How to Be Abased and How to Abound
Paul said, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound” (Philippians 4:12). To be honest, I get really uncomfortable when church finances are tight. I’m not sure I’ve learned how to be abased and also be content. Also, I’d love to get some insight as to how to handle money very wisely and strategically when it does come in abundance. Can pastors advise me on how to be a steady, proficient, and wise steward in both lean times and in times of abundance.
Pastor Dean Hawk – Colorado Springs, CO
One of the things I have observed concerning church finances is, “As the pastor’s personal finances go, so goes the church finances.” Many churches have ended up in financial ruin because the leader had not implemented any discipline or stewardship practices into his own personal life and it carried over into the way they ran the church finances. What an incredible responsibility we have as leaders to oversee the sacrificial giving our people have made.
I am a huge advocate of Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. It is a non-stop running class in our church year-round. I believe every pastor should function and operate by these godly principles in their personal life and in their church finances.
We function on a cash basis. If we need a new sound system or chairs, we don’t buy it until we have the cash in hand. We have zero debt other than our building mortgage. We have an emergency reserve fund of 3-6 months of operational funds. During the recession a couple of years ago, we didn’t “wig out” and fret about how we were going to make payroll when the offerings dropped for an extended period of time. Of course, we trimmed our budget, stopped spending, and we tapped into our reserve fund to get us through the lean season. Once things turned around, our first goal was to save and replenish our reserve fund.
In times of abundance, we tackle projects or repairs we have put off. We save and increase our reserve fund. When establishing our annual budget, we use the income from the previous year as our budget for the new year. We never create our budget based upon expected increases in giving. That way if we do see an increase in our giving for the new year it becomes “gravy,” and we are not stressed out because we budgeted for more and it has not come in.
Anyone who has ever worked a commission sales job knows there is a huge difference in the way they approach a customer when they have or haven’t met their weekly quota or budget. People can sense the tension, the pressure, when you present “your product” under duress. They feel pressured to “buy” and you are less likely to close a deal because you have caused them to become defensive and guarded versus the other guy who doesn’t NEED the sale. His approach is, “This is a great product. I hope you’ll buy it. But if you don’t today, it’s no big deal.” That customer is more likely to make a purchase.
The same is true for us as leaders. Our goal should be to function within our means and then we are less likely to present ourselves during the offering as desperate and “in want,” which will cause people to resist versus engage. I met with a business owner in my office yesterday who had some questions about tithing. My response to him was this, “Whether you tithe or not doesn’t make a difference to this church or to me personally. Our needs as a church are met and we have money in the bank. If you never give a dime to this church, we will continue to reach people for Jesus. I want you to take this step of faith because you know it’s something in your heart you are supposed to do—not because you feel obligated by me or the church.”
Hope this helps.
Pastor Kevin Berry – Lansing, MI
I love and appreciate your question. Hey, you are not alone. I don’t know anybody who is completely comfortable when the church finances are tight. I am blessed to have a wonderful spiritual father and mentor, Dave Williams, who taught me much about how to be a wise steward. Allow me to pass along a few simple yet powerful helps to you:
- Never make decisions based on money alone. The reality is most of us don’t have a money problem; we have a faith problem. Money is never a problem with God and He delights in helping us. Make decisions based on what the Lord is telling you to do.
- Get violent with debt. Debt is a monster that is tearing up families and churches across America…don’t let it in your house.
- Think abundance and increase. You tend to bring about what you think about. If your thoughts are filled with lack, well…then lack is what you will have. Do a study of God’s Word and see what He has to say about wealth, blessings, and His desire that you lack no good thing!
- When you have a financial need—give! I have watched Pastor Dave lead by example in this area for years and it works! You will reap what you sow. Most people, when they have a need, hold tightly to what they have. They take the attitude of a seagull and say, “Mine!” But those that have learned the art of giving, respond to tight times by giving whenever they can.
- Remember: every challenge you have is an opportunity to grow in faith. The Lord delights to give you opportunities to stretch your faith. The Father loves it when you dare to put your trust in Him, knowing that He is able to take care of you! The children of Israel missed the land of plenty for one reason—they doubted God could take care of them. “The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe His promise to care for them” (Psalm 106:24).
I remember the early years when things were tight financially. We didn’t have money for groceries at times. But it never ceased to amaze me how the Lord would miraculously provide! Looking back now, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. They were faith-growing years that have shaped me into the man I am today!
I’m thinking Dave Williams will be responding to this question, too. If he does, read his answer, and then read it again and again.
Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
We budget off of 90 percent of the previous year’s income. Forty percent is allocated to staff salaries, 30 percent to our campus and supplies for ministry, and 20 percent to local, national and international missions. This allows us to live with passion and joy for ministry and not pressure. It also allows our people to be discipled in the grace of giving without feeling pressured.
