Giving to Your Church or Other Non-Profit Through a QCD

We have many in our church family who are retired or at an age where retirement is on the horizon.  The faithful, generous givers in our church family continue to seek wise ways to continue their contributions to our church and other non-profits.

My friend and member of our church, Chris Daunhauer is a financial advisor and has written this article to help people understand the concept of Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) and how these may lower one's taxable income. I am thankful for the wise counsel offered by Chris and his simple explanation. I am providing some links to various organizations that may offer additional helps as well.

QCD Explanation and Encouragement by Chris Daunhauer

If you are charitably minded AND you have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from an IRA or 401(k) because of your age, then you should consider doing at least the first portion of your charitable giving via QCDs (qualified charitable distributions) directly from your retirement account.  QCDs lower your adjusted gross income (and your taxable income) and they may reduce your future Medicare premiums and the taxability of your Social Security benefits.

QCDs have become more popular since the 2018 tax code changes. 

The doubling of the standard deduction that year has dramatically reduced the percent of taxpayers who itemize.  It’s dropped from 30 percent of all returns down to only 10 percent.  If you are in the 90 percent who do not itemize, your charitable giving no longer has any impact on the amount you pay in federal income taxes.

But….if you’re a retiree who must take required minimum distributions every year (you’re an IRA or 401(k) account owner who is at least 70 ½ years old), there is a potential work-around.  The tax code allows you to donate some or all of the annual distribution from your retirement account directly to charities of your choice (up to $100k per year).

When done correctly, a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) satisfies the IRS rules for RMDs, and does so without that distribution being added to your AGI or taxable income.  And, because your AGI is lower, Medicare premiums and the taxability of your Social Security may be lower as well.  You pay no taxes on the portion of your RMD given to charity, and you can still claim the full standard deduction elsewhere on your tax return.

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A QCD can help keep your charitable giving fully deductible regardless how high the standard deduction is.

QCDs offer surprising flexibility. You may split your RMD into multiple parts–some to yourself as taxable income for your own needs, and some directly to your favorite charities through QCDs.  You can also give to multiple charities in a single year, and, if you prefer, you may make your QCD gifts to charity anonymously.

For most retirees, most of the time, doing as much of your charitable giving as possible via a QCD is better than taking your RMD as regular taxable income and then writing checks to your favorite charities from that income.

First Baptist Church of Orange Park already receives QCD donations from some in our fellowship, and our financial secretary can point you to more information on this method of giving.  You can also contact your IRA or 401(k) custodian, your tax preparer, or financial advisor to learn more. QCDs are easy to do, tax smart, and fully recognized by the IRS.

Additional Links:

https://swbts.plannedgiving.org/secure-act

https://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/ira-retirement-account/

https://www.gowestwood.org/ira-distribution/

https://baptistnews.myplannedgift.org/give-from-your-ira

https://www.fbc-h.org/transfer-ira-money-to-charity/

https://www.shades.org/give/ira-distribution

https://www.abhe.org/ira-charitable-rollovers-qcds-rmds/

https://www.nobts.edu/development/default.html

https://www.txamfoundation.com/News/A-Gift-That-Can-Lower-Your-Taxes-Without-Itemizing.aspx


What If You Received a Letter From Your Church About Your Giving?

A few years ago I finally recognized that when young pastors are told to find mentors in the ministry who have served as pastors longer, who are older, presumably wiser, and have more grey hair (or... no hair) that I was now in the category of the older pastors rather than the younger ones.

I see questions posted online on forums or on other social media platforms from young pastors wondering if something they are dealing with is "normal." Sometimes, there are questions presented such as "Do you think it is wise to _________?" referencing things that may seem logical, right, not unbiblical, but may cause controversy.

Yesterday,  young pastor messaged me a question. He was referencing some of my online posts, sermon clips, blog posts, etc. I have known this young man for quite a while and he serves a church located in another state, but in the same denominational tribe as ours. His question (paraphrased) was "How is this thoroughly gospel-centered messaging playing in your church? I imagine your demographics are similar to ours but you do not seem to be pulling any punches. I’m curious as to the impact with your people." I was so thankful for this question.

I answered initially with one word - longevity.

I have been serving as pastor at my church since 2005. Prior to that, I served seven years here at the same church in an associate pastor role. In other words, I have been here a long time. That does not give me permission to just say or do anything. However, longevity does help build trust. When a pastor is trusted, even if not agreed with regarding certain decisions, the opportunities for caring speech, seasoned with grace, and leading with intention occur.

