better job at teaching wisdom so that Christians can make the most of His provision.

If we learn to walk in both righteousness and wisdom, we can see great fruit in our own financial lives, and great progress in the kingdom of God.

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Photo by A. Omer Karamollaoglu. Used under Creative Commons License.

Why Isn’t Tithing Making my Financial Life Better?

Church Offering Collection Plate

Question:

I tithed 6 months in a row and during those months I was always behind in relation to bills. After I stopped things got better. How do you explain that?

— Judy, Norway

Answer:

Thanks for reading in Norway, Judy! Your question is one that a lot of people wrestle with. And unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on the blessing of tithing because they get frustrated with the process.

We’ll deal with your situation in a few minutes, but first, let’s give some background on the issue for people that may not be so familiar with the subject. The Bible teaches that all wealth belongs to God — we just manage it for Him — and God requires us to give 10 percent of all we earn back to Him. This 10 percent gift is known as a tithe, and is practiced by many (but not all) evangelical Christians.

There are a lot of reasons to tithe that we’ve covered here at God, Money & Me. Tithing is commanded by God in the Old Testament and re-enforced in the New Testament. Our tithing is important because the money we give serves as the primary financial resources for our churches.

Tithing isn’t an burden that God puts on us to weigh us down, though. Because the things that we do with our money help to determine the state of our hearts, tithing is a way of uniting our hearts with the heart of God. And God also promises that if we’re faithful to tithe, He will be faithful to bless us with greater resources because of it.

This is the part where you might be getting hung up, Judy. Many people do have trouble with this aspect of tithing.

All About Blessing?

A lot of people learn about tithing in church. And a lot of churches teach tithing when they’re trying to raise money. This creates a series of incentives that are somewhat perverse: The pastor wants to get more money for the church, so he preaches sermons to encourage giving.

In order to incentivize giving, he needs to make the church members think that they will somehow gain financially from tithing. So he plays up the “return blessing” idea without really covering the other principles of tithing.

When that happens, people get the wrong ideas. They give with the wrong motives. And it usually doesn’t work.

What the preachers forget in this scenario is that tithing isn’t really about your money; it’s about your heart. God doesn’t need your cash, but He knows that giving regularly will bring your heart closer to His.

All About Obedience

At its most basic level, tithing is about obedience. We should give God what He asks of us because it’s the right thing to do. After all that He has given to us, how could we withhold the little that He asks of us in return?

Unfortunately, too many people forget this principle. They study the scriptures that promise blessing to tithers, and they decide to give because they’re looking for a blessing.

This, of course, is not true obedience — it’s simply treating God like an investment bank in the sky. And it’s not true generosity, either — it’s just selfishness and manipulation masquerading as giving.

I suspect, Judy, that you have found yourself in this position. It sounds like you have some financial difficulty in your life, and you decided that you would try tithing to see if the magic principle of blessing turned out to be true.

What you discovered is that if the motivations of your heart aren’t in the right place, God isn’t moved by your perceived obedience. And if you’re basing your decision to tithe on whether you’re prospering financially, you’re just holding your money hostage until God gives you the things that you want. You’re not really being a cheerful giver, which is what God specifically wants us to be.

A Budget Issue

There could be one other thing at work here, too: Based on the way that you worded your question, I would be willing to bet that you don’t have a solid budget as the foundation for your financial life. Most people that have a well crafted budget don’t find themselves struggling to pay bills at the end of the month, because they’ve already allocated the money to pay those bills before the month begins.

If that’s your situation, you should build a good budget that lists all of your income and all of your expenses every month, and take your tithe out at the top of your budget. Then plan the rest of your  spending on the 90 percent of your money that is left.

A budget will help you see if you’re wasting money in any other areas of your life and more carefully disciple your money. You may find that a good budget helps to solve the cash flow problems that you’ve been having and actually makes it easier to tithe.

