Several years ago, I reviewed the church budget and got a little nauseous. It shouldn’t take this much money to run a church, I thought to myself then verbalized to others. As I looked at how much we were spending in certain areas, I began to question whether I even felt comfortable donating to the church!
The worst part of it all was that I had no one to blame but myself. As problems arose, I got into the habit of throwing money at those problems in order to solve them. We kept hiring more staff and spending more money rather than getting creative and mobilizing volunteers. Something had to change because I knew we were not managing God’s resources as wisely as we ought.
When I would visit third-world countries, my lack of peace only intensified. How do we justify spending millions of dollars on ourselves while our brothers and sisters suffer overseas? I’m not saying that we neglect the work here and solely focus on overseas ministry. But I’ve learned that when we sacrifice some of our luxuries for the sake of those in need, it creates an atmosphere of excitement that only furthers our ability to minister here in America.
Cornerstone Church has made many financial changes over the past few years. While there is still more to do, I have peace that we have been heading in the right direction. Some radical financial decisions were made by our elders, and I’ve never been more excited about how we as a church are handling God’s resources. Loud cheers and spontaneous applause is frequently heard in our services based upon financial decisions we’ve made. This is a far cry from the complaining and arguing that takes place in most church budget meetings.
I certainly don’t want to lift up Cornerstone to be the example of financial stewardship. However, I’d love to offer some principles we’ve applied that have enabled us to give millions of dollars away yet remain in a strong financial position.
Start with your personal budget.
Church should be a huge game of “follow the leader.” Paul says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (
Fourteen years ago, we started Cornerstone Church. After a year or so, the church was able to provide us a full-time salary of $36,000. It was plenty to care for our needs, so we made a commitment that we would not ask for more. Thirteen years later, our salary has remained the same even though the church budget has grown into the millions.
I can testify of miracle after miracle-all the ways God has provided for our now family of six. We’ve been able to give away more and more every year, yet God keeps providing for our needs supernaturally. We have never been in want. We’ve made decisions to downsize our home, drive old cars, cut expenses and give generously. God in return has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. God is so good. As a pastor, we’re called to demonstrate the joy and reward of giving.
Don’t take guilt offerings.
Many of my sermons in the early days demonstrated my ability to manipulate people through guilt. Words like suffer, sacrifice and serve were used often; and it left people improperly burdened. The mentality of “suffer for Jesus since He suffered for you” can easily lead us to an arrogance and self-righteousness. It’s an attitude far from what God desires because it draws the attention to us and our sacrifices rather than Him.
God reminds us in
Demonstrate your faith by giving dangerously.
In other words, put your money where your mouth is. I came to an elder meeting one morning with this suggestion: If we “love our neighbor as ourselves,” then wouldn’t it make sense to spend on our neighbors what we spend on ourselves? What if we set up our budget so that half of our income leaves the church and goes to other ministries? To my surprise, the elders decided that morning to commit half of the budget to people and ministries outside of Cornerstone. It’s been almost a year now, and we’ve been able to give approximately 55 percent of our money away.
We made a commitment to send $250,000 to Children’s Hunger Fund every three months. We saw God’s supernatural hand at work each time we gave. When it was time for our second payment, we were low on funds. I didn’t say anything to the congregation. They didn’t even know we had a payment due. That Sunday, the offering was $251,000! Our normal offering is around $90,000. When it was time for our third payment, we had our biggest giving month ever-one million dollars! Again, no plea for money or announcement was made.
When we made our final payment, I asked the finance team what our outstanding debt was. (Cornerstone has had about $1 million debt for about 10 years.) I found out we had $1.4 million in outstanding debt. I then asked how much money we had left in the bank. Take a wild guess…$1.4 million! I began to cry immediately. We had tried to pay down debt unsuccessfully for years! In the year that we gave away half our resources, we had $1.4 million left over? If you think that’s coincidence, you don’t belong in ministry.
God blesses radical choices with supernatural results. Where’s your faith?