We’ve only had one tight year out of 25 years—2008—when finances dropped 10 percent overnight due to the economy. The other 24 years we could bonus high performing staff, give to worthy mission programs, and save money for buildings from the 10 percent we saved each year.
We now worship in a 115,000 square-foot campus that is debt free. It has been a great testimony to our city of 60,000 people.
Pastor Eddie Turner – Murfreesboro, TN
My dear friend, my insight is this: “I have abased, and I have abounded. Abounded is better!”
Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
I feel this issue could be handled in some ways in the planning and execution of the annual operating budget. Here are a few points that have helped our church to consistently have revenue over-budget and expenses under-budget.
- Plan conservatively. Have aggressive faith and pray for miracles, but budget with facts, not faith. Overestimate expenses and underestimate revenue. There will be a high likelihood that you will have surpluses.
- Plan and budget in advance what you will do with surpluses. This year we planned to use 60% of our operating surplus to pay down our building loan. We took a huge dent out of our debt this year by doing so.
- Save. We try to have 1-2 months of our operating budget in savings and don’t touch it unless there is a dip in giving. Our attendance and giving can be somewhat seasonal, and with savings, you don’t feel the pinch of an under-average month.
- Receive low-pressure, high-inspiration offerings. Give people a good reason to give. Provide consistent feedback and testimonies and a regular diet of God’s Word regarding His financial plan, but don’t take a budget crisis into the pulpit. Lead with confidence and hope, even when reports might not look good.
When we faced a prolonged battle with our land and building project that woke me up at night on numerous occasions, I regularly prayed and reminded God that, “You love this church and its people far more than I do, and your Son’s blood was shed for them. I plan on shedding no blood of my own for them. I am letting you know that we have a problem and I am certain you have a solution.” This type of prayer helped me to realize that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of our church and I am simply working under Him.
Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
Finances are, of course, on the list of the top three things that can bring a ministry or a minister down or cause him to be tempted to quit. A right and proper perspective of them, as it relates to a church or ministry, as well as the same right and proper perspective as it relates to your personal finances, is paramount!
Without addressing the theological aspects of finance, but to simply answer your question, let me say this: knowing how to be abased speaks to one’s ability to manage things when money is “tight,” or the economy is such that the future looks ambiguous. You may even have a “word” from God that an economic downturn is sure. God declared that He meets our needs, and He absolutely will; but in His provision there is room for mismanagement of His provision. The result of that “mismanagement” can cause it to appear that God did indeed not meet your needs. God is faithful. We must also present ourselves to him as a faithful and wise steward of the provision that He has placed in our hand.
The first thing that you must do is to surround yourself with a group of trustees who have your heart! Enough cannot be said about the importance of this in this forum. Those who surround you must be made to feel totally comfortable to speak into your life about the stewardship of the monies that you have, as well as what is anticipated in the future. They must also be able to, not only say these things, but tailor their thinking and planning into the vision and goals that you have placed before them. They must then be able to flow with your final decisions and continuously be there for you—regardless of the outcome—with their love and care for you and the ministry, and that same consistent advice of stewardship that is unchanged by the outcome. These people are indeed hard to find. Many times you must go outside of a church to find them. Without this unity and submission to a vision and a leader, it can be hard to endure during times of seeming lack. Make sure that you have people that have your heart, that are with you, and will not leave you. Diversity of opinion concerning stewardship should be fostered, but only within the confines of unity of heart!
Secondly, you must continue to develop the fruit of self-control. This is a lifelong pursuit. Many ministers have become disillusioned because they have seen a vision that is from God, but they do not see it coming to pass. They get tired of waiting and begin to make wrong natural decisions. They reason that because this is the will of God, we just need to go ahead and do it, and when we get to a place where money is needed, it will be there. This is not faith-based thinking, but is rather presumptive and will lead much of the time to setbacks. Many times, God will speak to or show a minister something that He wants him to do several years down the road. A minister who hears from God, yet does not keep that daily connection with the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit, will many times act prematurely and things will not unfold as God has seemingly shown them. They, as well as those around them, will question whether they hear from God or not. Besides the resulting discouragement, the unfortunate outcome is a further dwindling or constriction of the finances for said vision. REMEMBER: the number one way that God meets your needs is through other people. Denying yourself and having reins on yourself, being led by the Holy Spirit, and not moving too quickly, but rather moving at God’s direction and pace, have everything to do with knowing how to be abased.
Knowing how to abound, really, has all of the same answers and qualifications. Just naturally looking at the abundance of money and bringing about what you want, in your timing, or even what God wants “in your timing,” will almost always produce discouragement and/or disillusionment. Knowing, from the leading of the Holy Spirit, what to do and when to do it is a key in our life that must never be ignored. Once again, exercising self-control will cause you to refrain from doing things just because you have the money to do them.