In the end, folks, here’s the important thing about tithing: God asks us to do it and believe in faith that He will reward us for it. The reward is not the motivation, but only a bonus. Tithing comes from a heart of love and obedience toward God.

And our hearts are what He’s been after all along.

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Photo by Rubber Bullets. Used under Creative Commons License.

How Does Debt Affect Your Ministry?

Hawaii Children's Ministry

Question:

Is doing “God’s work” more important then paying off debt? A friend of mine feels called to work full-time with kids and then do ministry two months of the year. His job with kids does not pay well, and neither does his ministry. I would not see a problem with this, but he is in a lot of debt. Due to that he has bad credit and some other issues. I think he should pay off his debt first before going into ministry, but he says “I don’t need to worry about my debt because God will provide.” This is a question I’ve been trying to answer for a while and was wondering if you had any insight.

— Carrie, Hawii

Answer:

Thanks for reading in Hawaii, Carrie! Your question is a really good one, and it touches on an important issue: Far too many people in ministry these days are also in bad financial shape. So, how important is it for ministers to walk in financial freedom?

I think it’s extremely important. The truth is that while some people may have some success in ministry while their personal finances are shaky, debt will always hold them back from the full potential of their life and ministry.

You see, the Bible’s fundamental teaching about debt is that all debt is slavery. When we borrow money, the obligation we take on can extend far into the future and tie up our funds for many years.

Not only that, but debt also adds risk to our lives. Carrying  a lot of debt can turn a difficult-but-manageable financial need into a catastrophic bankruptcy event.

What your friend needs to realize is that these two facts about debt are a real hindrance to the his ministry. Firstly, his personal debt is a financial liability to his ministry — if he gets too deep in his financial troubles, it could strip him of his ability to do ministry work, or ruin his reputation among the people that he’s trying to reach out to. If he loses his home, his vehicle or other possessions to foreclosure and repossession, he could wind up losing his ministry too.

The second threat to his ministry comes on a spiritual level. One of the core tenets of the gospel is that a relationship with Christ brings freedom — freedom from guilt, freedom from sin, freedom from addictions, freedom in  relationships… and even freedom in finances. But your friend isn’t really financially free, because his debts are making him a slave. This creates a dangerous contradiction that undermines your friend’s credibility.

It’s understandable that your friend expects God to provide for his needs if he is faithful in ministry. And there is Biblical evidence to support this — I wouldn’t expect to see a servant of God go homeless or hungry. But when we study God’s provision is scripture, we only see God providing for people in the things that He has called them to do. There’s not a time where God miraculously provides for people in order for them to escape the consequences of their own bad decisions.

Your friend’s debts didn’t come from God’s call on his life, because God never calls us into debt. Rather, they come from mistakes that he made in the past. And while God will provide for your buddy’s physical needs, He’s probably going to let him learn the lesson of debt the hard way by digging out himself.

What’s the best solution to this problem? Well, Eccl. 3:1 tells us that “for everything there is a season.” Your friend may well be called to ministry, but that doesn’t mean that he will be in ministry during every season of his life.

I would say that there is a season to pay off debt and a season to work in ministry. If I were in his situation, I would take a few years to work and get out of debt so that I could then move on to a season of total freedom in ministry.

You should advise your friend to focus all of his energy on getting out of debt as soon as possible, so that later he can go into ministry unencumbered by poor decisions of the past.

Mahalo!

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Photo by Randy Robertson. Used under Creative Commons License.

Recovering From a Financial Emergency

Overworked Dad

 

This week in Questions and Answers, we’re tackling a question from Tim, a dad, web designer and former pastor in Nashville who has been through a tremendous medical emergency with one of his children, and is struggling to regain his financial footing with his work and family. We’ve included an abbreviated version of Tim’s question below; you can see the full text here

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Question:

After working with a marketing company for the last year (and being contractually obligated to not work and build my own company), I recently renegotiated my contract due to the fact that we have severely struggled financially since taking the job. The marketing firm I am with has not been as successful as they had originally hoped, and all my work for future great reward never paid off. The money I make from my day job is approximately $3,000 per month, which is about $1,000 short of what I need to provide for my wife and four kids.

