The early stages of a church plant can be one of the most challenging seasons of a planter's life. There is the spiritual pressure that comes with being on the front line of a new gospel advance. There is the relational pressure that comes with being in a new place where you know few people and trying to invest in new friendships. There is the emotional pressure that comes with uncertainty about what will happen next. There is the peer pressure of always being asked how things are going, and wanting to communicate both the reality of the current situation and the faith you have for the future.
All of these pressures are normal and just part of what church planting is, but they do take a toll, and the planter must ensure they are drawing deep from the well of God's love to walk through them well.
To the extent that it is possible to do so, you want to do what you can to manage other pressures in your life, particularly in this season. There is an element of it that is outside your control, but there are also things that you can do to bring stability to your physical and mental health, your finances, your work situation and your family life, and the more you are able to manage these areas well, the more capacity you will have to throw at the unique pressures that come with church planting.
In this article, we will be looking at what you can do to manage the pressures that come financially.
Disclaimer - I am a church planter who is trying to share some stuff that has helped me. I am not a finance expert, and so please do speak this through with your own financial advisers and only apply it to the extent it makes sense to you.
Get a Clear Perspective On Your Finances
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples, "Therefore, do not be anxious, saying 'what shall we eat?' or 'what shall we drink?' or 'what shall we wear?'" (Matthew 6:31). The context of this is money, and specifically faith in God as our provider. Jesus wants us to not be anxious or stressed about our finances, but for many of us finances can be one of the biggest causes of stress that we face.
Faith for God's provision is not inconsistent with financial planning (just as faith for someone to meet Jesus might still require us to be intentional about building relationship and sharing the gospel with them). Usually financial stress comes from one of two places: either you know exactly what's going on with your money and you don't like it, or you have no idea what is going on with your finances and it worries you.
Bill Hybels once said that "facts are our friends", and the first step in minimising financial stress is to get an accurate picture of what is happening with your money. We are in the habit of going through our accounts each month and recording all of our incomings and outgoings on a tracker. If something is amiss in this area of our life we want to be aware of it so that we can do something about it before it escalates into an even bigger problem.
The first thing that we want to record is our INCOME. The most obvious source of income is our wages - my wife and I each work three days per week and this is consistent income that remains steady week upon week. In addition, I do a little bit of freelance maths tuition and generate some passive income by selling resources online and this income will vary from one month to the next. Depending on your circumstances, your income may include salary, ministry support gifts, freelance work and income from business, properties and stocks and shares. Whatever you have coming in be sure to record it.
The second thing we make note of is our OUTGOINGS. This comes in three categories (we think of them as three 'buckets') - spending, saving and giving.
Spending includes things that are essential for living like food, clothing and shelter, or that are essential for the pattern of life that you have. For us this would include the expenses of running a car and the costs of a couple of mornings per week of childcare for our daughter. Spending also includes luxuries that you don't need but you do want. It is not wrong to spend money on luxuries, but it advisable to be deliberate about what you spend money on as a luxury and recording your outgoings may highlight money that you are spending on luxuries that you are not that bothered about and could easily cut out.
The second bucket is saving. We try to save in three different ways. Each month we transfer some money into a short term savings account. Because we have some self-employed income, we need to be ready to pay a tax bill on this, and we want to build up some money during the year for summer holidays, Christmas and unexpected costs such as car repairs. Secondly there is medium term savings, building up a rainy day fund and setting money aside for things like helping kids through university. Finally there is long-term savings like paying into a pension fund and life assurance policies. Because of the nature of compound interest, it is a good idea to begin long-term saving as early as possible.
Finally there is giving. As a church leader, you need to set the pace in terms of financial generosity and should be giving significantly to your church plant as well as also giving to other charities and ministries, and allowing margin for spontaneous giving as the Spirit leads.
The key at this stage is to understand exactly what money is coming in and where it is going out, and this will help you form a plan for minimising your financial pressure as you plant.
Some Biblical Principles For Handling Your Finances
1) ALL THREE BUCKETS ARE IMPORTANT
It is important to realise that all three types of expenditure are spoken of positively in Scripture, so it would be a mistake to think that our problems would be solved if we could just channel all of our money into one or two of the buckets.
Spending may be the type of income that we might consider to be the least 'spiritual', but in the Bible it is written, "Behold, what I have seen to be fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them." (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
Similar, the Bible advocates saving when it says, "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider his ways and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares he bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest." (Proverbs 6:6-8)
Finally, there are many passages of the Bible that speak about the importance of generous giving. One example is "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you." (Deuteronomy 16:17)
2) FINANCIAL STRESS COMES WHEN THE BUCKETS ARE OUT OF BALANCE
A lot of Jesus' teaching about money is about people who are overly focussed on one bucket to the detriment of another.
For example, in Luke 12 Jesus told a story about a man who kept having plentiful harvests and built bigger and bigger barns to hoard what he had. He was thinking that one day he would get to enjoy everything that he had stored up, but in the story God said to him, "Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" This man's problem was that he had focusses too much on saving, and should actually have been spending a bit more and enjoying himself in the time that he had.
There is also the parable of the prodigal son, who asked his dad for his share of the inheritance early and then blew it on wild parties. There were lots of problems with this son's actions - not least of which was the way he dishonoured his father - but from a financial perspective, his problem was that he spent all that he had with no thought for saving or giving. He had the buckets out of balance.
