Here's one finance principle that should trump all others.
When it comes to the issue of financial stewardship, there is one principle that stands high above all the others.
It's so basic, I almost feel silly having to write it.
I call it "The Church Stewardship Prime Directive," because I believe there is no financial principle more important for a church to observe than this:
Don't spend more money than you bring in.
Maybe it's because this principle is so basic and commonsense that it's often taken for granted—and therefore ignored. And it's always a problem when we do.
I've heard far too many pastors and other church leaders try to gloss over their refusal to acknowledge this principle with high-sounding words that almost sound like faith.
"Where God guides, he provides."
"Empty yourself and the Lord will fill you back up."
"A generous heart will never be left wanting."
"Hey, that church has a cool, new sound system. I want one, too!"
You've heard them, too haven't you? Maybe you've said them yourself. Because they're true. Well, maybe not that last one …
There's just one problem with using sayings like that when the problem is overspending. Those principles have to do with generosity (again, except for that last one).
Overspending is not the same as generosity.
Yes, it's true that where God guides, he provides. But if we're not being good stewards of what he provides, the Parable of the Talents (and many other Scriptures) tells us that he will stop providing.
God won't entrust his treasure into a leaky bucket. And neither should our church members.
But that's exactly what many of our churches are. Not intentionally. And not deceitfully.
But having the right heart won't fix the leaky bucket.
If you want to solve your church's financial issues, start with a smart, prayerful, honest look at your church's budget.
Spending money you don't have isn't faith. It's bad stewardship.
A Concluding Word to the Faithful, But Still Struggling
If your church is struggling financially, I do not assume it's because you're managing your money poorly.
Not every financial problem in every church is caused by spending more than we take in. Many of you are faithful financial stewards, but you still face significant monetary challenges.
Fixing the leaks doesn't end every financial problem. Even a healthy bucket needs a steady income stream. But I'm stressing this principle because, if you are spending more than you're taking in, nothing else will help you or your church until that problem is resolved.
If your bucket is leaking, you won't solve your money problems by getting more money. The leaks must be fixed first.
If your bucket isn't leaking, if you're not spending more than you take in, but you're still facing severe financial problems, I know the feeling. A lot of us have been there. And many of us are with you there right now.
Even so, please heed this simple, but essential word of advice.
Don't spend what you don't have.
Faithfulness starts with discipline.
This post first appeared on NewSmallChurch.com and is adapted with permission.
Karl Vaters runs the New Small Church blog, serves as lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and is the author of The Grasshopper Myth.
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