I have since started working on trying to build websites again, but as it is not, my whole life is work. I work all day, come home, see my kids for a brief moment as I rush up stairs, and get back to work and work till 2am – 3am building websites and trying to find new website clients. This has “worked” for the last 4 months as I was able to pay all my bills on time (usually at the end of the month after incurring late fees). But this last month, I couldn’t get web jobs and I could not pay my mortgage (our church wound up helping us).

I am exhausted with life and don’t believe this is God’s will for me. I am supposed to be engaging my wife and kids and spending time with them, and raising them to love the Lord. But all I do is work, just to provide the basics. With my wife not being able to work I am not sure what my options are. If I re-entered ministry (which I love) I don’t think I could find a work that could provide what we need. Outside of church I have so few skills that no entry level job will provide.

— Tim, Nashville

Answer:

Thanks for your question, Tim. First of all, praise God for the recovery that your son has experienced in the years since the accident. You have a lot to be thankful for in that situation.

The circumstances that you’ve outlined are difficult, and you’re correct in believing that this kind of struggle isn’t God’s will for you. I believe that He wants you to be engaged with your wife and kids, as well as to provide for them, and that there’s a balance between the two. But the way you’re working now is not sustainable, either in terms of your finances or your family relationships.

If we address your situation on a purely mathematical basis, it’s not too difficult to figure out. You’re struggling to provide for your family on $3,000 per month. And the truth is that this income would probably be too low for anyone trying to support a family of six in Nashville. Though your son’s accident was a defining moment in your life, at this point it’s not the driving factor in your finances. Your biggest problem, on paper at least, is your low income.

Your question doesn’t specify whether your $3,000 income is your gross pay or the amount that you actually take home after taxes and other withholding. If it’s gross, that means you’re earning about $36,000 in your day job; if it’s net, you may be earning around $45,000 or $50,000. Either way, you need to be earning more.

Having said that, I think that what you’re really up against is not just a mathematical situation, but an issue of emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Your family has been through an incredible ordeal in the last three years, and the heart-wrenching nature of the accident and the recovery has left you feeling completely spent and emotionally beaten down.

This overwhelming feeling of exhaustion is affecting the way that you think about your work and your income. It’s great that you learned web and graphic design, and have used that to make extra money. But you haven’t necessarily made great career moves. When you signed on to the marketing company and promised to give up doing your own side work, you severely restricted your earning potential. And it sounds like you made some sort of deal with them that was based on the overall success of that organization, which wasn’t the best idea for someone in your position.

What you really need is a stable, full-time job with a well-run organization that compensates you well based on your skills and experience. You say that you don’t think you can find that in ministry or in the secular job market, but I think that’s just the exhaustion talking. You’re so beat up emotionally that you don’t see hope in your circumstances. But I think there’s plenty to be hopeful about.

It’s not at all unthinkable that you could find a job that would pay the $60,000+ that your family needs. There are hundreds of churches in Nashville, and I’m sure there are a few that would value your decade of ministry experience and the wisdom and perspective that you could bring from your recent trials. And you do have marketable skills in the secular world, too — namely, graphic and web design. While the marketing firm was not the best place to use those, they are certainly valuable, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding companies in your area that would pay you well for work in those fields.

I think your biggest issue isn’t the lack of money, but the lack of hope. If you haven’t already done so, surround yourself with some people who can encourage you and speak some hope back into your life. And then begin looking for work — not side work for nights and weekends, but a full-time job that really makes the most of your skills and experiences. The right job is the key to feeding your family while also getting to enjoy them.

God bless you!

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Photo by Chad Magiera. Used under Creative Commons License.

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