Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eyes Opened to Crushing Debt

This past week's sermon I preached on money and how our perspective needs to change about it. (see post below) We need to see it and treat it as a gift from God, because then it is not 'ours' or 'mine'. During the beginning of the service I decided to try something different. We will be starting our second Financial Peace University Class on Sept. 12th and I'm excited about how many non-church members are signed up to take it. I think it is a great community outreach tool but also a tool to transform a congregation, over the long term. During this class it asks people to share (anonymously) what their debt is. So I did the same with us as a congregation.

I started off the service by passing out note cards and asking every family to write down their non-mortgage debt. There were 90 people in worship that day, basically our average worship attendance. I am not quiet sure how many families that means were there. (There were 20 children, leaving 70 adults, divided by two is 35.) I would estimate there were 35ish families represented there. The amount of non-mortgage debt (not what you owe on your house but everything else, student loans, credit cards, car payments, 2nd mortgages, etc...) that was reported was not surprising but still sad. As a congregation, myself included in that number, we have $630,000 worth of debt. These are estimates too so the reality is probably over $650,000.

Our church budget needs $11,000 a month to make it. We are currently $17,000 behind and are way behind on our apportionments, pension and health care payments (which is standard operating procedure for us and we have always paid out at 100% by year's end). We are in a big hole though. Even if our monthly payments are only 1% of our debt (which it isn't) that means we are giving the creditors $6,300 a month. That's $50,400 so far this year. We are currently $17,000 behind.

We are a lower to middle class congregation in a blue collar town. Most of the congregation is employed and we are rare in that we have a ton of young families. We have 60 kids and youth. But we are living the American Dream on money we don't have. I have come to agree with Dave Ramsey when he says "it isn't that people don't want to give to church, they can't." When a monthly payment to a family's debt sucks away 1/2 or even 2/3rds of a families monthly money how much room is there left to give to God.

This is a disease and I am realizing my congregation is serving another master with their pocketbooks. Not because they want to but because their decisions have moved them into this direction. I am still processing the ramifications of this new wisdom I have gained. Truth be told I was expecting a higher number. I was thinking that we had at least 7 digits worth of debt and if we added a couple more families to who was there we may get closer to a million.

What does this say about our approach to stewardship? How does this change an approach to preaching, teaching, and understanding where people are in life?

Prayer is where I'm starting and searching for these answers and more.

5 comments:

Teacher Lady said...

Let's hope He brings a bigger pie.

Dr. Tony said...

Jim,
Just out of curiosity, what would your district/conference do if you failed to pay 100% of your apportionments?

My conference has stated that churches which cannot meet the pastors will not necessarily be guaranteed an elder as a pastor. One local church lost their full-time pastor (an elder) because they could not pay their apportionments and now shares a local pastor with another church.

Dr. Tony said...

Whoops - forgot to ask if the apportionment issue is a local thing or all the conferences have the same problem.

Jim said...

Dr. Tony, that is about where we are as a conference as well. That is what they said and I believe for smaller churches they are correct, they will appoint a "less than elder", if that isn't too vulgar of a term. Yet, I think for larger congregations they continue to pump in quality and high paid pastors to them.

Double standard??

The 17,000 behind is a heavy load for our congregation to come back from but we are hoping and praying that it does. It is where we are behind in our personal budget, not on a conference level.

Hope that answered some of your questions and it was good to hear from you.

Dr. Tony said...

Jim,
Yes, it does. I have suggested that members of the finance committee at my church read your piece.

I also think that there are going to be some shocked souls when they hear about the policy concerning apportionments. Of course, they also think that it is "their" church and don't understand the nature of the Methodist connection.