Last night at the first Executive Board meeting of the New Year we voted on the proposed budget for 2010. Because of our 40 day all-church study of Unbinding Your Heart in the early fall (and the corresponding sabbatical from regular church business), our annual stewardship program was pushed back. It is also partially due to Unbinding Your Heart that our approach to giving/spending in the coming year has been reevaluated.
For the past several years, our church has been blessed to be able to meet its fixed expenses (not budgeted expenses) and finish out the financial year without a deficit. This included holiday offerings, local outreach giving and other “pass through” offerings, such as Week of Compassion, Blanket Sunday, etc. What it didn’t include was a line item in the budget for our Disciple’s Mission Fund. In that respect, we have been running a significant deficit. It was our hope to make a contribution to the mission fund of the Christian church from our regular operating expenses, but at the end of the year the money simply wasn’t there.
When our Stewardship Ministry began plans for the upcoming year, we had a decision to make. Either we needed to eliminate the line item in our budget for mission – reflecting our actual giving out of operating expenses – or else make it the centerpiece of our budget. I’m proud to say that our Stewardship Ministry and Executive Board have chosen to take a step of faith in our approach to the “family checkbook.” Instead of waiting till the end of the year to see what is left, our giving to the Disciple Mission Fund will be the first check written at the beginning of each month (@ $1,000 per month) – starting right now. Additional special offerings will continue to be solicited through the year, as well (e.g., after just one Sunday we were able to send a check to Week of Compassion for $1,200 for Haiti relief with more offerings coming in).
Of course, this comes at a time of great economic uncertainty and fear. Many of our members and friends have seen their ability to give diminished in the recent past. For another year, we were unable to offer our staff even a cost of living adjustment. Already, our staff is saving the church approximately $21,000 a year by relying on the insurance benefits of spouses – and “belt-tightening” is being done at every level. However, we believe that making mission giving a first priority instead of an afterthought will ultimately be the best and most faithful course of action.
One of the things we emphasize in our annual stewardship program is the need for individuals and families to put God first in terms of their spending. The Bible has promised those who put the Kingdom first will experience blessings beyond what they might have imagined possible – and many of us have experienced this personally. Now it is time to put this faith into practice as a community.
The difficult truth is that the budget for 2010 includes expenses that cannot be entirely underwritten by the pledges we have received thus far. Central Christian Church has a rich history of generosity and outward-directed ministry and I believe we will not only meet this challenge, but exceed it. I’m proud to be your pastor and to share in this commitment to mission, both at home and around the world.