Good Lord, that’s a lot of money!

Glen Guyton is the Chief Operations Officer for Mennonite Church USA and Director of Convention Planning

By Glen Guyton, Chief Operating Officer for Mennonite Church USA

I recently read that a congregation in Presbyterian Church USA has to pay over $1.2 million to leave the denomination. A Presbyterian pastor explained to me that other large congregations who were leaving Presbyterian Church USA, because of the denomination’s LGBTQ vote, would also have to pay large sums. All I could think is, “Good Lord! That’s a lot of money.”  Religious groups are spending millions of dollars fighting against gay marriage. As one very interested in stewardship, my question is, “Is it worth it?”

So, what type of ministry could be done with $1.2 million dollars?

  • Fund 7 missionaries for 5 years.
  • Provide 240,000 meals for the homeless
  • Send 2,000 youth to convention with all expenses paid
  • Fund 12,000 ice bucket challenges
  • Run Mennonite Church USA for a year
  • Provide 300 years of healthcare for the average individual

Now people reading this article may think I am trying to take a stand on the whole LGBTQ issue.  I am not.  I do have an opinion, but I think the bigger issue is the mission of the church and how we honor God with our wealth. What is the church not doing when it is heavily engaged in the questions of sexuality?  Not only is there a question of finances, but of time and energy as well.

There is a cost for everything we choose to do in ministry. We have to be good stewards of the financial and people resources that God has given us.  We have to know what our mission and purpose is so that we don’t get sidetracked by good causes that are causes that God has not called us to engage.  Some even base their giving on which side of a cause they are on.

Money has always been an issue for the church. There is an old saying, “Salvation is free; everything else costs.” The church survives on the generosity of its members. But giving to the church should not be driven by politics or one’s stance on divisive issues. The church of Macedonia understood this as illustrated by 2 Corinthians 8.

“Finally, the Macedonian generosity was possible because they gave themselves first to the Lord and only then to Paul (v. 5). Their preeminent concern was how best to serve Christ. It is here that they exceeded Paul’s expectations. They gave out of their poverty because of the sincerity of their commitment to Christ as Lord (to kyriw). So great was their desire to serve Christ that they would not allow their economic situation to keep them from being involved in the Lord’s work (Waldrop 1984:38). This is why Paul describes the collection as a service (v. 4). It is not just a financial obligation. It is a ministry opportunity to the saints (v. 4)–those set apart to be God’s possession.” (Biblegateway)

I would never advocate giving to a church as a matter of law or suggest that you give to a ministry that is misusing resources.  I would challenge us to consider our giving as acts of worship or more importantly giving of ourselves.  Each dollar you are paid represents the time and energy you put into earning it. Consider how you will give a portion of those wages back in service to God, like feeding 240,000 people. If you think recipients should be honoring your gift in a different manner, let them know.

Want more information on how to maximize your resources?  Contact Everence, our stewardship agency.

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14 thoughts on “Good Lord, that’s a lot of money!

  1. They have to pay that amount to retain their property–an entirely different set up than with most Mennonite churches. Church buildings and property are considered part of the holdings of the regional Presbytery. They could leave without paying that if they no longer kept their building(s). (At least, that is the way I understand it.)

    The overall point of your post is well taken, though, Glen. Thanks for the thoughtful questions about stewardship of our time and resources. Blessings.

  2. Interesting comments. So how is an invisible, unrecognized, marginalized PERSON supposed to give to what he thought was his denomination but finds he and many others are rejected by that denomination? I suggest they don’t because their money is invisible as well. I suggest that if you go to a welcoming and affirming congregation within MCUSA you deduct whatever percentage that local church sends to MCUSA since we don’t exist at best, or are hated at worse. It’s not a matter of politics but a matter of dignity, respect and equality in the eyes of the church. If I’m not good enough either is my money.

  3. It’s more important to do God’s Work, God’s way, than to try to do all we can with all that money. Our challenge is to discern God’s will, not to just keep doing all we can.

  4. Context is so important: I read this after reading Elizabeth Soto Albrecht’s article about Judas’ response to Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. “Good Lord, that’s a lot of money” sounds like Judas’ response. The church that paid $1.2 million might see their act as “pure extravagance.”