Naturally speaking, it is always wise and prudent to lay aside a certain percentage for things to come. You may call it a rainy day fund, or whatever. The simple fact is that you do not know what tomorrow will bring, and making natural preparations by saving can put you in a position to be used by God when that time comes. So many ministers act contrary to sound thinking in this regard. They think that, if a rainy day or the storms of life come, God will be there to meet their needs. But their short sightedness gives them no maneuvering room to be a vessel of blessing, used by God, to bring about His purpose. Have a vision to “save for the vision.” A rainy day is not the only thing in the future. David had a vision to build the temple, yet he never built it. BUT, he did finance it. We need to see the big picture. Vision transcends generations. A very large part of knowing how to abound is saving money for a vision or for something that is yet not fully seen or determined.
Pastor Duane Hanson – St. Paul, MN
Church finances can be a really touchy subject. In my thirty-plus years of ministry, I’ve rarely seen a time when most churches haven’t had to trust God to meet their monthly budgets. Let’s face it; as soon as we reach a certain level of steady income and expenditures for the church or ministry, there will inevitably be another project, or “mission,” that God lays on our hearts that will require more faith and more resources!
Let’s keep in mind the lesson we can learn from Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream [Gen. 41:25]. There will always be seasons of plenty and seasons of drought, but if we’ve been seeking and listening to the Holy Spirit, He will lead and direct us on how to be prepared for each season of life. God will show us when and how to adjust our budgets so that we may continue to accomplish the vision He has given each of us.
Just because there’s a season when the financial income has decreased, we shouldn’t feel that we have to “learn how to be abased” during that time, nor should we take the position of being “content” as the question is stated. There’s more than one reference in the New Testament about being “content,” and the one that strikes the most balance for me is found in Hebrews 13:5-6 where we’re told…“Make sure that your character is free from [covetousness] the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, “The lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” [NASB] The conflict comes in when fear tries to grip our hearts about meeting the budget and covetousness tries to manipulate the way we receive offerings, when we should be content with knowing that God is our “Helper” when we are going through a season of lack.
Stewardship principles should be a basic way of life for any minister, especially when we’re looking ahead and trying to plan our budgets. The challenge to any budget will always be the “ups & downs” of our monthly donations and how we respond to these fluctuations. Having a realistic budget, and a plan to build up reserves when possible, is the simplest answer I can offer to the statement “I’d love to get some insight as to how to handle money very wisely and strategically when it does come in abundance.”
When a church does have a “windfall” of financial resources in the General Funds, and if those funds have not been designated for a specific use (otherwise known as restricted funds), it would be best to set those funds aside and seek the Lord before taking any action. Many of us could find any number of projects where we could spend any extra income that might show up! However, sound business practices should be considered by any Pastor and Board members when making decisions on how and where these additional funds should be spent.
For years, we’ve had a saying in our church that went like this…God’s our source, and He’s the God of many resources! Then my wife boldly declared that we needed to change our confession of faith and start declaring it this way…God’s our source, and He’s the God of EVERY resource! As we’ve all heard before, the truth from Psalm 50:10 should be a reality to us! It was God who declared, “…I own the cattle on a thousand hills…” [NLT]. The scriptures clearly define God as the rightful owner of our planet. We can read in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein…” [KJV] (See also Ex. 9:29, Dt. 10:14). We can also read in Psalm 115:16 that God chose to give Mankind the responsibility for all that is in the earth. “The heavens belong to the Lord, but He has given the earth to all humanity.” [NLT] What that implies to me is simple; God will use people and the resources He has provided for them to accomplish what He wants done in the Church! Let’s trust God to speak to those people who will listen and obey His voice when it comes to being generous towards the work of the ministry [Romans 12:6-8].
The one area where I wish I could go back and make some changes involves a major remodeling project in our church facility. By the time it was done, a simple $120K project that we had budgeted for turned into a real mess. We found ourselves in a legal dispute with the original contractor and ended up having to refinance our mortgage and take out a loan for $700K against the equity in our building, just to undo and replace all the work that he had done. Needless to say, we’re still paying off that loan! We’re looking forward to the day when the funds that are currently going towards that loan payment will instead be free to be focused towards missions and ministry! In the meantime, we will continue to declare that…“God IS our source, and He IS the God of EVERY Resource!”
Here’s the simplest advice I can give any minister “…on how to be a steady, proficient, and wise steward in both lean times and in times of abundance…” No matter what your bank balance might say, purpose not to be moved by the lack of provision during those seasons of drought, but continue to build your trust and confidence in the Provider! Never forget that…“God Is Your source, and He Is the God of EVERY Resource!”
Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
The longer that you pastor a particular church, you will notice trends in your income which may fluctuate according to which Sunday of the month it is, the season (many churches have less income during summer months), and you will learn to budget accordingly. I have found it to be a best practice to allow a sufficient amount in the business checking account to meet all of the weekly financial obligations (less the tithe first). I prayed about which ministries to send our tithe from the tithe we receive, so we sow into some local ministries such as Food Bank, Operation Blessing, and others such as Feed the Children.
As I obey the Word concerning the tithe, I am bolder in faith to claim provision for our ministry and its expenses; however, as I stated, from a natural standpoint, it is good stewardship to develop a monthly ministry budget. A good goal is to place a certain amount in a savings account as an overflow account for checking. As you build and grow, consider a CD or an investment account for the future of the ministry. As you increase your years in tenure as a pastor, it is a good habit to personally set some aside weekly or monthly for future retirement, as many churches have no retirement plan for the pastor. A trusted financial advisor may be of some assistance, and there are some great church accounting programs such as QuickBooks for non-profits that are of a great help.
May the Lord grant you wisdom to steward the resources that He has entrusted to your care.
Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
God places high regard on stewardship, and He expects His people to become faithful stewards as well. “Steward,” as used in the New Testament (translated from the Greek word ‘oikonomos’), means an administrator, a caretaker, a custodian and a manager. This word refers to a person who is a faithful manager, overseer and caretaker over his, her own, or others’ property and interests. Regardless of how much or how little you’ve received, we are called to be good stewards with what God has given to us. I realize that at one time or another, our offerings or finances might be tight. But if we set up a budget and believe that God makes provision for everything, we do not have to worry. If someone makes a large donation, some may think that this is the time to buy something new or build a new addition. No, we should still work within our set budget. I like Luke 16:10-12, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to you trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”
I also believe that one should not be moved by how much or how little is in the bank account, but should carry out his duty as if God is our great financier. Also, we must not go about recklessly spending without regard to our finances, but we must always remember that God is our provider.
There are several enemies of being content:
1. Unrealistic expectations
2. Unfair comparison
3. Unnoticed blessings
4. Uncontrolled ambition
And the secret of contentment is to have an attitude of gratitude.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
A local pastor friend of mine had one individual that gave $100,000 in one check at the end of each year. They put all of it in the building fund and never mixed it with the general fund or as part of their operating budget. At the end of 5 years, this donor lost his job as president of a big company but soon found another position out of state. At this point, the church had $500,000 plus interest in their building fund. They got a loan and purchased a $1M church building in a good part of town that is now worth around $3M. Their loan payment is affordable and the church is in good shape financially because they were wise in good times.
Locally, building and housing costs have skyrocketed, prompting many new churches to operate as “house churches,” and they’re doing well. High salaries and large building costs are areas where pastors can make changes if needed. One local church where I serve on the board just went from renting an expensive building to multiple house churches. Their income remained fairly steady and they took the money that would have been paid in rent and helped an orphanage build a dormitory. The people know their offerings are going to build the Kingdom and they feel good about tithing.
Pastors need to think creatively in lean times and conservatively in times of abundance.
Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
I was fortunate enough to sit under John Osteen as a mentor pastor. We never met, but I attended his pastors conference in June every year. He taught us the value of money and that it takes as much faith to live off the top of the barrel as it does the bottom of the barrel.
He set a number for 3, 6, or a year of provision in the barrel: salaries, payments, etc.. He chunked it away a little at a time. Then, if there was an abundance, a huge chunk went to it. Again, whatever you believe the Holy Ghost says to you as an amount.
I also never exceed my budget by 50% of the income of the church. I call it the “worse case” situation. If the church split in half, could you survive? What is that number for you? Begin to plan and make an account; call it your “barrel account” or a whatever account.
Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX
This is a challenge either way; in lean times and in times of abundance, we have to trust the Lord in faith. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray. Jesus said, “Our Father who is in heaven, give us THIS day…”
How the Lord has dealt with me concerning lean times and times of plenty is found in John 2:5—do what Jesus says to do.
Pay the bills that are due with what you have and trust Him for what you don’t have. If you have plenty, save; but continue to pay whatever bills are do, and invest in the Kingdom of God—mission!
I wanted to do more and the Lord asked me 3 questions: 1) Are the bills getting paid? 2) Are you planting your seed (am I supporting Missions)? And 3) Are people’s lives being changed? I answered ‘yes’ to all 3 questions, and He said, then you’re doing what I want you to do. Even though I wanted to do more, the Lord said “You’re doing what I want you to do.”
He shall meet all our need when we’re in His will. Lean times or times of plenty, He is always faithful! He is the same faithful Master to those who have a faithful relationship with Him. 1 Sam 2:30—I will honor those who honor me.
We have what we have today, not because of God, but because of our relationship with God. We are where we are today, not because of God, but because of our relationship with God. In the lean times and in times of plenty, how is our relationship with the Master?