Throwing God’s money after good

Jeffrey L. Samelson

If I had $10 million, I wouldn’t give it to start a new mission overseas or even a new congregation here at home, endow a new program, or start a new scholarship program.

Why not? It’s not that any of those ideas are unwise or unworthy; it’s that I have become convinced that in many cases “new” money could actually do much more for the kingdom supporting “old” concerns that struggle for funding than by following what is fresh and exciting.

I would start by talking to our district presidents, mission boards, circuit pastors, and maybe even the WELS Church Extension Fund to identify congregations that are doing everything they can to keep their mission and ministry moving forward but who have mortgage or other payments due every month that are so large they have little or nothing left over to spend on actual mission work. Then I would take my $10 million and use it to help pay down the debts of the congregations where I thought it would make the biggest difference. I wouldn’t pay them off entirely. Knocking $400,000 off a $1.5 million debt here or $250,000 off of $900,000 there would free up thousands of dollars in those congregations—money that is already being given by their members—for new, fresh, and exciting efforts where they are already established and have connections. I think their hearts would thrill to see the gospel on the move where they are. No, $10 million wouldn’t take care of every church’s debt, and yes, some congregations’ bad decision-making would make them poor candidates for such debt relief. But I love to imagine the difference that such a gift could make.

“Throwing good money after bad” is an old expression that some might use to counsel against helping pay down someone else’s debts, and I can even think of some examples of churches that don’t seem to make outreach or excellence any kind of priority. Yet as a general rule, things like keeping the church doors open so that the Word of God can be preached and heard; freeing up funds for outreach and excellence; and, yes, paying church workers the wages they deserve, are good things that God approves of, even commands. Remember also who that money in our bank accounts really belongs to: not us, but God. He’s just entrusted that money to our care.

Now, I don’t have $10 million, and I doubt I ever will, so don’t bother hitting me up for donations. But I hope this exercise reminds us that we shouldn’t assume that what’s new and exciting is automatically more worthy of our gifts than what is familiar or long-standing. I don’t want us to forget that something as “boring” as paying down a mortgage can have church-growing implications of the greatest kind.

Chances are that you don’t have $10 million either, but what do you have? And what are you doing with it? Too many people hold back from giving to their churches because budgets and bill-paying don’t excite them. Don’t let that be you. You can still give to missions, new church starts, and ministries that you feel a passionate connection to, but don’t forget the “old” opportunities around you, and don’t dismiss less-than-thrilling giving. It’s throwing God’s money after good.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

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