There are only three ways you can spend money. You can spend money on mission, on life, and on yourself.
Churches only have two: on mission or on themselves. The trick is determining which is which.
Spending Money on Mission
Spending money on mission is spending money that accomplishes our God-given mission on earth. Ultimately, our mission is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) which includes everything from serving unbelievers so they are drawn to Christ and saving Christians so they become more like Christ. It involves both developing relationships with unbelievers, and maintaining relationships with believers.
In your life, this may take the form of having families over for dinner, helping out financially with your neighbor’s medical bills, adopting children, buying and reading books that help you understand Scripture or culture, supporting evangelistic ministries, or sending money to support well drillers in Africa.
Churches can do these things as well. But a church might also spend money on programs, buildings, or audio-visual equipment if it will help them accomplish their mission better. But the hard question to ask is, “Is it really helping us accomplish our mission?”
Spending Money on Life
The second way to spend money is on life. One of the reasons God has given us life is simply to enjoy life.
This is our “secondary” mission. The book of Ecclesiastes shows this. Life is a blessing from God and is to be enjoyed and lived to the full. If this means going on vacations with your family, and buying a coffee at Starbucks, and going to see 3:10 To Yuma, then enjoy!
I am not sure that churches can spend their money this way, since when a church spends money on “life” they are spending it on “church life” which is actually discipleship. If a church runs a coffee shop, the purpose might be that they can develop relationships with the community, and have a place for small groups. This is mission. So a church doesn’t really have this category.
Spending Money on Self
The third category we can spend money on is self.
This is the tricky one, because if we are not careful, we can think that we are spending money on mission or life, when in reality, we are spending it selfishly on ourselves. Some people’s houses, for example, are not really for “mission” (despite the good intentions to have people over), and are way too big and expensive for life (Does someone really need 5000 sq. ft. and marble counters to have a safe and enjoyable home for your kids?).
It’s the same with cars. Is a Hummer really what is needed to help cart the neighbor kids to soccer practice, or would a caravan do fine? I’m not judging anybody who has these things…maybe they really do need them for their mission to reach out to the “upper crust” but if so, my question is “How’s that mission going?”
It’s the same for churches. Do we really need a $30 million building that sits empty most of the week? If the culture you are in won’t listen to you unless you have the giant building, then maybe it is money well spent. But on the other hand, maybe big buildings and expensive programs and high-power technology are the result of other motives. I’m not saying that buildings and high tech sound systems are sinful. It may be just as sinful to not have such things, if our mission demands it. Church buildings are not always wrong; buildings or a lack of buildings must help us accomplish our mission.
When Spending Money, Discernment is Needed
Of course, we must watch out for self-deception. Benny Hinn spends $112,000 per month on a personal jet, owns a $10 million, 7,000 sqft. home, and when traveling, gets hotel rooms for $10,800 per night.
Why? Hinn said something to the effect that ministry is stressful, and such things help him accomplish his mission more effectively. Even Hinn is convinced that he needs to spend money on these things so he can accomplish what God has called him to do.
Every person and every church needs to take a long, hard look at how they spend money, and ask themselves: Is this for mission, for life, or for self? Anything that is for self could be used better elsewhere.