“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” –David, 1 Chronicles 29:14
As I oversee all central operations and business functions, I am often asked questions regarding stewardship. It’s a tough subject because people want to know what the Bible teaches about giving, how much they should give, and how the church uses their money. I hope to answer a lot of the most commonly asked questions in this four-part Stewardship FAQ mini-series this month on what we as a church believe about money. Most of the content for this first blog post comes from Chapter 12 of Pastor Mark and Gerry Breshears’ book Doctrine.
We believe in being good stewards of what God has given us. We also believe in being cheerful and giving with those resources. God wants us to be faithful, no matter how little or much we have. The New Testament teaches over and over about being faithful with what you have been given. 2 Corinthians 8–9 shows us eight principles on generous giving:
Tithe literally means “tenth.” In the Old Testament, the tithe referred to God’s people giving the first 10 percent of their gross income (also called “firstfruits”) to God to fund the Levite priests’ ministry (Num. 18:21–29; 27:30). In addition to that, there were other tithes and offerings required of God’s people, including 10 percent paid for festivals to build community and for celebration (Deut. 12:10–11, 17–18; 14:22–27), 3 percent given to help the poor (Deut. 14:28–29), crop gleanings collected for the poor and aliens (Lev. 19:9–10), and other occasional additional tithes above and beyond regular giving (Neh. 10:32–33). All total, the “mandatory” Old Testament tithe resulted in over 25 percent of a family’s gross income going to God and ministry.
In the New Testament, financial giving among God’s people focuses on grace, generosity, and the heart, and not actual percentages of one’s income. The word “tithe” is rarely used in the New Testament, and when it is, it is usually mentioned negatively in rebuking religious types such as the Pharisees who gave their money to God but not their hearts and lives.
It cannot be overstated that when we give to God, we are not deciding how much of our wealth to give; rather, we are determining how much of God’s wealth to keep for our own uses. In 1 Chronicles 29:14 David articulates precisely this fact, saying, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”
God’s people today are not required to tithe. But, like everything else in the new covenant, our grace giving is to exceed Old Testament requirements of the law. Therefore, for God’s people, 10 percent should be a floor, not a ceiling, and a place to begin, not a place to end.
Giving to other nonprofits is a great thing. That said, we believe Christians are called first to give to the local church that proclaims the gospel in the local community. Jesus promised, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus came to start, build, and head the Church, his metaphorical body (1 Cor. 12). Once we are born again into the family of God and become part of his body, he invites us to join him as he continues his evangelistic plan for the world—namely, the Church. In the same way that Jesus gave himself and sacrificed for us, we are to give ourselves to the church. This includes service and generosity so that local churches can grow, but also so that more churches can be planted, more people reached, and more nations changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At Mars Hill Church, we are focused on making disciples and planting churches. We’ve seen thousands of people meet Jesus in the past couple years. A lot of the things we’ve done couldn’t have been accomplished without Jesus working through generous people who love his mission.
When you give to Mars Hill Church, it goes to churches being planted, pastors’ and leaders’ salaries, books published, Bibles given away, and sermons and music given away for free. In addition, we have Redemption Groups and Community Groups to help people work through sin and suffering in their lives. There’s a lot we do, and it takes money to accomplish what God has called us to.
In Ephesians 5:25 Paul writes, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Jesus’ heart for and commitment to the church should compel us to love and serve the church as well, and this commitment should be reflected in our giving.
So while giving toward parachurch ministries and nonprofits is a good thing, as a church, we believe this should be done above and beyond regular and cheerful giving toward your local church.
Quite simply, we do because Jesus did. Jesus devoted roughly 25 percent of his words in the Gospels to the resources God has entrusted to our stewardship. This includes some 28 passages in the Gospels. In the Old and New Testaments combined there are over 800 verses on the subject, addressing topics ranging from planning and budgeting, to saving and investing, to debt and tithing. Furthermore, money and wealth and possessions are among the greatest idols in our culture, and there is simply no way to be a disciple of Jesus apart from learning to worship God with stewardship.