  5. As usual, Melodie Davis, always wise, has it right. By requiring departing congregations to purchase the building they occupy if they leave the Presbytery, they assure that pullouts won’t be hasty, and they retain the property for any non-dissenting Presbyterians who may wish to worship in it. It’s quite different from MCUSA, where local congregations, if they have acquired a building, own it. However, in this protracted season when we are being threatened by the issue that has occupied practically all major denominations, we might at least ponder the impact on the future of MCUSA if we had such a policy. Yes, Mr. Guyton, it’s a lot of money, but it might not even be going to a bad cause.

  6. Interesting comments. There is a question i have that i don’t remember being addresses. We are Mennonite Church USA. and we are also part of Mennonite World Conference. I don’t remember ever hearing what the position of MWC might be on this LGBTG issue. Is this an issue in the Mennonite Church world wide or just here in the Mennonite Church USA?

  7. Whether the money is available to the local church or the conference does not affect its potential use for mission. “What profiteth a church if it gains the whole [$12 million] but loses its soul?” Part of the mission of any Christian body should be to uphold the sexual morays that originate in nature and that lead to strong families, and to resist the “anything goes” cultural accommodation that is plaguing the contemporary American church. (Spoken by a sinner in need of God’s grace.). There may be a high price exacted for faithfulness; Mennonites of all people know this.

  8. Glen,
    The church has to pay that to the PCUSA. The PCUSA could give that money to the poor, or the PCUSA could require the congregation fund missionaries with the money, or the PCUSA could not sure congregations that leave but bless them on their way. I don’t know which of these they should do but it is a denomination requiring them to pay that to leave not them paying the money for a new building or something for themselves. It could be that maybe those on liberal side of the GLTBQ issue are using extortion in this case to keep a congregation around or leveling a penalty.
    Basically there is no rule this money couldn’t be used for mission and I’m sure the congregation leaving would rather the money go to the causes you list but it is the denomination that should cause you to say that not the church that is leaving. They really have no choice if they’d like to leave. Maybe this article should be about how the liberal PCUSA could give it away.

  9. Mike S. raises the right questions – what will PCUSA do with this money? Wouldn’t it make a powerful witness for them to forgive the debt? Or devote the proceeds to a common-ground mission effort shared with the departing congregation as a witness to shared hope?

    Episcopal dioceses and congregations have been going through their own denominational divorce’s “division of assets” for years now, and United Methodists are facing the same prospect on the horizon. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has faced similar issues among mission congregations of immigrants that have incurred debts to denominational funding, but are at odds with the ELCA’s endorsement of same-sex marriage. The material reality of these divisions is that the only financial winners are the lawyers. I recently heard a bishop in one of these sister communions comment in a sermon that his denomination seems to have assumed primarily the role of a real-estate management company.

    In MCUSA’s disagreements over same-sex attraction, some inclusivists have characterized traditionalist churches’ reductions or redirections of their conference or denominational giving (actual or warned) as extortion to constrain free exercise of conscience by other congregations and ministers. The experience Glen cites from PCUSA, and proposals by some for imitation, show that such characterizations can cut both ways, and that it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

    Perhaps it’s best for those with gold, in any ecclesial body, to recognize that using financial resources to punish an act of conscience will only create an indelible moral stain on the punisher, far more costly than the burden they create for their dissenters. And those dissenting must recognize that division over moral convictions will have organizational and material consequences. Grave differences of conviction over the nature of church and discipleship, if unhealed, will change priorities in sharing practical ministry and mission and resources, and can even lead to separation.

    I’m grateful that our MCUSA polity gives us the freedom and responsibility to practice and maintain unity based on our mutual love, shared convictions, and common witness in the one Spirit of Christ — not anxiety about real estate contracts. If the unity that subsists in those elements has been so gravely damaged and wounded as to fragment us in divisiveness, the financial cost to us of disunity is the least of my worries. Brokenness in love, conviction and witness costs us the confidence and faith that where we gather, the Body of Christ is present. We might rightly suspect such gathering to be disjointed, dead flesh, a political-social club of like-minded neighbors, or a real-estate management franchise.

  10. As we look at the big picture of “stewardship,” (time talents and treasures) we may not handle property (treasures) the same way, but WOW, we’ve “spent” a lot of time on sexuality issues. If we totaled it all up I’m sure we would say, “Good Lord, that’s a lot of time.”

  11. I’ve always wanted to be part of a church that is rich in God, not things — one that can say, as Peter and John did to the lame man at the Beautiful temple gate, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk!”

  12. If I’d have used the language (Good Lord…..)my parents would have had a talk with me, and I am thankful for that memory. I admit it sounded quite strange coming from an individual identified with MCUSA…but maybe not.

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