Today is the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, the day when the Holy Spirit came to the Church and filled the early Christians with the power and love that they would need to begin the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.
I want to begin today by reading the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit from Acts 2:1-12 (NIV):
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
They were amazed. Why not? Who wouldn’t be? These simple people, most of them fishermen and artisans of some sort, began to share the message of Jesus with everyone who would listen in whatever language they needed. It was so amazing that those who heard them were amazed and perplexed and asked, “What does this mean?” From their initial efforts, the Church spread first of all in Judea and then into Asia Minor and Europe until it was all over the Roman Empire.
But it didn’t stop there. Some of the disciples went west and south in Egypt and parts of Africa. Thomas sailed across the Arabian Sea and started churches in India. It truly became a world wide phenomena from very humble beginnings in Jerusalem. And that church has continued to expand throughout the world to the point that Christianity is by far the single largest religious group in the world today numbering 2.4 billion people which means that one in every three people on the planet identifies as a follower of Jesus.
We’re part of that worldwide Church. We represent the presence of Christ in this corner of creation. And it is still our mission to know Christ and make him known. That’s what we are called to do.
But in order to do that, we need to seriously address something. What I’m talking about is the financial situation in our church. I wasn’t going to preach on that today but I looked at the financial information in the bulletin this week and realized that it’s time we had this conversation. We need to do it especially now because we are heading into summer when our giving tend to go down because people are away on vacation or just outside enjoying the sunshine – if it ever stops raining.
What I want to do today is two things. First I want to make sure that all of us know where we are financially. And second, I want to talk about how to move forward.
WHERE ARE WE?
First of all, where are we financially? In a nut shell, we’re going through a bit of a rough patch. Basically, we aren’t covering our monthly expenses with our monthly income. That’s new for us because for the past ten years or so, we’ve done quite well financially. Unlike the vast majority of churches, we didn’t see ourselves as having money issues. But then, starting in about January of 2018, our finances took a sudden turn for the worse. What happened?
What happened isn’t really a bit secret. Neither is it at all complicated. What happened is that we lost some really good financial supporters. Some of those people died or moved away and that can’t be helped. And a couple of them left our church for other churches. That’s unfortunate but it happens. But it’s also true that we have a significant number of new people who have joined our church and become part of our ministry. It’s also clear that the newer people’s offerings have not totally replaced the offerings of those who are no longer with us. And that, frankly, is to be expected because studies indicate that the longer a person is part of a church and the more involved they get in the ministry, the more generous they become with their offerings. That more or less stands to reason.
But it also tells us something that we didn’t know before. It tells us that we, as a congregation, were relying far too much on the generousity of a few families. That’s a dangerous thing because if those families can no longer support the church, then the church gets into financial hot water very quickly. And just to be clear, John does not share with me who give what. I don’t know what anyone other Ruth and I but the statistics that I see bear out what I’m saying.
To try to get a handle on this I decided to do a bit of a comparison between where we were last year compared to where we are this year. What you’re going to see is a significant change in giving patterns. Here is the graph that you see in your bulletin this week. I want you to note two things. The balance in the general fund is declining but it’s also declining at a much slower rate than it did last year. Last year, between January and May, the decline was about $8,000. This year the decline is about $4,000 which means that it is cut in half. That’s good news because it means that some people are adjusting their offering to make up for the shortfall.
The other interesting thing you will note is that our givings over the last year have been relatively consistent every month. Except for December, which is always our biggest month, offerings have been right around the $10,000 level and, in fact, the offerings are slightly higher than they were this time last year. Why is that? I’m not sure exactly, but my hunch is that more people signed up for Pre-Authorized Remittance (PAR) which means that their offering comes out of their bank account just like their car insurance or their RRSP contributions. The more people who are on PAR the better for us because it means that even if you can’t be here on Sunday morning, your offering does get here and you don’t have to worry about trying to catch up when you miss a Sunday.
That all means that we are going in the right direction. Although we’re not yet where we need to be, we’ve made significant gains. That’s good.
Now I want to show you the same graph for this time last year. What do you see? You don’t see a good steady revenue stream. You see offerings going all over the place. It’s very erratic, with significant fluctuations from month to month. It jumps around between $9,000 and $14,000 except for the expected annual spike in December. And while it is true that the total for the year was higher, the revenue pattern was far more erratic.
Here’s the reality that we face. Our expenses are not going to go down. The single largest expense we have is staff salaries. Then there is everything else from the utilities to United Church assessment and office supplies. There really is no place to cut. The only option to balancing the budget is to increase revenues. Are we going in the right direction? Yes, we clearly are but it would be helpful if we moved in that direction a little faster.
So, how do we move forward from here? The first thing to do is to realize that we aren’t that far from breaking even. The Finance Committee met last week and did a lot of work on retooling the financial information that you get in the bulletin every month. So, if you look at it, you’ll see a few changes that we think will help to provide you with more complete information. One thing we changed in the Bank Balance was that we split out the Shared Ministry Income and took it out of the General Fund because those funds are already earmarked for the Family Minister who we are still hoping to hire sometime this year. So we should not be relying on that money to pay for our general expenses.
