I think what makes conversations about money and the church so difficult is because it seems so, well, unspiritual. Church should be about Jesus. Church should talk about the forgiveness of sins and the Gospel and Sacraments and all of these truly important things. But when the church talks about money, images of sleazy televangelists asking for funds somehow comes to mind. Who has time for that?
The problem is that there is a vicious circle in place when it comes to spiritual life and the growth of the congregation. The Gospel is free, and it now frees us to sacrifice for the sake of those around us. And one of the first ways that sacrifice takes place is by providing for the Gospel and Sacraments to our family, and by sharing that same Jesus family, friends, and neighbors both near and far. But somehow, the money we set aside for the most important person in our lives (Jesus) is somehow de-prioritized or, ahem, downsized for the sake of our many other interests.
Let me be concrete for a bit, in the hopes that we can make sense of what it means to budget for the Gospel and the future. And to do that, let’s talk about family budgets.
A budget is, at the heart of things, a spending plan. It is sitting down and saying, “this is how much we think we’re going to receive in income, and this is how much we plan on spending.” When a budget is effective and working well, there is enough margin to adjust for unpredicted expenses. It is also a way of thinking through our spending priorities before we spend the money.
When a budget isn’t working well, it is because we haven’t captured and planned for all the expenses, or we don’t actually use this budget as a way of making spending decisions at all. It may be that we spend emotionally, rather than rationally or spiritually.
For most household budgets, we can lump our expenses into the following big categories, in no particular order:
- Housing (mortgage, rent, utilities, etc.)
- Food & Clothing
- Offering and Charities
Your list may have more categories, or it may have less. It depends on where you are in life, your family situation, and a thousand other factors. But you get the basic idea.
So when I go to write a check to church, how do I determine how much that should be? Is it whatever is leftover at the end of the month? Is it the first money I spend, the last, or somewhere in between? As we are considering what it means to live together as the Body of Christ, I want to challenge you to re-thinking your own spending priorities. Look at your own family budget and ask yourself, “Does our spending reflect what we value as a family?”
As a final thought, I would leave you with this Scripture verse from our Lord: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34 ESV) What I find so remarkable about this verse is that we would like for it to be the other way around. As a spiritual Christian, I want my heart to determine where my treasure is. But it doesn’t work that way. Is it possible that my budgeting shows that I care more about eating out, or vacation, or having the newest gadget, more than I care about the proclamation of the Gospel?
Budgeting has a way of getting at the heart of what we hold most dear. We may not always like what it reveals, but the process is a part of growing up as the Body of Christ, and learning what it means to sacrifice for the sake of all of those around us. Christ, who is our Body and Life, is the one who both teaches us and leads us who to be and what we will become. Thank God for that!