Should Christians Give Money to Ministries Deep in Debt?

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Let me be a stick in the mud to generate some discussion - does Scripture tell us to support para-church organizations or our own local churches with our money? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Interestingly, it seems like most of Paul's calls to giving were to local churches, but not for them -- instead it was giving to support the church at Jerusalem.  Not exactly a para-church organization, but certainly one that had trouble with solvency.

It's not really all that clear from scripture that if there were means to get the money directly to Jerusalem, whether Paul would or would not have encouraged giving directly.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

The first comment is that by and large, we're to support our local church and its ministries.  But going beyond being a simple stick in the mud (perhaps to be a log in the mud), I'd be very cautious about churches that have a lot of debt--all foo often, it's a sign that leadership is getting a bit too big for its britches.  Same thing with parachurch ministries, really.  You're going to necessarily divert attention from making disciples to servicing debt.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Actually, I agree that the local church generally has priority for our giving, and I structure my own giving that way.  However, given what I see in the NT about giving, I also resist the idea that *all* our giving should be "storehouse" giving.

And as regards debt, it clearly can't always be avoided, but as part of stewardship, I would be *very* careful when deciding to support a ministry where pretty much everything that comes in goes to debt service rather than toward ministry.

Dave Barnhart

mmartin's picture

From a business management perspective, way too many ministries are run by pastors or academics who have no idea of how to properly run a lemonade stand, never mind a multi-million dollar organization.  Recent examples of this are Pillsbury, Northland, and I can't remember the name, but a few years ago there was a missions board that closed due to inept business practices.  This missions organization's missionaries lost out on support they were due - the missionaries themselves were the one's holding the bag when the music stopped.

The Bible mentions money more than almost any other subject in the Bible.  In fact, I would argue that from a certain perspective NO ministry happens without money.  (Think, "There is no such thing as a free lunch.")  Ministry and money are intertwined.

Yet I see too many ministry leaders fuss and resent that basic principal.  Honestly, they willfully ignore and are intentionally oblivious to the most basic business principles.  As a result their people or often hurt by this negligent "leadership" and the resources the Lord gave them are squandered away.

A ministry must have proper balance between its mission and business principles.  Too many ministries lean too heavily on the former and to their demise, much less on the later.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have always considered basic competence in money management to be a component of "one that ruleth well his own house," (1 Tim 3:4). If he can't manage his own finances, how can he be trusted with the congregation's? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Given that the Patzes did get their wealth via business, it might be said that you've got to be the right kind of businessman.  You can run a farm implement business (which is what Patz does today) out in the sticks.  On the flip side, doing the same with a Bible college is tougher.  In the same way, Pillsbury probably suffered a lot because a lot of what Doc Clearwaters did required a man of the skills of....Doc Clearwaters....to hold things together.

Great example of a good businessman in the wrong place was the Apple executive who went to JC Penney and promptly ran the place into the ground.  Great instincts for tech, lousy for mid range retail.

Agreed 100% that financial savvy ought to be represented in church leadership, and huge debt is a warning sign.  That said, understanding Dave Ramsey's 7 steps (again, I 100% endorse this) is not a good substitute for understanding the "business".  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

mmartin's picture

When I mentioned "Business Principles," I am referring to all that encompasses the proper management and leadership of running an organization in a sustainable, Biblical stewardship manner.  These business principles include:  Finances, Personnel, Constituency, Branding, Marketing, Donors, Short-term & Long-term vision for consistency and sustainability, Mission & Vision statements - the Whole ball of wax.

Bert Perry, I agree with you about Dr. Clearwaters in the sense of Pillsbury suffering.  From what I hear he was sort of like a domineering Steve Jobs personality, with both good and bad too often at extremes.  He was able to get things done, but at what cost and for what reason?  Personally, I reject that kind of leadership.

Bert Perry's picture

MMartin, I'm going to have to parse out my statements on Doc Clearwaters very carefully--starting with the fact that as a former member of 4th, and having been hugely blessed by the faculty, staff, and students at Central, I'm extremely grateful for a lot God did through him.  I also started attending 4th after his death, so I can not speak to his style of leadership or personality.  Perhaps you are right; I am simply not the man to say it.

What I'm getting at is really simple; one of the traps of great ability is that one does not foresee what will happen after the great man is no longer there to manage things.  Think Alexander the Great and Charlemagne dividing their empires among multiple men because there were no heirs sufficient to manage the whole deal--and leading to centuries of warfare.  Think also of a lot of companies that don't survive the death or retirement of their founder.  

Along these lines, one of the key things in my profession of quality engineering is to set up a system and culture that will carry a company (or other entity) through these leadership transitions.  That's a big reason why ISO certification is such a big deal.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.