When things are financially tight in church life, or even in your personal life, it could be a sign that you’re actually smack bang in the middle of God’s will. Sometimes we just need a jolt. Our propensity for routine and familiarity slowly leads us away from noticing changes in season and changes in the mind of the Holy Spirit. When forced to really hear what the Spirit is saying we finally wake up and move out into new territory in God.

Financial constraint is often a tool that God uses to cause us to revaluate the entire structure, heart and direction of our lives and churches. Sure – He wants us to prosper, but financial prosperity is no cloak for a dwindling in connectedness with the movements of the Holy Spirit.

To relieve your church or your home of financial difficulty, one of two things must happen – the income needs to increase or the expenditure needs to decrease. It’s good to believe and pray for increased giving, but it is also good to forensically investigate if the inner structure of the church is actually in line with the wisdom and blueprint of heaven. It takes faith for increase and faith for decrease. The difficulty with decrease, however, is that it affects the people that we love.

In church life, upsetting the apple cart is not what the ‘pastor’ inside us wants for anyone we love or work closely with. The ‘coach’, however, who often takes a back seat through not wanting to hurt or destabilise anyone, is forced to take a more prominent role. Jesus Christ was both friend and coach. It’s a part of every true leader’s role.

The decisions that we have made at Hope City under financial squeezes have proved themselves to be right decisions not based upon panic (even though we always initially panic) but based upon the underlying wisdom of God. There have been a number of different types of scenarios that have been dug up through the arresting of my attention through the lean seasons!

SCENARIO 1
People who have drifted from the heart of the vision

Numbers 11 proves that behind every job in church life is a spirit of prophesy. When Moses’ workload was eased and the spirit taken from him and put on 70 elders, the elders didn’t suddenly pick up their diaries. They all began to prophesy! Behind every job ought to be a heart beating in line with the vision of the church which in turn is God’s vision for the city and the region.

People naturally drift and their lack of visionary spark is only picked up in times of forced review. The core roles within a church need to be accomplished by people white hot in love with the underlying vision. If the ‘engine room’ lacks power, the whole ship will slow.

These people who have cooled need a quick shot of power directly from heaven or a fresh reinvention brought about through a season of ‘tent making’. To reduce the budget through reducing or replacing these staff is not downsizing, it’s right sizing – where the staffing of a church is revaluated in line with the current emphasis and movements of the Spirit.

SCENARIO 2
People who have never been baptised into church life

I speak metaphorically and I concur with both being baptised into Jesus and baptism in the Holy Spirit. There is, however, a baptism that seems to take place on a number of prominent occasions for all those who wish to be in major leadership and major positioning in the future of their church. There are rivers of sacrifice to cross that are greater for them than for some of their companions. Becoming a leader of many requires the greater sacrifice of being a servant of many. And the spirit of servanthood is periodically examined by the Holy Spirit. I have a number of young disciples who wish to change the world for Jesus. What they lack is the smell of a shepherd – the smell of someone who has experienced the ups and downs of humanity and desire above all to love it back to health. ‘I have a dream’ is great if you truly love the people you have a dream for. Expanding ones capacity to love is a key role of the Spirit.

Over the past 25 years, my church wage has been cut, non-existent, increased, severed, decreased, enhanced, capped, shunted and meddled with. Each time, it’s challenged both my vision and my motivation. Each time it’s taken me back into faith land and a little closer to the topsy turvy world that so many I’m ministering to are a part of. It has taken me back to the reason I do it – to change a generation.

It’s important not to shelter your ‘up and comers’ too much from the front line of faith living and the lean times that are there to create a width and depth to their ministry. Changing wages and employment arrangements due to financial constraint can work a treat but only for those who are envisioned to become a key part of the future leadership of the church.

SCENARIO 3
People who have reached the end of their season

In the general workforce of the town you live in, to stay in the same place longer than 3 years is miraculous! In church life we need to understand that very few roles are ever lifelong. To do a role for over 5 years is most unusual. Many of the roles in church life are seasonal. The one consistent thing is that we’re all a part of the family, not all a part of the staffing. Some people should have left you six months ago but because we are creatures of habit, they’re still there. Only through the prompting of financial constraint and the filtering of good financial investment are these people ever brought to the surface to be brought to account!

You can spot the tell tale signs – inventing little projects while the existing projects are neglected; a little narkiness at times revealing an inner inexplainable frustration; snooping out from one’s remit into other people’s remits when they have no real business doing so, and a general disassociation from the corridor banter that is the social culture of the core of the church life. Sometimes when you try to find them, they’re nowhere to be seen! And their mobile is switched off. How annoying! And what are they up to? If you have to have time sheets, either they recently came on staff or they could be past their sell by date! It may be the end of their season.
SCENARIO 4
People who are essential to the future vision of the church

There are some people you can’t move through financial constraint. There are some who have done their apprenticeship and are now growing stronger by the day. There are others who are vital to the organisation’s current health and have the faith to back it. There are still others who represent the new emphasis of the Holy Spirit. They are a part of the church’s core strength and this season’s tapestry of the Spirit. Sometimes a small wage cut can sharpen the spirit of a good and vital ‘worker’ but it’s important also that the reverse doesn’t happen – a muzzling of the ‘ox’ while the grain is being trampled.

Every decision that we ever make needs to be on the platform of faith. It’s faith, in fact, that often takes us into the lean times in order to prove its power and turn ‘lean’ into ‘abundant’. A little financial squeeze can be good for a church (or one’s family) as long as there is a commitment to personal capacity growth, a love for God and a desire to be a part of the future move of God. As a friend of mine once said – ‘No one counts the cost of a shovel while digging for gold’.

If I were flushed with finance, I would hope that I would listen as closely to the voice of the Spirit as I do through the lean times.

Usually it’s not the case.