In the bleakest and most difficult of times, there is hope. As a leader, it’s important that you genuinely believe this.

A friend of mine just lost his job. He’s in his 50’s with two kids in college, and he’s worried. Another friend just laid off a large number of employees. And a surprising number of recent college graduates that I know are not landing jobs.  That’s a negative headline – but it’s a true headline. There are some job openings, people are getting hired, and there is hope! But we must admit it’s tough out there right now.

I talk with pastors around the country every week and “church finance” is all over the place. Some churches are doing well financially, and many are not. Few are just holding steady, it’s more like holding on. So I began to think about the difference. Why are some churches thriving in challenging economic times and why are others suffering?  Knowing many of these leaders, here are some thoughts that came to mind about the churches that are doing well in this tough season.

  •  There is evidence of a clear and confident vision.

Money follows vision. That’s true, but oh, if it were only that simple. There is so much more to it! There are many churches where there is vision, and yet the financial resources do not show up let alone keep up. So what separates the vision in a leader’s heart, from a vision that gets traction and takes off, and one that never seems to travel far from the lips of the leader?

First, I think the primary leader, (the senior pastor), the key staff and church board members must have a deep and abiding sense of confidence in the vision. It’s not as if they don’t need God, in fact it’s just the opposite. They know God is with them. Further, it’s not as if God is obligated to grant them favor, but there is such an authentic dependence upon God that He blesses that humble confidence. Second, the vision is clear. People get it. The congregation believes it and buys in. They see how they can participate and they want to!

These churches aren’t perfect and they are not all big churches, but they have a sense of where they are going and they dig in and go for it. They risk and strive for progress.

 They teach stewardship as an issue of spiritual maturity not just money.

Scripture is packed with passages and principles on maturity such as Romans 12:2 (Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed . . . ) and I Corinthians 3:1-3 (Spiritual infants . . .). One of my go-to passages is Ephesians 4:11-16.  Verse 13 is key:  Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

I’ve been a pastor for a long time and I’m still amazed when it comes to Christians and tithing. My wiring is highly grace oriented, but I am puzzled at times about why this of all topics is the one that reveals trust and maturity more than perhaps any other topic. As a church leader, even if you aren’t a proponent of the 10% tithe, you would likely support percentage giving rather than “give what you feel like when you can afford it.” In any case, churches who seem to do well financially consistently address the issue of maturity and how trust and giving are part of the maturing process, rather than talk about money as something the church needs in order to operate.

 They approach budgeting as a function of faith as well as funds.

In a recent Pastor’s Coach article titled “Budgeting Blues” I addressed this topic. Let me give you a small excerpt.

I believe that you need to start with the idea that you have enough. I know that might seem like “pie in the sky” if your actual income is lower than your projected expenses. This always causes stress and pressure. But, I’ll say it again, you need to view what you have as enough, because that is what you have!  You may be required to make major adjustments, but we all do in different seasons. When you believe “I don’t have enough,” you begin to shortchange your vision and what God can do.  I will admit, things can get tough, but you have enough. Let’s start there.

How you view the above thought and how you lead in organizational finances reflects your personal theology. (And in part your faith.) The resources of your church are entrusted to you in order to maximize kingdom return.  You are a steward of God’s money. You have a responsibility to maximize the return.  This parable is one of many passages that give depth to this truth. (You know the story, so I’ll pick it up in the middle.)

Giving church resources outside the church is strong.

This is highly encouraging because any church can do it!  Simply put — Give yourselves away. This is not about how much money you have, it’s about your heart and values. God honors even the most modest of giving into your community, and I think He is pleased with generous giving. I’m simply talking about setting aside monies for compassion projects, justice issues, mercy endeavors, etc. The idea is to give to those in need, especially those who may never be able to come to your church, or do anything for you in return. Of course we all want to share the gospel whenever possible, and it’s wonderful if they can come to your church, but your motivation, in this case, is to help those in need, not to grow your church. God has a way of honoring that kind of heart and investment.

The Leadership replaces fear with hope.

In the bleakest and most difficult of times, there is hope. As a leader it’s important that you genuinely believe that. If you do not, you will never lift your people to a greater place.

We know this is true when it comes to sin and salvation. Grace is our great hope. There is no sin that grace cannot conquer! By our faith in Jesus, His blood covers our transgression. Grace can deliver you from the darkest place to light (I John 4:5-7) and freedom in Christ.

That hope extends to the human realm and leadership points the way.  Our confidence in Christ allows us to lead with hope. There is a better way, even in tough times. Fear need not be anyone’s master, truth and hope reign supreme! This does not suggest an abandonment of reality. Hope acknowledges the reality of these economic times, but The Church often does better in difficult times than in “easy” times because we regain and refocus our priorities!  We would never choose challenging times, but they can become an ally of your vision.

So pastor, church leader, chin up, and lead on. The people need you! It can be difficult, but there is hope!

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