The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. (Psalm 24:1)
As many of you know, money’s a bit tight at Sanctuary. We are incredibly grateful that we have come this far, and for the giving which has made this possible. We are also aware that the cost of living has risen dramatically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, giving has dropped; but this is raising some hard questions about our long term viability. In thinking about this situation, some people have asked how Baptist churches are funded. In short:
Baptist churches are independently funded and financially self-sustaining. At the core of a healthy Baptist church you’ll find a group of committed people who give money and time to ensure that there is a pastor and that the work of the church is done.
Perhaps you wonder why we don’t receive income from grants, investments, or other external funding. A big part of Baptist identity is the historic separation of church and state. Once Baptists were no longer actively persecuted by the state, they nevertheless sought to retain their prophetic edge. This means that Baptists have only rarely accepted land grants or other government funding. So unlike some denominations, Baptists don’t have billions of dollars in property and trust funds, and the Union does not have the capacity to fund congregations in an ongoing way.
Some churches generate income through buildings or investments. Sanctuary, however, is a church plant. It does not have a portfolio of buildings and investments built up by earlier generations, and so has no income from these sources.
Some churches generate income through op shops, cafés, or other social enterprises. These require a vision, a building, and a team of highly committed volunteers which, again, we do not currently have. And sadly, some churches which have gone down this road no longer have a regular worshipping community or any public proclamation of the gospel, which raises the question of whether they are a church. Social enterprises are not a bad thing, but they are also not this strange and wonderful beast we call church.
As for size, Baptist churches vary greatly and Sanctuary is small but not unusually so. Many congregations of our size not only employ a pastor but also shoulder ongoing building and maintenance costs. Here at Sanctuary, the congregation pays nothing for a building; the only real cost is our part-time pastor.
Why should the pastor be paid?
People have suggested that I do the work that others do for free: praying with people, wrestling with Scriptures etc. To some extent, this is true, in that people in most helping professions are doing what others do for free. Whether it’s teaching, counselling, conflict resolution, making soup, low-level nursing, caring for children, or providing financial advice, non-professionals also do these things, and for free. Nevertheless, we set some people aside to be trained, supervised, accountable, and financially enabled to make sure these things are done. Ministry is no different.
How much should we give?
We all have different incomes, expenses and margins, and so every household has to work this out for themselves. But to help with this thinking, here are two approaches.
First, there’s the conservative approach of tithes, gifts, and offerings.
- ‘Tithes’ refers to the giving we see in Genesis 28 and Leviticus 27. It means giving one-tenth of all that you earn, before taxes and other expenses, to God’s work, and is regarded as the portion of your earnings that, quite simply, belongs to God. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean funding the work of the local church, that is, paying for a building, for a pastor, and for local church ministries. While it’s no longer assumed that everyone will tithe, some people do. Indeed, tithing is one reason we’ve made it this far here at Sanctuary (and to those people who tithe – a massive thank you!).
- ‘Gifts’ refers to alms-giving. It is a basic human response to the pressing and urgent needs of others. This includes giving coins in the street, money to a friend in need, and donations to development agencies or humanitarian projects. Many of you give generously in this category. Gifts are traditionally given on top of the tithe, and are not considered part of the tithe.
- ‘Offerings’ is anything that you give over and above your tithe and your alms-giving, and is given out of sheer gratitude and love. Sometimes this is money; other times, it’s stuff. In the Hebrew Bible, material offerings are used to furnish the temple; here at Sanctuary we may not have silver and gold (thank goodness!), but we have been given artworks, rugs, and furniture to kit out the communal space, and this is one form of offering.
The risk with this model is that it becomes legalistic. It’s hardly the loving and freewill offerings we are called to. It can also obscure the fact that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. In other words, everything we have is by grace alone. So we should not think of our giving as a gracious gift from us out of our abundance to God, but as a recognition of our role as stewards. Everything we have is already God’s and intended one way or another for God’s purpose.
So the second approach is to flip the idea of giving on its head, and think instead about what we will keep.
What do I mean by this? Well, rather than working out what proportion of our income that we give to God, at its most radical giving is about working out what proportion of our income we will use for ourselves; the rest is God’s, and giving is a way of joyfully rehearsing this reality. Not many of us dare to live in this way, but it’s a powerful declaration of trust and freedom in God’s kingdom-culture. At the very least, let this second model be a provocation for prayerful reflection.
As you consider your giving, think also about other people. You don’t pay to attend church like you pay to go to a movie, nor do you pay to spend an hour with the pastor. But, whether or not you turn up on any given week, the service continues with its associated costs, the reflections go out to the wider world via the website, the pastor meets with people both within and beyond the church, and somebody is paying for all this. Therefore, giving is about taking responsibility for your share of the costs and shows your support of this work.
Finally, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver and is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance…” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). Of course, I don’t think Paul’s talking about a financial turnaround, but about the blessings which flow from a way of life which is confident, generous and openhearted. So as we think about giving, let it not be resentfully. Instead, let us find our point of Yes! to a vision of flourishing and goodness.
How do we give?
In this era, when church attendance is erratic and few people carry cash, we need to plan what we will give, and how we will give it. The most common methods of giving to the church are:
- Arranging with your employer to deposit a proportion of your pay with the church on payday.
- Setting up a periodic payment from your bank account to the church account.
- Transferring a lump sum from time to time.
Sanctuary’s finances are under the auspices of South Yarra Community Baptist. Therefore, the congregation’s bank account details are ‘South Yarra Community Baptist – Warrnambool Account’, BSB 704 922, Account 100015723. All monies deposited there are entirely for the use of Sanctuary. You can also give through PayPal, though be aware that PayPal takes a cut.
So, what next?
The leadership has asked that as a congregation, as households, and as individuals, we think and pray about our own financial situation and our giving. They have provided these questions as a prompt:
- Does Sanctuary as a faith community provide a counterpoint to fear, division, ignorance and hatred?
- Does Sanctuary provide a witness to living fully, to flourishing, and to living open heartedly with love?
- Does our current giving reflect what Sanctuary means in our own lives?
- Does our current giving reflect our commitment to Sanctuary’s witness to the wider world?
Next term, we will make time for a whole church conversation about our finances. In the meanwhile, if you have some thoughts on how to fund this project we call Sanctuary, please let me, Emma or Greg know. And if you have any questions regarding anything here, please just ask.
Emailed to Sanctuary 12 April 2023 © Sanctuary, 2023. Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Acknowledgement of country here.
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