Our trickle-down congregational economics

Dec 7, 2017 by

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A proposed congregational mission statement: To be good news for the poor, to heal the broken, to proclaim release for prisoners, to restore sight to the blind, to advocate for the oppressed, and to celebrate God’s jubilee for all.

If we were to truly represent Jesus’ inside-out kingdom, how would that be reflected in our congregational budgets?

Church budgets are moral documents, a reflection of our actual values. Follow the money, we are told.

This is not to say that alleviating the needs of the homeless and destitute is the only thing Jesus’ followers are about. We also need to help support, as needed, those in teaching, pastoral care and other church ministries. And if we own a building, we need to maintain it and pay the utility bills.

But how can our budgets better reflect Jesus’ primary mission as announced in Luke 4?

Here are some current budget percentages typical of Mennonite churches in our community:

40 percent — staff salaries and benefits
20 percent — utilities, maintenance, repairs, supplies, capital costs
15 percent — tuition grants for those attending church schools
15 percent — support for missions and other church related institutions and organizations
10 percent — support for relief agencies and charitable organizations

Of course not even the 10 percent (?) we send to agencies to which we outsource our food and relief aid all goes to the poor. There are administrative and other personnel involved who are paid well and who are well cared for.

But some of our giving does eventually reach the truly needy, for which I am sure they are truly grateful.

And to be clear, my concern is not just about developing alternative budget pie charts, but about our being able to vastly enlarge the charitable pie itself. Like most Americans, we carefully calculate our giving so it doesn’t interfere with our goal of amassing more wealth every year of our working life. Can followers of Jesus really find any support in the gospels for that kind of entitlement?

According to a 2005 study, U.S. Mennonites, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, don’t even give a tithe of their incomes to charity, much less sell their surplus wealth, downsize their homes or adjust their spending to be more like that of their sisters and brothers in the rest of the world. Were we to do so, most of our congregations, in the spirit of Pentecost, could easily triple the size of their church budgets without experiencing any real hardship.

Plus it would be a powerful witness to a skeptical world, and a source of great joy to everyone concerned.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

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