Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come…” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

When we do not give as we have been prospered or when we purposely withhold our contribution for some reason there are unintended consequences…

Imagine a boy in poverty-stricken rural India, who more than anything else, would like to have his very own copy of the Bible. For weeks, he has been told by a local missionary that he was expecting a shipment of Bibles from his sponsoring congregation in the USA and that when they arrived he would give each child a copy. Finally, the shipment arrives (fewer boxes than expected) – the children all line up and the missionary passes out the Bibles. Each child that receives a Bible goes away beaming with happiness. The boy patiently waits his turn, excited at the prospect of being able to read from his very own Bible. When the boy reaches the front of the line, imagine how crestfallen he would be to learn that there were no more Bibles – that there had not been enough money to purchase all that were needed.

What a tragedy. How easily it could have been avoided…

How do stories like this happen? Those among us who live on a fixed income understand just how difficult it is to live on that amount. The cost of living climbs at a higher rate each year than does the amount drawn from retirement accounts, disability or from Social Security. Every year the cost of food, utilities, health care, insurance, gasoline and other essentials goes up. A fixed income stays virtually the same every year while the expenses and expenditures increase. The result – people living on a fixed income have to go without some things. They have to “make do” with less. They have to find ways to “cut” costs.

The same is true with congregations. Most churches operate on a fixed budget. The have certain amounts allotted for various essential expenditures. In the United States, where most congregations own the building in which they meet, there are many essential expenses that must be made – that are simply the “cost of doing business” – the Lord’s business. Church buildings must be insured – the level of insurance must be adequate to rebuild or replace the building in case of fire, flood or some other natural disaster. Not just property insurance is needed, but also liability insurance is necessary. If a visitor slips on the floor, breaks their leg, and then sues the congregation (this has happened) liability insurance will help cover that expense. In addition, the cost of utilities go up every year, oftentimes every month. Older buildings are also in need of constant repair and upkeep. Sometimes things just break – A/C compressors, toilets, etc. All of this costs money. Other church building expenses include grounds maintenance and janitorial work. All of this just to maintain a place to meet for worship and Bible study.

Most congregations also have located preachers. Preachers are hired and supported by the congregation so that they can preach and teach the gospel and to do the work of an evangelist. Preachers often have families and they need adequate financial support so that they can live in the community and do their job and support their family. Often congregations will also compensate preachers by providing a house and utilities and by helping pay the cost of private health care insurance (which usually costs about twice what most employees pay in their company subsidized health insurance plans). Again, all of these things all cost the congregation money.

Congregations do not just have buildings and hire preachers – they also are involved with many other ministries. Edification, Bible classes – material must be bought and paid for. This includes the class books and materials, copiers, laminators, staples, crayons, etc. Evangelism – tracts must be ordered, tract racks bought, advertising purchased, travel and motel expense for visiting preachers. Benevolence – church members need financial help from time to time, food pantries need to be supplied, etc. Worship – song books must be purchased and sometimes replaced, pew Bibles, PowerPoint projectors, sound system and CD recording / copying expenses, grape juice and unleavened bread must the provided and so forth.

Thus far, we have listed only essential expenses just the basic “cost of doing business.” However, congregations are not just interested in supporting the local work, but they are also involved in supporting the work of the church worldwide. Foreign missionaries are supported by local congregations. Domestic missions are supported as well. College programs are supported – student ministries, Bible chairs and other important evangelistic work on college campuses. Students in the various preacher-training schools are also supported by various local congregations.

The “cost of doing business” increases annually. It costs more money each year to keep up with the essential expenditures. When these costs go up and the amount of financial contribution given by the members does not increase at the same rate or if it decreases, then congregations have to make cost savings somewhere. Operating budgets end up needing to be cut. What is usually the first thing to go? Generally speaking, since the local congregation’s primary mission is to their local community, the first area they cut back in is on foreign or domestic mission work.

Missionaries depend upon contributions sent by various congregations from around the world. Usually they are only able to raise money with great difficulty and are very dependant upon the supporters they do have. What happens when they lose even one supporter? They go without. They have to perform their mission with less. Perhaps they cannot afford to buy all the Bibles that they need. Perhaps they run short of funds for Bible class material. Perhaps they cannot afford to travel to as many villages as they would. The result – perhaps some who would have obeyed the gospel had they been able to hear it preached remain in a lost condition.

What happens when a congregation has a financial shortfall on a monthly basis? This can happen when a congregation has budgeted for certain things but other unforeseen expenses appear that exceed the available budget. When this happens, if there is a savings or escrow account, then these contingency funds need to be accessed. If it happens too frequently, that contingency fund will soon be exhausted. What happens then? Imagine family in the congregation in which the father suffers some serious disability leaving him unable to work. He is now unable to support his wife and children. His medical bills far surpass what he would be able to pay even if he was able to work. Financial ruin and bankruptcy soon follow. His wife, at wit’s end, goes to one of the elders and asks for the congregation to help them out. Imagine the elder who has to explain to this heartbroken and desperate woman that there is no money – that they cannot help her.

What a tragedy. How easily it could have been avoided…

When we do not give as we have been prospered or when we purposely withhold our contribution for some reason there are unintended consequences…

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood…”(Mark 12:41-44 NKJV)

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