Jesus stressed that we either worship our wealth, or we worship with our wealth. In Matthew 6:24 he said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Mars Hill has a number of policies set up to make sure we are good stewards of the money entrusted to us:
One level of approval is required for purchases under $500 and two levels of approval for over $500 to ensure that purchases are reasonable. Additionally, the church’s Finance Department performs a policy review on every expense. In the rare case that a purchase does not comply with our policy, the expense is reimbursed by the person who authorized the purchase.
Since 2009, an independent CPA firm has performed an annual financial statement audit. We’ve received an “unqualified opinion” every year, which is the most favorable outcome according to auditing standards issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
In the fall of 2012, the church became the 1,700th accredited member organization of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The ECFA “is an accreditation agency dedicated to helping Christian ministries earn the public’s trust through adherence to Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, which focus on board governance, financial transparency, integrity in fundraising, and proper use of charity resources.” The intention behind our membership in the ECFA is to make plain our commitment to make disciples and plant churches in Jesus’ name in a manner that is not only above reproach (2 Tim. 2:15), but also humble and gracious (2 Cor. 2:18–21).
Our Board of Elders recommends our annual budget and annual audit. An independent board, the Board of Advisors and Accountability, approves the recommendations of the Board of Elders.
Our church utilizes a purchasing process, which includes pre-approval for most cost categories. Every nuance (including the vendor, its relationship to the church, and quality of goods requested) is reviewed and then purchased by our centralized Purchasing Department. Having someone with a big-picture view of purchasing ensures we’re buying the right quantities, from the right people, at the right price.
Managers and pastors who supervise budgets are accountable to the executive elders via a monthly reporting process where they discuss the stewardship over their expenses.
Business meal and travel expenses are closely monitored. Mars Hill Church’s expense policy regarding business meals is outward facing, and meals are only authorized if they occur with community partners, key volunteers, and/or ministry contacts. Any business meal over $25 (including tax and tip) requires pre-approval by a director. An independent third party manages travel and provides periodic reports to the Finance Department, detailing a variety of expense-related metrics that help us pick the right vendors when making travel decisions, big or small.
Ultimately, your church’s staff knows and takes to heart the fact that we’re ultimately accountable for Jesus to stewarding the resources that we’re entrusted with. Knowing that we’re conduits of people’s worship is significant, and we strive to ensure that every decision we make will serve Jesus’ church well into the future.
We determine our spending based on the number of people at each of our 14 churches, not the affluence of each church. Staffing is also based on the number of people, rather than the dollars given. The “wealthier” churches’ giving makes it possible for us to plant churches in less affluent places.
We determine our costs for everything on an average-adult, per-week basis. We outline all our facilities costs, variable spending, employee costs, etc., categorized into three main buckets: (1) facilities (leased and owned), (2) churches, and (3) central operations. We then calculate how much each bucket costs on a per-adult, per-week basis. Facilities and central operations costs are shared by all churches.
We look at the variable spending across all 14 churches, identify efficiencies, and put together a church operating budget that supports the right amount of spending per adult. So, as the adult attendance grows, so does the variable spending.
Compensation is connected and linked to increased responsibilities that are directly related to the mission and vision of Mars Hill, which are given by supervisors and communicated between leadership and employees. Each position is assigned a staff level (staff, supervisor, manager, director, etc.) based on level of responsibility. The staff level determines the compensation range and vacation eligibility.
Compensation for being a staff member at one of our 14 churches is based on the responsibility and number of people in weekend attendance. Three different independent studies are used to determine market rates for all staff positions.
The independent members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability set executive elders’ compensation. Additionally, an independent compensation study is done for our executive elders by an external accounting firm.
Elders at Mars Hill are expected to give a minimum of 10 percent. We would never require this of a non-elder but we believe elders are supposed to lead and love the church more than anyone else. Many of them give more than 10 percent.
Mars Hill Church continually aspires to be a good and faithful servant of what Jesus has entrusted us with. As our 2012 Annual Report indicates, Jesus has entrusted Mars Hill with much (Matt. 24:21–30).