Of course, the grace of God's people is incredible as well and not to be minimized. These wonderful people I have the privilege to pastor love well, serve gladly, and have shown me much grace over the years. An outspoken pastor needs a gracious church.

That being said, speaking truth and leading well are not things to be pushed to the back burner. 

There are times when I'm preaching when I say things that were not actually typed in my notes. These off-the-cuff statements must not to be unbiblical, unloving, or outside the theme or focus of the sermon. Yet, sometimes when I say such things, I leave those in the congregation (and often others on our staff...as well as my wife) saying "Did he really just say that?"

What I Said About "The Letter" 

Two Sundays ago, in my sermon focusing on generous giving and the fact that healthy Christians should be generous Christians, I spoke of the work of the church and the funding for missions and ministry that gifts from covenant church members provide. I mentioned tithing, but even in that, did not speak of it as a dogmatic rule in that I understand the Old Testament requirement for such giving by the Jews and the New Testament calling to live generously (meaning...it's not measured by a ten-percent amount. In other words, God desires one-hundred percent of our lives, not just a portion.) Nevertheless, I did not denounce the tithe. I believe it is a great start for generous giving and in my life, it has always been considered a minimum, not a maximum.

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I then mentioned that our church may send a letter to those covenant church members who previously were on record as systematic, regular givers to the ministry of our church, but have most recently not been giving.

I didn't stay on that subject. It was not in my notes, but I did say it. 

Maybe I needed an older pastor to get counsel before saying it?

Nevertheless, a few members asked "Are you really going to send out a letter?" 

Some believed that many members would leave our church if such a letter were sent.

Other stated that what they give to the church is private and therefore, no one should know what they give.

Still others were wondering that since I stated from the stage that I do not know how much any individual church member gives, how could I know who should receive such a letter.

What Such a Letter Would Say

Rather than stir up something unnecessarily, let's look at what such a letter may say.

Here is some background on this. Our leadership team was meeting and discussing upcoming sermons and the topic of generous giving and this sermon came up. One of our pastors recalled when he and his wife were in seminary and they received a letter from the church where they were members. As is often the case in seminary, funds were tight and they had not given recently (for a period of time) as they had initially and had covenanted with their church to do.

Here is what his letter (well actually an email) stated:

Hey there,
 
I hope you are doing well. I think you probably know this, but in case you don't—one of the ways we try to hold church members accountable to the church covenant is checking in with members who have no recorded giving for an extended period of time.
 
We don't have any recorded giving for you for some time, so I wanted to touch base.
 
If you have been faithful in this area of our church covenant but have chosen to give cash anonymously, please just let me know that. I don't need to know numbers or anything; just that you are fulfilling this area of the covenant.
 
If, however, this is not an area that you have been fulfilling, let me just encourage you to do so soon. Again, our covenant does not specify and amount, but only that we give "cheerfully, regularly, and generously."
 
If there is some hardship that would prevent you from doing so, or if you have some concerns about this commitment, I'd love to sit down and talk with you about it.
 
Grace and peace.
 
(P.S. - The latest report I have is from early May. If you have given since then, just let me know!)

As our associate pastor read this to our team, I was taken by the overwhelming sense of care and grace expressed in these words. This was not a letter from a church bent on padding its bank account. It was from a pastor at the church tasked with connecting and keeping up with church members.

The truth is that some would not like getting such a letter, for the reasons I mentioned above. So I asked our associate pastor how he and his wife responded. 

He said they greatly appreciated the letter and it opened the door for them to repent to God for not fulfilling that which they have covenanted to do, but also to share with the pastor the very real needs they were facing. 

This was not a "going to the principal's office" encounter, but a moment revealed by a "red flag" of no giving (after previously giving regularly) that showed the church and pastoral staff how to serve and minister to this family.

Answers to the Common Questions

Concerns raised are legitimate and here is how I responded to a church member when these were presented to me.

