Budget Shortfalls

Posted on August 10, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

Most households struggle to make ends meet, especially those growing families with educational bills and mortgages to pay beyond routine living expenses. It is too easy to let credit card balances grow and find oneself being sucked into the quicksand of interest payments and growing indebtedness.

Educational institutions, churches, denominational entities and other organizations face the same dilemma, especially those dependent on the voluntary gifts of their constituency. The stagnant economy has had ripple effects across every segment of business. Income is down, expenses are up, margins have narrowed and discretionary income is limited.

The private university where I serve on the board waits expectantly for donor gifts to emerge each month in order to meet its salary obligations. Churches have had to eliminate programs and release staff in order to survive on reduced offerings. My church is a wonderful congregation, conscientious about missions, ministry and serving its families. Yet budget giving has been flat for four years while expenses continue to increase.

Unfortunately many reduce or eliminate those budget items outside their local programs such as missions and Cooperative Program and forego staff salary increases. Sadly, more budget resources continue to be given to financial institutions for indebtedness than churches designate to missions outreach. After all, providing worship and educational facilities must be a priority!

I will never forget the first time the IMB experienced a budget shortfall under my leadership. Throughout the 1990s we experienced unprecedented growth. Record numbers of missionaries were sent out, and financial support rode the wave of a prosperous economy. People asked if we could continue at such a pace of mission advance. I always replied by quoting J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission who said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack for God’s supply.”

I encouraged our board and our missionaries to stay focused on the task and God would provide the needed resources. Then, suddenly, we no longer had the resources needed. We never doubted that God, who owned the cattle on a a thousand hills, had all the resources we needed for His work–so, why wasn’t He making them available to us through His people.

That dilemma forced us to our knees. I remember at a staff leadership retreat asking each participant what they believed God was saying to us. We concluded three things:

The first was that we were trusting the affluence of Southern Baptist churches to provide for our needs rather than trusting God, and that wasn’t honoring to Him. The second conviction was whether or not we were being good stewards of the resources we did have. Though far short of our budget, we still received over $250 million from Southern Baptists–a pretty good resource for our global mission enterprise. The result was tightening our belt, downsizing staff and eliminating some fluff in overseas expenditures.

Finally, we concluded that it would be worth it to go through a couple of years of austere budgeting if it would awaken our churches to the need to give higher priority to missions. Incidentally, they responded the following year with the largest increase ever in giving to missions.

When our churches and other Christian institutions experience budget shortfalls, it is always good to ask what God may be trying to tell us. Are we looking to our members to come through or truly trusting God. Are we being good stewards of the resources we do have. And just maybe a financial crisis will awaken our members to be more faithful tithers and generous givers.

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