By Michael C. Mack
The statistic is alarming. According to a Christian university study reported by the Center for Church Leadership, over a 10-year period 70 percent of ministers drop out of ministry. And some of the biggest reasons for that high attrition rate are financial. CCL’s September 2016 State of the Ministry research study of Christian church/church of Christ ministers reveals that 74 percent of responders who serve in vocational ministry have debt. It also found that 54 percent of churches do not provide retirement benefits and 47 percent don’t offer health/medical insurance. No wonder the survey determined 85 percent of ministers feel stress.
With apologies to the apostle Paul, how can people hear and believe the gospel message without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach effectively when their personal and church finances are stressing them out—sometimes out of ministry?
I am thankful for CCL and other organizations that are addressing these challenges. CCL has developed a number of initiatives to help ministers and churches. Go to www.centerforchurchleadership.org to discover more. Christian Standard Media is partnering with them in several ways to make a difference, and Shawn McMullen and I are on the Center’s advisory council. You will see several upshots of this partnership in months to come.
Our annual finance issue is another important resource for our churches and parachurch ministries. The articles in this issue provide practical ideas for raising funds through financial campaigns and estate planning, and two writers “enter the arena” to debate the wisdom of borrowing money to fund ministry. And don’t miss Gary Johnson’s e2 column that discusses dollars, debt, and discipleship. He makes an astute point: “When church finances become more challenging because of declining dollars and increasing debt, we need to consider the importance of discipleship. . . . Instead of raising dollars, we should raise disciples. When we raise up disciples, their dollars follow.”
I also encourage you to consider Steve Carr’s article, “The Financing of the Restoration Movement.” He says it may be unpopular, but it’s true: “Finance drives movements to success.” The article studies our movement’s theology of finance, where it came from, and how we will “steward our movement’s resources in the 21st century to ensure that our ideals can continue to thrive.”
Finally, I encourage you to read the roller-coaster personal finance story of Chris Brown. Like Chris, we can learn from our financial mistakes (as I have, but that’s a story for another issue!), realize we’re not alone, and learn to be faithful managers of the finances our Father gives us. As Chris reminds us, even when we fail in our finances, there is hope—but we must “get to the root to change the fruit.”
While these are helpful resources on personal and church finance, our ultimate source is, of course, God’s Word. Two writers mention the 2,300 verses in the Bible about money, wealth, and possessions. Another mentions 230 verses on stewardship. One writer points out that roughly one-third of Jesus’ parables were about money. As Gary Johnson says, “If it’s repeated, it’s important.”
Yes, some financial statistics are alarming, and perhaps they are a wake-up call for us, but we need not be discouraged. I count 10 times the Bible (in the New International Version) instructs us not to be afraid or discouraged, and that phrase is usually paired with another: “The Lord God is with you.” So be encouraged, leader: “He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work . . . of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).