  • For the church member who may be offended and leave because they receive such a letter: The truth is they likely have mentally (if not physically already left.) This is sad, but the "offense" taken is not legitimately offensive. Now, if they leave the church angrily and join a sister church, then perhaps the new start will be great for them. Sadly, the sister church likely would need our prayer.
  • For the church member who states "My giving is private!": Certainly, that may be true if the church member gives his/her offering in cash or cashier's check, does not use envelopes with their name on it, or does not use online giving. It is not a sin to give anonymously. In fact, it is a good thing (remember the right hand-left hand teaching in Scripture?) However, if a record of contributions is needed each year for one's personal income tax returns, the fact is that someone knows that amount given. At a minimum, it is the financial secretary at the church. In many cases, it will be the person's accountant. Certainly, the IRS knows. Private? Not so much. Now, that does not give one permission or affirmation to brag about one's gifts to the church or to other charities. Boastful giving is prideful giving. Prideful giving is self-serving. Self-serving giving is sinful.
  • As for the pastor (me) not knowing what anyone gives, that is true. I choose to not know. I don't scour the giving records of church members. I don't look to see who may be giving regularly. I don't because I know me. I do not want to know. I said in the early service last week that I do not want to know because I do not want to give the stink-eye to certain members and elevate others. Giving generously is not the litmus test for faithfulness, but it is one of many indicators of a healthy Christian.

What If You Received Such a Letter?

How would you respond to such a letter or email. In our case, it would not come from me, because I do not know the giving record of our church members, but as I stated, our financial secretary does and those who work in that area of our leadership team do (or at least can find out.) 

Would you respond with "Who do they think they are?" or would you respond with relief and thankfulness?

There may be church members, part of your church family, who are struggling financially right now. This may be due to loss of job, cut wages, pandemic forced shutdowns, increased medical bills, or any number of things. We all know that many in our churches would be embarrassed that others know of their struggles. Yes, we know that we should be able to share truthfully and pray for one another, but alas, pride and potential embarrassment keep us from doing so at times.

So, look at it this way, if a faithful, covenant member of your church suddenly stops giving, serving, attending, etc. it may be a sign of a deeper struggle. We would be at fault for ignoring such signs. This must not be judgmental, but true familial Christian love and care.

Of course, letters, emails, and text messages are often received wrongly and read with the feelings of the reader, not the intent of the sender. So, perhaps a phone call or personal conversation would be best. 


PASTORS: Watch Out for This Scam

Internet and Email scammers have been around for years now and unfortunately, many have lost money and some have been "catfished" through the process. It makes for interesting stories on news programs and talk shows.

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Photo credit: BioDivLibrary via Visual hunt / CC BY

Last week, I received an email (actually the second time I have received such an email) that on the surface looks somewhat legit, but ultimately is a scam designed to play on the egos of pastors (yeah - I said it) and the opportunity to preach the Gospel in an international venue.

This email seemingly originated from the United Kingdom. Take a look below:

Screenshot 2017-01-21 15.40.33

When I first read the email, I was suspicious. Primarily because I received a similar one a couple of years ago, but the names of the church and pastor were changed. However, I do have friends who serve as pastors and missionaries in the UK, so there was this slight chance that this was authentic. I even shared the info with one of my friends, but approximately five minutes after asking him if he knew the church, I discovered what I just knew to be true - THIS IS A SCAM!

Pastoral Catfish Scheme

Things that made me question the authenticity of the request:

  • I have never met Pastor Sherard Wood and know no one who knows this man.
  • Passion Conference is a strange name for a local church's event in that Louie Giglio founded and hosts the Passion Conferences annually. Sometimes these are international events and most local churches would see the problem in naming their event the same thing. 
  • The website included in the email for Victory Church is authentic and actually goes to the church in Wales. However, there is no one listed on the Leadership Team named Sherard Wood.
  • Most churches now have email domains that match the church website, so the Gmail account was strange. It's not unheard of for a church to use Gmail. It is not even a bad thing, but it did look suspicious.
  • Under "Events" on the church tab, there is no indication that a "Passion Conference" is scheduled this spring.
  • Since I have many friends in Wales, where this church is located, it does seem strange to call the church Victory Church UK in the email. Most of my Welsh friends actually indicate "Wales" as their home and location. Just as my friends in England tend to say "England."

I did a quick Google search of the story and found that many have been scammed. It seems that when pastors respond, another email is sent with PDF documents attached which must be completed to allow the church to pay honorariums. The documents are actually authentic, but the rest of the story reveals how the scammers work.

This is the same strategy that King from Nigeria uses to get you to send money as well as all the other "Send money" emails people get from other sources. It seems there is a fee due to process the forms and yes, that needs to be paid, so just wire the money to the church's bank account and all is good.