Another change is that we are now showing you the total income and expenses for the month including some of the major items. We’re also showing you the surplus or deficit position for the month. You can see that this month we had revenues of $10,919 and expenses of $12,259 with resulted in a monthly deficit of $1,340.
That’s not what we’d like to see – we’d love a surplus every month but it’s also not all that bad. When you break it down it comes to about $335 per week. That’s less than $5 per week per adult attending worship on Sunday morning. That’s not a lot. To put it into perspective, it’s equivalent to about three coffees at Tim Hortons or about two at Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong because I know that some of you who already give sacrificially and are tapped out on givings. If that’s you, please know that your contribution is appreciated and nothing else is expected. But most of us can afford that $5 per week. In fact, if we upped it to $10 per week, that would put us back into a surplus position in just a few months. That’s how close we are to getting out of the hole. It really is quite doable.
Here’s something else to think about. In terms of attendance, Cottam United Church is now the largest United Church in Windsor Essex. We’re not leaps and bounds ahead of some of the church but we are ahead. That means that we should be able to do this because a lot of other churches that are a lot smaller are able to do it. But the other side of that is that we are also, by a very large margin, the youngest United Church in the area. That’s great that we have lots of young families and children but it we also know that younger families do not have the same financial resources as older people because they are still raising kids, funding RESP’s and paying for mortgages in a way the older families are not. Those of us who are more able to give need to keep that in mind.
The bottom line for us financially, however, is that we are not so far into the woods that we will never get out. In fact, we have made progress by stabilizing our revenue and cutting the monthly deficit in half.
The second thing I want us to consider is how each of us should give to the ministry of this church. I’m not going to tell you how much to give. That’s between you and God but I do want to give you some sort of a framework to think about.
The biblical parameter for giving is the tithe. We see that right in Leviticus 27:30-32 (NIV) which says: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.” They, of course, lived in an agricultural society and so wealth was measured in grain and fruit and animals. We don’t do it that way anymore. We measure our wealth in dollars but the same principles apply and those principles are three-fold.
The first principle is that the tithe is proportional. It’s a percentage. If your income goes up the tithe goes up. If your income goes down, the tithe goes down. That’s the first principle, that it’s proportional. The second principle is that it’s intentional. You give what you intend to give. You have thought about it and prayed about it and you have come to a conclusion between you and God. So, it’s proportional. It’s intentional. And finally, it’s from the first fruits. God always had the people of Israel tithe out of the first fruits. What does that mean? It means that you give off the top. You’re not rummaging around in your wallet or purse as you rush out the door on Sunday morning to see what’s left for you to put in the offering plate. You already set aside that amount at the beginning of the month.
One of the new problems that we face today is that many people don’t carry any cash and so there’s nothing left in purse because there was never anything there in the first place. In days gone by, we’d just hastily write a cheque. Today, lots of people don’t even know how to fill out a cheque. Their questions are quite different. They’re asking why they can’t just tap on the way in the church or donate through their phone or online. Those are really good questions and, just as a heads up, we’re not there yet but we’re looking at those options very carefully because we’ll probably have to implement them in the near future.
So those are the three principles about tithing that we can apply. It’s proportional. It’s intentional. And it’s from the first fruits. What does that look like?
God commanded the people of Israel to give a tenth of their produce to the work of the temple. Does that mean that we’re supposed to give a tenth of all that we earn to the work of the church? That would be nice and there are some people in this congregation who actually do that. And if that is what God is laying on your heart, then that is what you should do.
But I’m not someone who insists on a strict ten percent because we live in a very different society then they did 3,000 years ago. And as I’ve so often said, context is important and it’s really hard to compare their context to our.
I like to talk about what I call proportional giving. In proportional giving, people decide what percentage of their income that want to give to the church for the work of Jesus Christ. The truth is that most of us don’t really know. Studies show that the average person thinks they give about 3% to the church. But when they actually sit down and figure it out, the average is closer to 1.5%. What that tells us is that most people really aren’t aware of how much they give.
So here’s an exercise for you. Go home and figure it out. Figure out how much you actually give to Cottam United Church and ask yourself if that is what you think you should be giving. If it is than you’re good. You have finished the exercise. But if it’s not than you need to complete the next step. Ask yourself how much you want to give. Let’s say that you discover that you currently giving 2% but you’d like to give 5%. How do you get there? You make a plan. Maybe you can afford to bump it up to 5% right now. If so, go ahead and do that. But maybe you’re in a position where you can’t do that right away because you have other financial commitments that you can’t quickly change. But maybe you can bump it up from 2% to 2.5% this year. And then next year you can increase your tithe by another half or full percentage. And every year do this until you reach your goal. That’s what Ruth and I did. We started off as newlyweds giving about 2% and eventually, over the course of a few years reached our goal of 10%. We’ve been there now for many years and it’s simply part of our budget.
