When this article was first drafted, a prominent newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Independent, had as their top headline that the United States is in a Depression.
While it is true that America may face economic challenges, Christians can learn to tap into principles based on the economics of the Kingdom of God, instead of the standards of the world economy.
People must understand one simple fact: there is not any less money in the world today, it is simply being concentrated into the hands of fewer people who operated in wisdom & integrity or acted prudently to avoid financial catastrophe awaiting the seductive real estate bubble. There are also those who operated in a wealth-creating mode not based on the subprime real estate market.
For those skilled in the marketplace, now is the time to purchase homes and invest in solid companies whose stocks are presently low. Thus, now is an incredible opportunity to create wealth, if you know how.
However, the purpose of this article is to illustrate a biblical principle regarding how the typical Christian or ministry should operate in wisdom during a season of surplus, so that during scarce times we will be prepared.
In Jeremiah 17:7-8 the word of God promises us that we can walk in prosperity during a time of scarcity:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
One of the keys to having enough during famine and scarcity is to learn how to operate on a minimum budget and not spend unnecessarily when you have surplus. For example, I tell pastors that they should never base their operating budget on the extravagant tithe or giving of one person or from one concentrated area that produces a large percentage of their income. Your budget should be spread out to reflect the average financial demographic of your church or business, not one small fraction of it, that could easily be knocked off by a changing economy or the vicissitudes of life.
I knew of one church in the 1980’s that made the mistake of purchasing a building and basing their budget on the large tithe of one individual family that was giving more than $5,000 per month. Their ability to sustain a long-term mortgage was based on the tenuous assumptions that A) this family would not leave their church, and B) this family’s business, which was based on Wall Street, would continue to prosper. Of course, the worst case scenario occurred: this person’s business went under and the church eventually lost the building. (This church does not even exist anymore!) What this church should have done was bank the surplus in an interest-bearing reserve account, instead of basing their operations on it.
My wife and I have practiced this principle both in our personal lives and in our church. For example, I remember when our church first started in 1984 and our attendance and offerings started exploding. After just three years of existence we had already saved as a church about $150,000, which was a lot for those days. The Lord instructed us to take a very minimal salary. Also, out of principle, we also refused to spend money on anything unless it was absolutely necessary.
In hindsight, it was because of the prudent handling of our church’s finances that our church still exists. All hell broke loose approximately five years after the church’s founding. (The enemy usually attempts to destroy a church in its early stages before a solid foundation is built.) Our membership was cut in half. Consequently, we entered into a prolonged time of spiritual warfare and famine that lasted from about 1989 to 1992, in which our church was in the red for about $4,000 per month. Gratefully, we were able to tap into the money we had in reserve so that our mission continued unhindered until we were able to get on our feet again. Our reserves went down to about $60,000 before the tithes and offerings returned to normal and we got back in the black. If we had used all the extra money we received in the beginning on extravagant salaries, musical equipment, and other bells and whistles that usually go along with foolish surplus spending, our church would have been bankrupt within five years of its inception!
Another time, during a period when our church hired some very competent staff, one of our staff members left. Instead of using the freed up salary money to hire another person, I experimented to see if our staff could handle all of the responsibilities without replacing the departing staff member. After three months I knew my assumption was correct and made the decision not to hire a replacement, all the while banking what would have been the former staff member’s salary in a reserve account, as if we were still paying that person, so we would not adjust our budget or spend money on unnecessary things. Consequently, after just two years, our church had an extra $70,000 saved in an interest-bearing account which we were able to use in emergencies to help pay for necessary expenses.
We also did the same thing when our church burned the mortgage of our current building in early 2005. I instructed my finance manager to continue “paying the mortgage” to an interest-bearing reserve account that we did not touch. We banked almost $3,500 every month and saved a significant amount of money for other needs. That account went up into the thousands of dollars as well before we had to touch the money for necessary expenses.
Churches also must learn to spread out their tithes and offerings to offset the seasons of the year when offerings are typically lower. For example, most churches experience a 30-40% drop in tithes and offerings during the summer. Thus, they should plan ahead and save money they can tap into during these off-peak times.
I also want to illustrate wise budgeting with a personal example. When my wife started receiving a salary from a government grant for her work with families (up until that time my wife received no salary at all from the church or the charity she oversees), we actually made a decision to bank my whole salary and live on her salary, which was $4,000 less annually than my salary! Soon, we were able to take the money we saved and purchased an asset that will hopefully continue to appreciate for years to come.
Whereas most people I know would have taken that extra money and spent it on items that depreciate in value like new furniture, vacations, expensive clothes, etc., we refused to spend it and instead invested it in something that would appreciate in value so we could leave an inheritance for our children’s children (Proverbs 13:22). Of course, all the while we have given not just tithes, but a large percentage of our money in offerings to aid our church in its mission.
Even though we were putting two of our five children through college, and already had one mortgage on our primary home, we were still able to live on less than most single people I know who were bringing in as much or more than we were living on. This is because they lack discipline in their spending habits and prudence regarding their future.
Consequently, I and my wife are prosperous and have much more in assets and investments than many people who earn five times the amount of money we make!
I know of many people who purchase expensive new cars, go on expensive vacations, and buy designer clothes and costly jewelry, yet they are paying someone else’s mortgage as renters of an apartment, while racking up huge credit card debt in the process.
One of the great biblical examples illustrating this principle of saving during times of plenty is the story of Joseph. He was elevated to second in command in all of Egypt after he instructed Pharaoh by the Spirit of God to command his royal government to save 20% of all their crops during seven years of plenty. When seven years of famine came, the royal throne would become greater because of its ability to sustain the nation with food. Because of his great prudence in hearing from the Lord and operating in kingdom principles during this time, Joseph received great power and honor as a mere thirty year-old (Genesis 41:28-46).
In our church, we instruct our church family not only how to give but how to get, how to manage what they get, and that they should not only tithe to the church but to their future with investments and savings that appreciate, so they can leave an inheritance to their grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 teaches that wealth transfer will only take place for those who have an intergenerational plan for finances. Also, I teach them to pay as a minimum on credit cards what they spent the previous month, not to go by the minimum the lending company is telling them to pay, so they are not killed on interest and become slaves to their lenders.
During a time of famine many Christians panic. Because they are operating in fear, they make foolish decisions that can negatively affect their destiny. During these times we need to operate with wisdom based on biblical principles and remain planted in the geographic place and assignment the Lord has called us to, irrespective of economic challenges. In Genesis 26:1-3, God told Isaac not to move to Egypt but to remain in the land and fulfill the assignment He had for him, and that if he did so God would prosper him. Genesis 26:12-13 reports that Isaac received a hundredfold return on his work because he obeyed the Lord. Jesus said that when we obey His assignment in regards to the giving of our lives, time, and finances we will receive hundreds of times more back in this life (Mark 10:29-30)!
We must continue to put the Lord first and give what He commands regarding tithes and offerings. If we support His kingdom we will always have enough, even as the widow in Zarephath found out when she fed Elijah with her last meal (1 Kings 17:7-16).
Truly, as Christians we need to go beyond just giving our tithes; we need to operate with prudence regarding 100% of the finances the Lord has entrusted to us as His faithful stewards. Then we will prosper in the land even during a time of famine.