Does ‘Treasures in Heaven’ mean a Church Savings Account?

As good Christians, we praise thrift and hard work, earning and saving. Do we sometimes go so far?

Jesus told a parable that may apply.

16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.

 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 

18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 

19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 

20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 

21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

– Luke 12:16-21 (NASB)

I know we have to take care of our families, that is clear. And it logically follows that as churches, we should handle our finances carefully, too.

But do we go too far sometimes?

I especially wonder why some churches have a year’s worth of expenses (or more) squirreled back, and give only a pittance to poor relief each month. Granted, this is probably better than being mortgaged to the hilt, and unable to afford to help people, but is it really Jesus’ ideal?

I’m not advocating consumerism, borrowing money to build huge, super-modern Church buildings, paying celebrity pastors six figures, and generally reveling in our American bling. I can’t see any justification for that, honestly.

But might our focus be just a little bit off? Might our thrift be impeding our generosity?

I guess I shouldn’t raise these sorts of questions without at least trying to give some kind of answer.

And my answer is: a church’s finances should be guided by their situation and by prayerful consideration of how to address that situation, always keeping in mind that doing good is more important than looking good, and that true security comes from God, not a fat bank account.

Growing churches sometimes have to borrow money to expand. I don’t think it’s ever good for a church to be in debt (see Proverbs 22:7), but sometimes a church might have to do it. Sometimes borrowing money might even be a leap of faith.

However, I’ve personally been a part of two churches that experienced splits/mass defections (before I got there) over building big new buildings on credit. In both cases, many of the most vocal proponents of the expansions ended up leaving, even though the expansions happened.

I wasn’t there, so I won’t pretend to know anybody’s motives, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. Honestly, it was more of a minefield. It certainly soured me on churches borrowing money.

As for the other extreme, I see nothing wrong with a church saving up large sums for major expansions or needed renovations. It’s better than borrowing, if the church can do it.

And as for general savings, I think a church should have enough money saved back to weather an emergency (whether that’s unexpected repairs or an economic downturn that reduces giving), but not a death spiral.

If a church enters a period where its incoming offerings are consistently falling behind its costs, there’s a deeper problem. Maybe membership is declining. Maybe the church became too dependent on a few large donors, and one of them has gone. Maybe there’s major inefficiencies in how the church spends its money.

In any case, something needs to be addressed. And the real problem will get addressed faster if the church doesn’t have a year’s operating expenses sitting in the bank waiting to be drained.

Ultimately, a church that doesn’t interact with the community, that hoards its resources while ignoring the needs just outside its well-manicured lawn … that church is missing a great opportunity, like the rich man and his barns.

Second Sin: Worshiping My Own Efforts (Repenting in Sackcloth and Ashes, Part 2)

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Bonifacio de Pitati, c. 1504s

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Bonifacio de Pitati, c. 1504s

Lord, I come before you now to repent of the sins I have participated in, specifically the corporate sins of American Evangelicalism. Forgive us, for we have desecrated your name in the eyes of the world. Forgive us, for we have made a mockery of your salvation.

Those outside our faith say we are immoral, and, Lord forgive us, they are often right.

I come before you again to repent of my sins. Today, I repent of worshiping the works of my own hands. Not idols of gold and silver, but my own efforts, my own achievements.

I repent of every stereotypical word I’ve said about the poor, of complaining about people who aren’t disabled, but who don’t work, live on welfare, etc., etc.

Like almost everyone else who says those things, I was raised in a very solid family, went to decent schools, and was instilled with a work ethic and a sense of hope from a young age.

I was not raised in a tenement, with extended family shoved into a small house or apartment, with “father figures” coming and going.

I was not raised by people with no job skills, no understanding of how credit or money worked, and no understanding of the basic etiquette and work ethic required to succeed in any job.

I was not raised in a crime zone, where murders, drug raids, and beatings were a regular part of life.

I was not schooled in a failing, de facto segregated school with a culture that lionized teen pregnancy and demonized academic achievement.

The American dream worked for me, and I thought, cruelly and stupidly, that it worked for everyone else who wasn’t lazy or crooked.

I repent that I ever said or even thought to complain about my taxes going to these “leeches.”

I repent of every time I offered up private charity as an option, and then failed to give sacrificially to actually help the poor.  As a symbol of my penitence, I’m giving $500 of my personal spending money to World Vision (and trying to raise some additional money by matching donations).

I repent of tithing to churches that put 95% of their offerings toward administrative expenses, new high-tech buildings, or worse,  investments, so they can trust their savings accounts instead of trusting God to provide.

I doubly repent of tithing to those churches and then thinking I’d done enough.

I repent of ever thinking I was worth more than any life on this planet.

I repent of ever thinking I own any of my accomplishments. Had I been born in Biafra or Cambodia in 1975, would I be here now? Had I been born in Ethiopia or Somalia in 1975, would I be here now? Had I been born to a fourteen year old single mother, whose own mother had not yet turned thirty, just down the road from where I was born in Mississippi, would I be here now?

God forbid I ever boast. God forbid any of us ever boast.

Gluttony

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony by Hieronymus Bosch

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony by Hieronymus Bosch, c 1450-1516 AD

You know what I like?

I like it when skinny-jean wearing hipster-Christians  talk about how “Fat gluttonous pastors will get up on stage and talk about living like Jesus,” and then compare them to worship leaders who visit prostitutes.

I really like  it when they write these articles on their brand new iProducts (made with real Slave Labor[TM] and assembled at a suicide factory!)

And I absolutely LOVE it when they conflate obesity with gluttony, and forget that the POOR in America are the most prone to obesity, but the RICH (and middle class) use far more resources.

You see, Gluttony isn’t about weighing too much to put a full-body photo of yourself on your blog as promotional material. It’s about devouring all you want, without concern for those who are going without.

Back in the day, those were correlated. But today, in America? No-name hot dogs are 99 cents per package. Fresh fish is often ten times that much. White bread? 99 cents a loaf. Health-conscious stone-ground wheat? Two or three times that much. Low-grade, high-fat ground beef? You guessed it, 99 cents a pound. Boneless, skinless chicken breast? Four times that much.

It looks like we fat gluttons “got 99 problems, but being rich ain’t one.”

I know I’m sensitive about this, because I’m a super-heavyweight myself. But the thing is, I freely acknowledge my gluttony.  I am a glutton.

I’m not a glutton because of my waistband.

I’m not a glutton because of my BMI.

I AM a glutton because I use resources carelessly.

I AM a glutton because I buy and throw things away for no good reason.

I AM a glutton because I’m hip-deep in the stream of cheap consumer goods that flood into America like lemmings over a cliff.

I AM a glutton because lights stay on in my house. The DVR is on non-stop, scanning, waiting to record. I’m always charging something. Like most of my countrymen, I use electricity like it’s free.

I AM a glutton because I drive wherever I want, without stopping to think how much gas I’m using.

And chances are, if you’re an American, you are too.

Even if you squeeze your hips into 28″ waist blue jeans, and still have enough room in your pocket for your iPhone.