That’s a simple and effective way of taking control of your givings. The advantage to the church is obvious. The church gets are reliable source of revenue to do the work of Jesus. But there are also advantages for you. The primary one is that you can feel good about what you are giving and, as many people have discovered, one of the best feelings in the world is the one you get when you give to something you believe in.
The other obvious question has to do with the two big projects that we’re hoping to do this year. They are creating the prayer garden and hiring a Family Minister. How are they affecting our financial position? The simple answer is that they aren’t because neither one is being funded through our general revenues. The committee working on the prayer garden has been just amazed at the interest there is in that project in our community. We have had a great response from the people, many of whom don’t even attend this church but they think it’s a really good idea. We’ve had some large donations and lots of smaller one. But large or small, they are help. Even the town of Kingsville is involved. We learned just this week that the planning committee for the town has recommended to Council that it approve our application for a CIP grant. That’s huge. It reminds me one more time about how generous people can be when they find a project that they think is valuable to the community.
And what about the Family Minister. We received a cheque earlier this week for $12,000 from the United Church of Canada which is a grant to help us with the first year. And we’re eligible for three more years of funding. There’s another grant application being submitted hopefully next week that will cover the rest of the cost for the Family Minister if it is accepted. The irony is that both of these projects are probably going to be fully funded. And if we decide not to proceed with one or both of those projects than all of that money will have to be returned. We can’t legally transfer it to our general fund.
We don’t talk a lot about money in this church because we haven’t had to. But we need to now because the only way to deal with a problem is to address it. And the Finance Committee is working hard to do that. This is simply my way of supporting them. So please consider that you’ve heard this morning and consider how you can help, especially as we enter the summer season.
the disciples on the day of Pentecost, may the Spirit of the Living God rest
upon us as we seek to do his will, as we work to fulfill our mission statement
which is to know Christ and make him known.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, this day, O God, with great thanks in our hearts. We thank you for life and love and the peace that comes from placing our faith in you. You are the one and only God and we can put our trust and our hope in you. Your promises are sure and our salvation is secured. There is no greater gift in all of creation than the great gift of life that you have given to us.
We also give you thanks for the life and work of our church. We remember the saints throughout the years who have laboured to share you Word in our community. They laid the foundation upon which we build and we are greatly indebted to them. May the generations that follow in our footsteps call us faithful when it is our names that are written on the pages of history. May your will be known and your work be done for all your people.
Holy God, we want to put your love above all other motives and priorities in life. Help us to extend your unconditional love and forgiveness to others even when we feel they may not deserve it, for in so doing we are blessed with the opportunity to exemplify your character and grace to those around us and be living examples of your unlimited and faithful love.
We pray, also, for the farmers who are desperate to get out to work the land, to get the seeds in the ground so that the crops can grow to feed the nations. We pray for dry weather this week so that planting can get done.
We remember the sick of our congregation and community. We pray, especially, for Sharon, Mary and Linda. Bless us all with your Healing Spirit and help us to experience your presence in every moment of every day.
Father, there are times when the struggles of life seem to be more than we can
endure, the pain more than we can bear, and the cost of survival more than we
can pay. In those times of weakness, we turn to you for strength, trusting that
you will never fail or forsake us. In those weary times, help us to remember
the joy that you have prepared for us through faith in Jesus Christ. Give us
the strength to endure all of life’s challenges for we know that our final
reward is to live with you forever in our heavenly homes. We lift our prayers
with faith in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 9, 2019 / Pentecost
Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b; John 14: 8-17; Acts 2: 1-21 (or Genesis 11: 1-9); Romans 8: 14-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s loving Spirit is here with us now.
The Spirit breaks down all barriers and separations.
Come and worship in the unity of the Spirit.
We come as one to worship God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Come, Holy Spirit. Breath your life-giving wind into our lives, O God. Fill us anew with a sense of the Holy. Refresh us at the cooling stream of your love. Empower us with your tongues of fire. Inspire us to live lives of Spirit-filled dedication. Release from within us the fountain of compassion that you have placed in our hearts. Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Pentecost, when your Spirit came and rested upon the Church, it came to each one equally without prejudice. You have called us to treat one another with the same inclusiveness. Forgive us, O God, when we fail to live by your standards. Walls of separation stand firm and strong. Barriers of colour, race, gender, age and language keep us from walking as one. Poke and prod us into a clearer vision of your kingdom that we may live it and share it with others. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The Holy Spirit came and rested upon the disciples, redeeming them from their loneliness and sin. Jesus sends that same Spirit to us to remind us of God’s love, compassion and forgiveness. Be set free by faith in Jesus our Saviour and Spirit Giver.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
May these gifts be used to renew and empower others as we have been refreshed by your Spirit. Amen.
Filled with the Spirit’s power, may we journey forth in gentleness and
strength to love and serve one another in Jesus’ name.