Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Financing, Focus, and Failure: The Church Buying into the World

Yahoo News offered a revealing story on churches in the midst of the 2009 economic crisis. “Foreclosures and delinquencies for congregations are rising, according to companies that specialize in church mortgages. With credit scarce, church construction sites have gone quiet, holding shells of sanctuaries that were meant to be completed months ago. Congregants have less money to give, and pastors who stretched to buy property in the boom are struggling to hold onto their churches.”

The Scriptures declare that economies will always change. Above all others, the people of God should not be caught unaware of such a reality. Yet, while some churches that have acted wisely have been caught unaware in the downturn, other churches have been caught because they have acted unwisely. Other factors can contribute to the problem including the fact that some churches have experienced a drop in donations due to congregational rifts. Some are renegotiating mortgages and some are closing down. Other churches are attempting to survive through additional funds provided by congregation members who have mortgaged their homes. Such a move can make a church’s position that much more precarious. If the bank is unwilling to loan more money, the church is deemed not to have the means to pay. By borrowing from its members, the church is simply going deeper into the hole and making longer and more difficult the road to recovery.

Yet another reason the church has so little impact in contemporary American life is that her pursuits and the way she goes about those pursuits is not unlike the world. While the gospel of Christ is the only means of saving souls, while the church has been given a commission to take that gospel to the nations, while a focus on others and self-sacrifice are vaunted values in Scripture, many American churches spend millions of dollars on massive campuses littered with buildings and equipment to serve themselves. At the same time, the culturally bred appetite for such is so insatiable that churches are willing to violate biblical principles to obtain what they want. While borrowing money is not strictly forbidden by Scripture, it is clear that wisdom must be exercised in such an endeavor. Overextending is presumption in the face of clear teaching that wealth is uncertain (1 Tim. 6:17).

Even more serious is the fact that God’s reputation and the gospel’s power are on the line when churches default on their loans. Their witness is ruined. Make no mistake: the world takes note when churches don’t pay their bills. Neither is it lost on them when the church values its own wealth and earthly glory.

At issue here is not whether local congregations can have physical facilities. The issue is what type of facilities does a church have and for what purpose. It’s difficult to talk about personal stewardship and a denial of self for the sake of the gospel if the collective church is not setting the example. How many churches have been burdened with debt because of the pastor’s ego? How many churches have suffered financially in the aftermath of a church rift or economic downturn because of massive debt?

Christians must also think carefully before co-signing for a church or borrowing a large sum of money against their homes. Not only might they be joining in something that is not honoring to the Lord, but they could be doing something that is unwise. Note Prov. 22:26-27: “Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts; if you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take away your bed from under you?” God is essentially saying “Don’t be stupid. You might lose your house if things go south.”

Further, with reference to church facilities, it is true that God’s glory is on display in beauty and architecture. But, other biblical principles must come into play when determining what type of facility is appropriate for a New Testament church. Some will site Old Testament examples of God’s displeasure over the Temple lying in ruins (Hag. 1:1f). However, we should keep in mind three critical facts: 1) The Old Testament temple is a picture of the true temple which is Christ and His body (1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 21:22). 2) The true temple is that which has the true beauty. That beauty has nothing to do with a physical building but the beauty of God’s wisdom and God’s people who come together from different backgrounds to form one body in Christ (Eph. 3:1-10). 3) The true temple of God is no longer confined to one location but is now scattered throughout the whole world. The type of building the true temple (God’s people) worships in is irrelevant in terms of adornment. The people are its adornment.

In the end, the question is always the same. What is your focus? What drives you? Is it worldly wealth and comfort? Is it extravagance? Is it a monument to man? Or, are you driven by satisfaction in God and His glory and the resulting wise stewardship of the things He has given you by grace? Money and financing are viable tools for accomplishing certain ends. Yet, those tools must be used properly and the ends must be submitted to the scrutiny of God’s word. May God give us His focus. May we commit to avoid buying into the value system of the world that we might avoid failure.

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