Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Living within our means

The church should live within its means.

I have heard this phrase many times, and it sits uneasily on my heart. At first glance, it makes sense. My husband and I earn income, and it is important that we do not spend what we do not have. If we incur an enormous debt, we might risk bankruptcy. We need to live within our means, shouldn’t the church do the same?

Here is the thing. In my years of studying the Bible, I have never found scriptural proof that a church should live within its means.

God did not encourage Moses to live within his means when he walked the children of Israel across the Red Sea -- God provided.

God did not ask Solomon to build a temple within a budget -- God provided.

God did not ask the church of the New Testament to work within a budget -- God provided.

Our Good and Gracious Lord knows that Lutherans know how to work a budget. We are good at thinking things through, making a plan, and sticking to it.

What we are not good at is giving – or trusting. Instead, we try to live within our means. And that is where the trouble begins.

People gripe about covering costs beyond the budget when the problem started at the offering plate. The church and school tighten the belt a bit more, the church workers feel the belt tighten each year. Salaries freeze, workers, are let go, insurance benefits are cut back, the workers provide the supplies. Even through all of this, the church workers are saddest when ministry is cut back.

All of this in the name of living within our means. 

This attitude is small minded. It is evidence of a lack of trust. It is arrogance in the face of what God can, and does, do for us. It is dangerous.

I am not advocating for churches to spend without care, without thought, without prayer. I am advocating for putting our trust in God rather than in budgets.

My mother lives in retirement housing. She has lived on her own for quite a while, but this time is coming to an end. The falls (and broken bones) are becoming more frequent. She is currently in a wheelchair with her leg in a cast. She has diabetes and cannot see. She cannot bathe herself, clean the apartment, do her laundry, grocery shop, or get herself to a doctor’s appointment. 

Yet, she wants to live within her means. She does not wish to put her trust in others to care for her. She cannot see that others are already doing this. Health aids, nurses, assistants, her children; many people come to her aid to patch together a safe living for her. 

She no longer lives within her means.

This evening the LifeLine people called me to let me know that she had fallen again. It took me close to 30 minutes to get to her apartment, find someone with a key, try to help her up and eventually call the fire department in order to get her off the floor and safely onto her bed. If she were living in an assisted living facility, she would have received help within minutes. Her desire to live within her means is becoming dangerous to her well-being. 

While we were waiting for the fire department, I mentioned that it might be past the time when she can live alone. She quietly agreed. This conversation will continue.

None of us can truthfully live within our means. Our means are limited. Our means are small-minded and weak. Our means are blind to the needs of others and to the possibilities that only God can see.

Our means are weighed down by our sin.

We must live within God’s means. We have a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present.

We can only live within His means of Grace: the Word, the Sacraments, the saving work of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the blessing of the Father, and the power of the Spirit. 

Why would we want to live within our means when we have God?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23, ESV

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Many churches ask the wrong question when they start with "What can we afford to do?" The question they should be asking is, "What do we believe God wants us to do?" Only after we have sought out the answer to that question through prayer and Christian conversation should we even begin to discuss the financial aspects of the ministry.

As you have said, "It's about trust." Do we trust God to give us the means to do the ministry we believe He is leading us to do?