Money matters in Mennonite Church USA

Glen Guyton is executive director or Mennonite Church USA. 

I received a disturbing memo from a church leader about them having to dissolve a few programs and some internal reorganization due to reduced funding. Money is going to be a thing in determining the future direction of MC USA. That is not a very spiritual or churchy thing to say, but it is the truth.

My operating budget is the limiting factor for many of the decisions I can make or how well I can implement the decisions of the delegate body, like the most recent Churchwide Statement on the Abuse of Child Migrants. The statement is more impactful if we designate human and financial resources for its execution. As the old saying goes, “Salvation is free, and everything else costs.” We, as members of MC USA, have to be willing to contribute to the work of the ministry. Thoughts and prayers are great, especially if they are attached to a cheerful giver.

The point is this: The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV)

Why am I writing about money?

  • Money determines the quality and quantity of the staff available to do ministry programming.
  • Money lends itself to a degree of accountability between you and the organization.
  • Money creates values.
  • Money determines priorities.
  • Money represents a part of your life and the sacrifices of time and energy you made to earn it.
  • Money has power in our culture.

 

Money matters. Traditionally, mega-donors drive budget and are at the center of fundraising efforts in many non-profit organizations, including MC USA. Some have taken this to mean that organizations are beholden to mega-donors for funds giving them extraordinary influence in the system. One caveat is that for many years the MC USA Executive Board had no fundraising capacity or fundraising authority. The Executive Board functioned on a first-fruits model, making it wholly dependent on area conferences, agencies and the unified giving formula* for donations. This structure makes it difficult to lead — the Executive Board becomes beholden to the goodwill of the institutions rather than the people who make up the denomination.

One of the changes I will need to make during my tenure as executive director will be to spend more time on fundraising. While this takes time away from my capacity to set a vision and guide the denomination, it is necessary for the Executive Board and staff to be able to function in their roles within MC USA with the minimum amount of resources necessary.

 

Show your support through giving. I encourage you to give to each level of MC USA. Support your local congregation. Support your area conference. Support the work of the national denomination. While I do believe in tithing and I automatically give to my local congregation and MC USA with funds that have no restriction on their use, some of you want more control. Great! Designated giving is an effective way of using your financial power to guide the work of the denomination. It gives voice to your concerns and priorities much more effectively than withholding funds.

You can also find creative ways to support the work of MC USA and other Anabaptist groups. I love the creativity of the youth from Salem-Zion Mennonite in Freeman, South Dakota. They are selling #BringthePeace shirts as a way to follow up on the challenges and work of #MennoCon19.

Are you a member of an MC USA congregation or organization that gives? I want to say thank you. We could not do it without you. Your support carries the church and makes programming accessible to all.

Are you a member of an MC USA congregation or organization that doesn’t give? I say, “Hey we need you. Give at a level that mirrors your capacity, and give to support programs that mirror your passion.” Also, check out my previous blog series: The Little Green Dove. It might help you better understand how our system functions.

 

We have to do our part. I know that somewhere along the line, giving money as it relates to the church has gotten a bad rap. But as I read Scripture, ultimately, the people of God cared for the work of the ministry and its people in the community. After the day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit was unleashed to empower the church, the community also began to give money and possessions in support of the ministry and care of the church:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Act 2:44-47 (NRSV)

 

Accountability to members. As you give and support the work of MC USA congregations, conferences and agencies, I also encourage you to hold us and them accountable. As institutions, we should be good stewards of your generosity. Let us know when we aren’t — not that your giving should be weaponized or that leaders should be held hostage by mega-donors. Don’t get me wrong. I am not somehow encouraging a defacto quid pro quo. Our work still needs to be justice-informed. Whether you give $1,000,000 or $1.00, you matter, your voice matters and you are a part of this community. Leaders need to take into account the needs of the whole. But if everyone were requesting more money for “Blue Turkeys to Hawaii” and no donations were coming in for “Blue Turkeys to Hawaii,” as a leader I would question our commitment to Blue Turkeys and their Hawaiian adventure.

Your donations should be and must be used to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, bring peace to our communities and facilitate the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Write to the various boards, challenge our leaders and give us feedback on how we are doing in regards to living into the mission of this church and our Renewed Commitments. None of our institutions deserve to exist or deserve your generosity “just because.”

 

How to create generosity. For more information on how to give to MC USA, check out our giving guide and our donation page. Everence also has resources to help congregational leaders create congregational cultures of generosity.

 

*The unified giving formula allows organizations to write one check to Mennonite Church USA that is distributed to the following agencies:

  • 66% Mennonite Mission Network
  • 15% Mennonite Church USA Executive Board
  • 14% Mennonite Education Agency
  • 3% MennoMedia
  • 1% Iglesia Hispana Menonita
  • .8% African American Mennonite Association
  • .2% Native Mennonite Ministries