Are You Preserving Lifestyle or Advancing the Kingdom?

This is a question God put on my heart this week.  It’s a tough one honestly, and I would rather not have to dig deep to determine the answer.  But, I’m compelled to.  I know it will be challenging. A second question that has come to mind is, “will the Great Commission be hindered because of a bad U.S. economy?”  I know God is bigger than that, but our obedience does play a part in finishing the Great Commission story. Why these questions? Well, there are several factors affecting the landscape of church and ministry that I believe have triggered this inquiry in my heart.  The first factor is my personal experience, the second is my interaction with givers on a daily basis, and the third is a three-part study compiled by the Barna Research Group that examines the economy’s impact on churches and giving conducted in 2010.  There are multiple findings in the study, but here are some notable stats in regards to giving: Nearly 50% of all adults said they reduced their giving to non-profit organizations; Since 2008, there has been a 58% increase in individuals who have reduced their giving to non-profits and 45% who have reduced their giving to churches; Roughly one out of every twenty-five churches interviewed have reduced their giving to missions or missionaries; Only one out of eight churches has been proactively positioning their church as a valuable resource to church members and the community in regards to stewardship. These statistics paint a picture that I’m sure is not too surprising to anyone.  For me, it was confirmation of what I’m experiencing and observing personally. Back to the first Question – how do these reductions correlate to adjustments in lifestyle? I have not been able to find a study yet that fleshes out how much individuals within the church have made adjustments to their personal budgets – outside of giving – as a result of the economy.  I realize there are many legitimate answers for the reduction in giving such as unemployment, reduced salaries, etc., but I’m curious how lifestyle cuts compare to the reduction being witnessed in giving to ministry.  For many years we have enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in America.  I think it’s a natural response, when things get tight, to try and preserve that lifestyle and make cuts elsewhere.  When I say lifestyle, I’m initially thinking of variable expenses like vacations, travel, entertainment, hobbies, food, etc. As a family we have had to bite the bullet and make lifestyle reductions.  We have not taken an out-of-state family vacation since 2009, travel less locally, have found cheaper ways to eat out and watch movies, buy second-hand clothes or work with hand-me-downs as much as possible, have downgraded cable and have had to learn to live with less savings just to name a few.  This has been due to reductions in income due to the economy and a recent relocation.  We have strived to maintain the same proportionate giving in the midst of this yet I commit to evaluate this personally and would encourage you to do the same.  Let’s determine if there’s an imbalance that needs to be recalibrated.  In other words, have we made similar or even greater cuts to our personal lifestyle as we have in giving? What might cause an imbalance? Lack of Planning – Proverbs 21:5 says, “ The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage , but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty .”   To make decisions with haste also means to make decisions without careful thought or planning.  Many are simply reacting to their financial challenges vs. reevaluating their budget and creating an entirely new plan.  As a result, some react by reducing their giving commitments first . Comfort – Proverbs 18:11 says, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination. ”  “In 2000 the per capita income of the U.S. was 360 percent higher than the world’s average per capita income (CPI). 1 ”   We are the wealthiest nation in the world and we have become accustomed to certain lifestyle and comforts that many around the world never experience in their lives.  When times get tough, we can react in the flesh and fight to preserve these comforts and in turn reduce our charitable giving. Fear – A natural human response to sudden change is fear.  Some examples of sudden change you might be experiencing are a severely reduced stock portfolio, a dwindling savings or retirement account, or declining property values.  In other words, what you thought you had for long-term financial security is no longer that secure.  That loss of security stirs up fear, and as a result, reductions are made in giving. How should the U.S. church respond to a poor economy? Reevaluate our Financial Plan – Rising gas and food prices, less income from investments and savings, lower wages and many other factors are impacting our budgets.  To wing it and hope it works out will surely lead to further debt and diminished financial involvement for missions and ministry.  Each one of us must sit down, re-prioritize, and re-balance our budgets while also maintaining our giving commitments so that ministry can continue and the Kingdom is advanced around the world.  This exercise may result in a call to greater generosity or simply maintaining a similar proportion of giving.  If you base your giving decisions off of a similar proportion the total will reduce or increase based on your current income.  When planning, we must remember that OUR plans must align with God’s greater plan.  Psalm 33:11 reminds us, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.”   His plans are sure to last and we have an opportunity to join them.  Matthew 24:14 guarantees that the Gospel will be preached to all nations.  As we re-evaluate our plans, let’s ensure ours align with the heart of God, which is to reach everyone with the saving message of Jesus Christ. Seek first the Kingdom of God – When we seek the Kingdom first and His righteousness, it helps us obtain proper perspective of our financial situation.  God promises He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), but we are never guaranteed financial comfort or security in the Scriptures.  That would contradict His desire for us to take refuge and comfort in Him alone.  In fact the American idea of retirement is not found in the Bible.  However, the Scriptures do promise we will have what we need each day (Matthew 6:33) to live.  We are also promised that we cannot out give God (Malachi 3:10).  When we rest in these biblical truths, we have peace and can weather the ups and downs of our assets such as savings, real estate or stock portfolios, without cutting back in our giving. Give everyday like it was your last – Here’s a question I ask sometimes, “If the Lord took me home today, would I be satisfied?”   This might sound like a strange question at first, but let me explain. There are two places in Scripture that cause me to ask this question: “And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” Luke 16:11 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 25:29 Can you see the link coming together here? Jesus is telling us that there is a direct link in how we steward our time, talent and treasure on earth to our level of responsibility in Heaven.  Take some time and look at how you are currently using the time, talent and treasure God has entrusted to you.  Let’s not let our perspective on the economy stop us from advancing God’s Kingdom on earth. How do you manage your money for God? Meet us in the comments and let us know! Related Links Developing a giving plan Resources and ways to cut your debt load How to quit spending more money than you make     Related Articles: How to Avoid Lifestyle Inflation 4 Spiritually Unhealthy Motives To Save Money Why does God give wealth? Spiritual P90X: Maximizing the Impact of Your Giving Are you a saver or a spender? Retirement Plans (Part 1) – 401k questions answered How to Participate in The Great Recovery Chris McDaniel is the Chief Business Development Officer for DELTA Ministries International (DELTA) and author of Igniting a Life of Generosity . Chris loves to spend time with this wife, bumping the volleyball with his daughter, playing catch with his son, serving the “least of these”, pizza, snowboarding, running half marathons, and seeing followers of Christ become generous givers. As a thank you for subscribing to our newsletter you can download our quick eBook ” 25 Ways To Save Money in 2011 ” for FREE! The articles on this site are for entertainment purposes and should not be taken as financial advice. Please contact a financial professional for specific advice regarding your situation. Also, many of the CPF articles help us pay the bills by using affiliate relationships with Amazon, Google, eBay and others. Find out more here .

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Are You Preserving Lifestyle or Advancing the Kingdom?

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