March 2017
Parish Finances

Aligning Money with Mission

Money follows mission: if your church’s mission is compelling, people will be motivated to give generously to accomplish it. As church leaders, it’s our role to make sure that the financial resources so generously given by our members truly help accomplish our mission.

But what’s the mission of your church? Like many organizations, you quite likely have a mission statement, hammered out in prayer and discussion among vestry and ministry leaders. Many of these mission statements are terrific. But whatever your mission statement is, I’m convinced that God’s mission is larger than any statement can encompass.

We Are Sent

God’s mission happens inside our churches, where we worship and learn and grow as disciples – but God’s mission also happens on the streets, in the schools, in the neighborhoods, and at the workplaces outside our buildings. God has a mission, and God calls the church to join in it. As Darrell Guder says:

We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. “Mission” means “sending” and it is the central biblical theme describing the purposes of God’s action in human history.[1]

God sent Jesus, and Jesus sent the apostles (a word that literally means “ones who are sent”) to proclaim God’s love to the world. We are heirs of the apostles, sent into every neighborhood and community to accomplish God’s mission.

Like any human group, of course, we are tempted to turn inward, to begin seeing ourselves as the focus of God’s mission, to believe that God needs us to take care of the folks inside the church instead of the ones outside. When we begin to turn inward, our finances turn inward as well: our outreach budgets are the first to get cut when the building needs repairs; we spend little time or money on evangelism; we forget the needs of our neighbors.

Mission as God’s Hope for Our Church
So how can we make sure that our money is accomplishing not just the mission of keeping our institutions alive and our buildings in operating condition, but also God’s mission in our communities?

First, we have a responsibility to consider all the aspects of God’s mission. In the New Testament, you can find numerous “mission statements”: from loving one another as Jesus loved us (John 15:12) to forgiving sins (John 20:19-23), to proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-20), to helping the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), to working with Christ for a new, reconciled creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), to praying that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), to making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), to sharing bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus (Luke 22:19). None of these mission statements describes the whole of God’s hope for the church; all of them describe necessary mission activities of Jesus-followers. So the first action of a mission-oriented church and vestry might be to study all these biblical mission statements, and ask which of them we are accomplishing well, and which we are neglecting. If there are some aspects of mission we have neglected, we can start praying about how and whether God is directing us toward strengthened ministry in those areas.

Second, we should calculate how much of our budgets are going to each of these aspects of mission. At Church of the Nativity, we have discerned that our mission has six broad categories: evangelism, worship, teaching, fellowship, outreach, and administration. Our budget, including employee salaries and facilities expense, is organized into these categories, so we can easily tell what proportion of our money goes to each of these priorities and can decide if those percentages are appropriate. Without information, it’s hard to make decisions.

Third, if, like many churches, we discover that we are doing really well at inward-focused aspects of mission (worship; teaching; pastoral care; fellowship), but not on outward aspects (evangelism; outreach; advocacy), then we need to start discerning what aspects of God’s mission in our community we might be called to join in. If God is a sending God, then God sends us into our neighborhoods to do God’s mission. So we should be meeting people, observing their needs, investigating the issues that keep them awake at night, praying about where we can make a difference.

Here are some ideas for how to discover God’s mission in your neighborhood.

  1. Take a prayer walk or a prayer drive through the neighborhood. Don’t just walk or drive; observe. Is the neighborhood bustling, empty, upscale, run-down? Are there dwellings with children playing? What schools, shops, and homes do you see? Are there boarded-up stores or empty houses? Stop and talk to the people you see. Get into conversations with people and pray for them if they would like prayer. Pray together about the observations you make.
  2. Identify 15-20 community leaders: business owners, school officials, politicians, neighborhood leaders. Make appointments and interview them. What are their concerns? What are their hopes? What do they observe about the people they serve?
  3. Do some demographic research. What economic, educational, racial, and age groups are represented in your community? Does your congregation look similar to or different from the neighborhood? If different, how can you refocus your mission to serve the people who are actually there?
  4. Bring together groups of people from the congregation to pray about what you have discovered. What needs are going unmet? How can your congregation meet them? What financial resources are necessary? How might your budget be refocused on the full mission God might be presenting to you?

“Go” into all nations, commanded Jesus in the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Our commission can start by going into our own neighborhoods, discovering whether we are truly answering Jesus’ call to the best of our ability, and working to focus our money on God’s mission.

The Rev. Susan Brown Snook is an Episcopal priest and rector of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona, a parish that she and a group of laypeople planted in 2006. Nativity became a parish of the Diocese of Arizona and built and moved into its permanent building in 2012. Before ordination, she was a certified public accountant for ten years, specializing in taxation. In addition to her parish work, she serves on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church; in the 2012-15 triennium, she chaired Council’s budget committee, and in the 2016-18 triennium, she is chairing Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Local Ministry & Mission. She is also one of the founders and leaders of the Acts 8 Movement, a group dedicated to proclaiming resurrection in the Episcopal Church, and was one of the authors of the Memorial to the Church that the group Episcopal Resurrection proposed in 2015. She is passionate about the work of evangelism and congregational development, and is a frequent speaker at church events on evangelism, church planting, stewardship, and spiritual practices. She is the author of God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church (Church Publishing, 2015).

Darrell L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 4.

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This article is part of the March 2017 Vestry Papers issue on Parish Finances