Whilst it is hard to argue that we can give 'too much', the fact that the Bible does endorse spending and saving would suggest that giving 100% of our income away isn't what is asked of us, and instead we should heed the words of 2 Corinthians 9 that "each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion." We must also make sure that we are not giving in a way that compromises another obligation (this is the issue that Jesus took up with the Pharisees in Mark 7) and a particular temptation for church planters is to 'give' financially to the church plant in a way that is to the detriment of their spouse and children. Sacrificial generosity is very important, but sober wisdom is required to ensure that all three of the buckets are being duly prioritised.
3) DEBT IS NOT THE ANSWER
In the book of Proverbs it says that "the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender", and the truth of this is evident when you see the crippling impact that debt can have in your own life or the lives of others. I can think of friends of mine who have been devastated by debt, and whilst it may seem like an easy way to make sure we can put we want into all three buckets, it is not a good idea.
If you are bringing debt into your church plant, your are adding a big pressure point that could well end up being a foothold for spiritual attack. A priority in your financial management should be getting out of debt as quickly as possible. Certainly don't go into debt as a means of funding the plant.
Not all debt is equal, so you will need to make some choices before God, and with the guidance of family and close Christians friends. As a family we have a mortgage on a house and we have outstanding student loans. Both of these choices are sound and secure (the student loans are set up to only trigger repayments above a certain salary, and even then these are very manageable, and the mortgage payments are less than what we were previously paying on rent, and we gain a valuable asset through them). We have a small overdraft allowance on a current account, with the knowledge that this money is covered in our short term savings to transfer back into the current account as needed. We have made the decision against taking out any other loans, making purchase on finance plans and owing money on credit cards. You may end up making the decisions differently to us, and that is fine - but you should make these decisions deliberately rather than just drifting into a place where you owe significant amounts of money that then constrains what you have been called to do.
4) MORE INCOME MAY BE THE ANSWER
A few months ago I was chatting with a young man who is involved with a church plant, and he shared with me that he was struggling financially. He described how he was using his money, and it was apparent that he was practicing great self-denial in his spending, he wasn't saving money and his giving was generous, but was also proportional to his overall financial state.
I think he expected me to suggest more areas to cut back on his spending, but that wasn't what he needed. Instead, he needed to get a little bit more money coming in. He was studying a post-grad course that he was not being paid for, and was living off a part-time holiday job and a bit of support from his parents. I explained that he could make a serious dint in the pressure if he was able to find a bit of extra income - perhaps from freelance work, or a part time job.
We would be foolish to think that more income is always the solution, and checking our outgoings is usually the place to start, but we should view our financial picture holistically and in balance with the whole of our life. Sometimes finding a way to bring in a bit of extra income is the best way to put things back in order.
5) KNOW YOURSELF
Proverbs 27:19 says ,"As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man." What we do is a reflection of who we are, so planning your finances in a way that will actually work for you requires a bit of self-knowledge (and also knowledge of your spouse where relevant).
Of the three buckets there will probably be one that you are most drawn to - I am instinctively a spender whereas my wife gravitates towards saving. My advice would be to allow yourself a little latitude in the bucket(s) that you are most drawn to - if you make a grand plan that involves fighting against how you are wired, it probably won't be long before you ditch that plan!
At the same time, make sure you are not overdoing it and come up with a plan that works for you. We have decided on a few things that we really want to spend money on. I like drinking a nice coffee while I work. Having a Netflix account brings us joy, and so on. We make space in the budget for these things. At the same time, I am aware that if I gave myself free reign I would overdo my spending, and this was part of what motivated the decision not to pay for items on finance or have credit card debt.
For you, the choices you make based on how you are wired will doubtless be different to what they are for me, and that's a good thing. The key is to know yourself, know how you are wired and to have an idea of what you want to go after with your finances, and then you can come up with a plan that works for you.
Making a Plan For Your Finances
When you know what is currently happening with your finances, and have some Biblical principles to guide you, the next step is to make a plan. Think about those same categories of income and outgoings - and particularly the categories of spending, saving and giving and think about what you would ideally like each of these to look like. Try to keep these realistic (even if you aren't able to do it all straight away). Have a think about what are the next couple of steps that you can take to get your finances closer to where they should be and do those things straight away. Then what will be the steps after that? Perhaps over the next year you could work towards doing those things too, and then review it every year to look at how you can refine things even further.
Trust Your Provider God
Having a plan is good and can help us fight financial stress, but a plan can only get us so far. It is possible to manage your money really well and still be stressed about it all the time. It is also possible to have peace even in the middle of a financial mess. The silver bullet that changes everything is faith.
Earlier I quoted Matthew 6 where Jesus instructs his disciples not to be anxious. The verse in full says, "Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink? or what shall we wear?'. For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (Matthew 6:31-32) The reason that Jesus gives why we can have peace in our finances is that God is a provider. In fact, one of the names of God is Jehovah Jireh - God who provides.
There is a faith involved in praying 'Give us this day our daily bread' in full confident assurance that he will. As we make our plans, let us do so with the recognition that every penny comes from God's provision and that every penny is for God's glory, and so let us receive it with gratitude and faith and use it with wisdom and devotion.
Ultimately money is just a means, God is ultimate. Jesus warns us of the danger of trying to serve two masters, and we should be single minded in our love, devotion and worship. We shouldn't use our lives chasing money (which you probably understand if you are church planting) but chase God, and seek first his glory with all that we have and all that we are.