In the interest of full disclosure and honesty I want to begin this post by saying that finances and debt is an area where I struggle and am not completely faithful in the Lords teaching. I however feel like this needs to be addressed.
Most of us have the same issues with debt and finances and we need someone to look up to as an example and who would be better to fill this role than the church but sadly the Church in most part has adopted the worlds Post Modern ideals on debt and money.
In the past few years I have attended 2 separate churches that are indicative of the modern American Church. Both have a large congregation and with that blessing have specific needs that used to be unique but is becoming more prevalent. One of the churches is non-denominational and the other is Baptist and is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Both of these churches needed to expand their facilities and that cost money to happen. In both cases the church leaders decided to have the building built now with a loan and pay later; worring about the payments later. This caused them to incur Millions of dollars in debt (approx. $6 Million with one and $3 Million with the other) that needed to be paid back. That (using a mortgage calculator) puts monthly payments around $20,000 to $38,000 for 30 years.
In both cases as soon as the building was built a capital campaign was launched to pay off the debt. Sermons turned to honoring God and following His will and being good stewards of what we have. Let me be clear in saying that what was said in these sermons is true and we do need to follow Gods will and be good stewards and part of this is tithing and managing our money in a God honoring way. The issue I have seen both of these times is the failure of the church to follow their own sermons related to money.
The church needs to model how to be wise with money and how to be good stewards. In both cases the churches hired a commercial building company and commercial contractors to come in and design, build, and furnish the facility. While this in its self is not a bad thing they both could have been better stewards of the congregation that has been given and asked for those experienced with building to pick up and volunteer in some areas so that there would be less cost. They could have asked if anyone could donate materials or supplies to assist in keeping costs down. These are just a few ways that the churches could have shown stewardship to the congregation.
Another issue is the act of getting into the debt its self. The Bible does not say that it is a sin to borrow or have debt but it does advise against it. Proverbs 22: 7 states The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender (NKJV).How true this is; by the church borrowing this money they have made themselves a slave to the loan holder. This has the potential for serious consequences. What happens if the loan defaults then the church building is taken away then what or when money gets tight to we take away from our orphaned and widow funds. This is a dangerous slope to walk on for a church. Instead they could have stated the need to the congregation and asked fo donations of money, time, or resources… again going back to stewardship. Instead they decided to follow the Post Modern American worldly ideals of instant gratification and got a loan.
Now that the building has ceased and the congregation is seated in their new location giving dropped off at both places. This inevidebly is due in part to the economy but now there is a struggle to pay this debt and capital campaigns are launched and sermons that, intentionall or not, allude to if you don’t give to the building then you are not following Gods laws when the fact is we are called to give 10% of our income but that is for the orphans, widows, down trodden, homeless, and other needy persons not to fullfil a debt. This debt causes the church to spendd tithes on debt and not those that need it. One of these churches has only 1% of its budget to missions and assistance…..1%….. if we are called as individuals to give 10% don’t you think the church shoud give at least that! The fact is they can’t because they are $6 Million dollars in debt and are enslaved to it just as the Bible warns.
I am not saying that these buildings are not needed, I am not saying that debt is a sin, what I am saying is that the church and all Christians need to be careful with debt and need to look for ways to be better stewards of their existing resources. If we do this we will be looked upon in a positive light by society and will be an amazing witness to those who are unbelievers. The more we are faithful with the small things the more we will be faithful in the big. In this modern day America where the average household carries some $8000 in credit card debt (Source) the Church needs to set the right example not follow the world.