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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

What Do We Want To Do Together?

“What Do We Want To Do Together?”
James 4.2c
October 23, 2017
Rev. William Bills

The future of our church is really up to you. I can tell you what I think, what I hope for, what I want, but at the end of the day each one decides for themselves.

This is my 29th fall finance campaign cycle. I don’t remember ever looking forward to a fall finance campaign. I don’t know if anyone really looks forward to doing a fall finance campaign. It is necessary so that we can plan budgets and programs for the next year. We do it to be responsible in planning ahead.

This one sentence from James makes church finance sound so easy! According to James, all I have to do is ask and the church will have all the money it needs! Can it really be that easy to do fund-raising in churches? Just ask for it?

My friend and retired staff person for The Michigan Area Foundation, Wayne Barrett, has written several books on church finance. In one of his books on fund-raising he says the number one method is the "AFI Method" ...Ask for it. That sounds pretty simple. It rarely is, though. But you have to start somewhere, and where better than by just telling people what you need. Wayne also told me once that churches are recession proof but 80% of churches in this country haven’t fully recovered from the recession of 2008. Churches that were once recession proof are subject to changing demographics and economic uncertainty.

There seems to be some kind of disconnect with what the Bible says and reality. According to James, we don’t have because we don’t ask. It should be enough then for me to just say here is our annual budget, please give enough so that everything is fully funded. It never seems to quite work out that easily.

At more than one church I served we finished with a budget deficit a number of times. That didn’t make me feel very successful.  We managed that by using cash reserves from good years to cover deficits in not so good years. But churches shouldn’t pretend they are the Federal Government. Churches shouldn’t fund deficit spending and hope someone will fix it later.

Further down James says Christians don’t receive because they ask wrongly, in order to spend what they get on pleasures. He goes so far as to call the church adulterers and say that we are too much influenced by the world.

He seems to think the world a bad thing, or at least a bad influence on the church. God, though, created the world and called it good. We certainly are influenced by the world and most of us enjoy many of the pleasures the world offers. I don’t think this should be an either or proposition. The world affords us many benefits. Many of those benefits can are gifts from God. The church is to be a witness in, and minister to the world, so we aren’t enemies with the world. But forces outside church and faith do influence our thinking about money.

Our attitudes toward money are very much influenced by the world we live in. Anyone in finance or marketing can attest to that. The mission, vision and values of the church should also influence our attitudes toward giving. I believe our personal life experiences influence our attitudes toward giving more than anything else.

For example, my mother was married four times. My biological father left us when I was two. My step-father adopted me. That’s how I got the wacky name that I have. Several years later my step-father left us. Back then nobody worked very hard at enforcing child support orders. My adoptive step-father went to court to have the adoption rescinded so he wouldn’t have to pay child support. His argument was we weren’t his kids and my mother talked him into something he didn’t want to do. That led to a single mother raising four kids on a secretary’s salary. We just never had enough money. That is what I learned about money. It was just always our biggest problem.

I started delivering newspapers at 4:00 every morning to 120 homes in Portland, Oregon when I was twelve years old. I did that until I was sixteen. On my sixteenth birthday I went to work in a restaurant. I bought all my own clothes, paid for my own insurance so I could play high school sports, bought my own lunches, paid for my own car, gas and insurance. I joined the Navy my senior year of high school so I would have the G I Bill for college. Saving money for college wasn’t an option for our family.

When I was twelve I got really sick. The doctor wanted me in the hospital but I didn’t go because we didn’t have health insurance. My mom took care of me at home. So today I don’t like to go to the doctor or the hospital because I remember the financial stress it caused in my family. My past experience still shapes my present attitudes.

All of that qualified me to be a pastor, though. I learned how to work hard and how to stretch a dollar. I also learned how to worry about whether there would be enough money from month to month. I learned how to be anxious about money in the church because my mom taught me how to worry about money when I was growing up.

That hurt me in a couple ways, though. One was that I never wanted anyone to know I was poor so I never asked anyone for help. I always paid my own way. So as an adult I am lousy at asking for help, especially if it involves money. The second way it hurt me was that I never learned how to give. When you grow up not having enough money you just never think about giving money away. I grew up knowing how to work, how to stretch a dollar and how to worry about money. But I never learned anything about giving.

I don’t know what your experience was in your family but I am willing to bet that experience still influences you today. Money can be a source of worry for people even when they have a lot. Big business deals worth millions are probably stressful.  Some of you manage budgets far larger than our church budget and you are responsible for more employees than we are here.

I know pastors of small churches with large endowments who are stressed because their church has too much money. Some members want to give it away and some want to keep it.

I have been doing fall finance campaigns for twenty-nine years. I know that people don’t like it when money is the sermon topic. I think that has as much to do with their personal money history as it does the church. Our personal finances are just that, a personal matter. Most of us don’t care for other people telling us what to do with our money.

But the bottom line is that for our church to operate we need to receive over $10,000.00 each week. We need over a half a million dollars a year to carry out our ministry and mission. We have a mortgage payment every month and we need to make repairs to our parking lot. So I read James and he says, “Just ask for it.” Is it really that easy, James?

What just happened inside you now as I said that? Each one of us has your own reaction to that. Our reactions are influenced by the attitudes we developed about money throughout our lives. Our attitudes toward money got formed a long time ago. Money is a personal thing so our reactions can be very personal.

Sometimes I find the thought of making sure our staff gets paid, making sure the bills get paid, making sure the mission obligations get paid, making sure the mortgage gets paid daunting.

I know that your beliefs and attitudes about money aren’t the same as mine. They can’t be because we didn’t grow up together. I am sharing with you where I am at when it comes to money and the church. I hope you will think about where you are when it comes to money and the church and how you got there. You can just be wherever you are, too. There’s really no right or wrong. We each know our own financial history. We each know our current financial situation. We each have a personal decision to make about funding the future ministries of our church.

If I had a dollar for every Christian who has told me over the last twenty-nine years that other people should give more money I would be in good shape.

It is kind of funny how most of us are certain that we are giving all we can while at the same time we are certain that everybody else should give more. None of us can decide what others should do. We can only decide what we will do.

I hope that you will fill out an estimate of giving card. I know some people don’t like doing that. Please remember, it is just for an estimate. It isn’t a contract but it does help us budget for next year. If you fill out a card and your circumstances change just let us know and we will adjust our planning accordingly.

Sometimes people tell me that a church has to be run like a business. But we won’t send you late fees if you miss a month. We won’t turn you over to collections if you can’t honor your estimate. Remember, too, that we don’t take your offerings. We receive what you decide to give. If we were going to take your money I would get about six or eight really big guys to stand by the doors at the end of service.

I hope you will reflect and pray about the mission and vision of our church. Reflect on what you believe about giving and what you want for our church in 2017. All I am asking for is that we each consider how we will contribute the success of University United Methodist Church in 2017.