Cost Effective Ministry

There aren’t really any specific directives or strategies put forth in this piece. Nor am I making any definitive statements on whether the way we currently do things is correct or not in my opinion. Much of that would be matters of the heart and personal convictions. My only goal is to put forth a few observations that hopefully make us think. Where it goes from there I don’t know. In all likelihood it would be impossible to set forth any more of a directive than to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in each situation guided by the Word.

This also deals with our personal views on money because of how much they determine how it is used in ministry. Our personal relationship with money is the foundation for how churches and ministries use it.

I worked at a great after-school youth ministry that gave each student a scholarship to attend. We provided meals, tutoring, bible study and a host of other valuable services. The cost per student was between five and six thousand dollars if my memory is correct. I remember a conversation about keeping costs down that centered around the issue of competing with other ministries in terms of cost per student or people reached. Supporting one student at our ministry for close to six thousand dollars a year was difficult to sell to people who could support a student overseas for thirty dollars a month or something like that. The onus was on us to prove why people should support our ministry when they could have a greater impact in regards to people reached per dollar at another ministry. It felt very businesslike.

I agree that we should be good stewards with the resources God provides us with, both in our personal lives and in ministries and churches. Ministries and churches should also be transparent about budgets and costs and financial records, both to promote good stewardship as well as remove some of the opportunity for misuse of funds or worse.

However, we should be wary of operating churches and ministries too businesslike. The church is not a corporation, its purpose and mission is much different. Can we borrow principles? Of course. But we can also get sucked in too far and end up looking more like a business than an organic body.

Where do you draw that line? How do we recognize when we have started seeing dollar signs before people? The only answer I can give is to remain rooted in the Word and be open to the Spirit’s leading.

That being said, looking at the cost effectiveness of Jesus’s own ministry gives us some interesting examples to consider.

Mark 5:1-20 Jesus heals a demon-possessed man. The demons are driven out of the man and into a herd of two thousand pigs that then rush into the water and drown. Using a conservative estimate, this would be equivalent to at least two hundred thousand dollars in damages today, possibly much more. It wasn’t only the cost of the herd, Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake delivered this man and then left. The entire trip was to save just one person. Two hundred thousand dollars and a trip to save one person.

(I don’t want to neglect to point out that Jesus then gave this man the mission to tell the story of what Jesus had done for him to a region of ten cities, his home region. Investing in one person often impacts many others.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Matthew 14:13-20 Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Even if we said the five loaves and two fish were worth fifty dollars–which they probably weren’t–that still would have only cost one cent per person fed.

Maybe it is over simplifying things, but I think it at least makes us pause and think that in Jesus’s earthly ministry the monetary cost per person ranged from one cent to two hundred thousand dollars–and that’s probably the low estimate of the financial range. Clearly a meal and saving someone from a “legion” of demons are two different levels of involvement, but I think you get the idea.

The other side of the financial coin in ministry is working with donors. How much special attention should be paid to those that give the “most”?

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4

This scripture is in regards to people coming to a Christian meeting and receiving special attention because they are well off, but I think it applies in other areas as well. Can we give certain people special attention without dishonoring those who don’t have the means to give as much?

I don’t have an answer, but it’s worth thinking about and mulling over. Doing things the way we have always done them without thinking about the motive or what we are really saying or doing is dangerous. There are many “best practices” in fundraising, but are they “best practices” in following the Word as well?

The last perspective to consider this issue from is that of the one giving their resources. Jesus seems pretty clear to me when he says,

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1-4

When we give we ought to check our heart. If we expect recognition or perks for our giving then we are doing so with wrong motives. We have also “received our reward in full”. Not in part, full. That’s it. What a cheap reward. Recognition from others and feeling good about ourselves for a few minutes. When we start to treat churches and ministries like businesses and expect to have sway because we give or we give a certain amount, we’ve seriously misplaced the reasons we should be giving.

The way the world views and uses money should be different from believers. Too often Christians worry about, chase, and use money exactly the same way the world does.

Jesus’s teaching on money is very different.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? – Matthew 6:25-26

Money should not be our treasure, nor should we worry about the lack of it. Jesus didn’t worry about the monetary cost of things and in the sermon on the mount he told us we should not either.

We need to reevaluate the place money has in our minds and in our hearts, both personally and as a body of believers. We should not value it too highly or chase after it as if it were treasure. We also should not worry about it or grow anxious about it. We should try to use it wisely, but it should not keep us from following the Word or the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

God may call us to use an “exorbitant” amount of our resources on one person or He might stretch our scant means and miraculously provide for more than we could imagine.

Whatever the case might be, whether it is in our personal life or as a church or ministry, the amount of money isn’t really the issue. It is our motives. Our heart. It is how we view money, how tightly we hold it, whether we look at it as “ours” or not. Whether we are willing to follow God’s leading regardless of good business sense or getting the most “bang for our buck”. If those things line up with God’s Word and His will, great, if not, which will we choose to follow?

One last aside: The presence or absence of money is not necessarily a barometer of God’s favor or our faithfulness. Nor does it determine how rich we are in Christ.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Phil. 4:12-13

 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” – Rom. 8:32

Maybe part of the problem is we just think about money too much. It determines our decisions and direction much more than it ought to. We ask ourselves, “What makes the most financial sense?” Which, in and of itself, is not a bad question–money is amoral after all, neither good nor bad–but the problem is this is often the most influential question we ask ourselves or even the only question. Instead, it should merely be a factor, one that is far below and subordinate to God’s leading.

Money causes sorrow or joy, worry or a sense of security, when in reality it can neither truly provide these nor take them away. All is in the hands of our Heavenly Father.

Our place, our position, our status, what we do, where we go, any of our why’s, should be bound up in Christ. Much of it already is and it is just a matter of living in that reality.

Maybe this sounds corny, but it’s helpful for me. Let’s stop paying such close attention to dollar signs along the way and instead focus on heavenly signs. God will take care of the rest.

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”