Right.

That's the deal.

There's no conference in the UK paying thousands of dollars to American pastors who are mostly not known outside their region. It's flattering and it's a lie. 

Be careful. Be smart.

Here are a couple of sites where others have broken down the scam just in case you may think your email is legit:


The Marketing of Generosity

Last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving with family and those in our community, I was once again reminded of the strangeness this week now holds.

  • On Thursday (Thanksgiving) people gather with friends and family and pause to reflect on how blessed we are and offer thanks to God.
  • On "Black Friday" people fight and scrape to get into shopping centers to buy things they otherwise wouldn't just because the deals are so good. In other words, just 24 hours prior we're content and thankful and then...BOOM! WE HAVE TO HAVE MORE!
  • On Saturday, people go shopping at smaller stores for "Small Business Saturday" to encourage them to stay in business even though they struggle competing with the big box stores.  Then, everyone goes back home to watch college football rivalry games that create division among family members and friends.
  • On Sunday, people (well some people) go to church.
  • On "Cyber Monday" people get more great deals online. This is basically Amazon's version of Black Friday.
  • Then, when all disposable income (a term that has never resonated in my home) is gone, it's time for "Giving Tuesday" where charities and non-profits seek to gain donations to help end-of-year expenses.

And some people wonder why Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday?

As Christians, there are many commentaries on all these marketed, hashtag days. First of all, thanksgiving should never be relegated only to one day a year. Greed should never be celebrated. Worship should never be just during one hour on a weekend day and generosity should be natural for all followers of Christ.

Giving tuesday

Yet, today is #GivingTuesday and every non-profit and ministry out there seems to be taking advantage of the moment. To be honest, I don't blame them and in fact, there are many groups we sponsor as a family and ministries we support as a church family that could use a boost in donations. Yes, this day is a marketing strategy. Yet, when compared to "Black Friday" and the like, this one focuses not on self, but on others (unless you give so you can brag about giving, which then makes it selfish.) While not an extensive list, here are some options (in addition to your local church, which BTW is a non-profit as well) that you may wish to prayerfully consider giving generously to on this day.

There are many others. Before dropping that coin or sending a donation to a non-profit, do some checking. Ensure that the organization is legitimate and if a religious or Christian organization, it would be wise to discern the theology or teaching your donations support.

Happy Giving Tuesday. Oh and if you don't get to donate today, you don't have to wait another year. Generosity isn't bounded by calendared events.


"New and Improved" Cooperative Program Giving

We all seem to want the latest version of everything.

Whether it's the new iPhone, new car, latest version of Madden or maybe the latest fashion...we like "new." Even better than "New" is "New and Improved." Ever see that plastered on a product in the grocery store that you've used for decades? Makes you wonder what was wrong with the version you used to use? Just because the word "New" is attached to something does not mean it's better. Remember "New Coke"?

Nevertheless, I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to liking the shiny, new version of stuff.

Sometimes, new is better.

Sometimes improved is a true claim, not just a marketing strategy.

When it comes to church and missions engagement, there are always newer options available. With the advent of internet, mission engagement globally can take place through an uplink to Skype or FaceTime. Emails and newsletters are sent digitally and immediately received. Even trips to far away, exotic mission fields are little more than a drive to an airport and a half-day flight away.

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We truly do have some "new and improved" options when it comes to missions.

Of course, when we speak of missions engagement as evangelicals, and especially as Baptists, we know that funding is needed. Prayers, provision, and people are the three elements churches offer to missionaries in the field. Prayers are paramount. That is first in the list for a reason. Can we have new and improved prayers? I believe so. When prayer life becomes stale, we need to be like the disciples who came to Jesus and asked to be taught to pray. I go back to that passage regularly for insight into prayer and use the template offered in the Model Prayer to keep me focused.

Provision is a nice, alliterative way to say money. It takes money to send people onto the mission field. It requires money to build facilities, provide food, water, resources and other elements needed on the mission field. Those who look down their noses at requests for funds when it comes to mission engagement miss the practicality of sending. Don't spiritualize it and say that no missionary should seek funds. That's not spiritualization. That's just stinginess disguised as religion. Generosity is godly and when funds and resources are provided with a generous heart, the kingdom increases and all play a role.

Sending people could be in the form of support teams or short-term mission teams or the sending of long-term, career missionaries. All are vital.

As Baptists, we have cooperated in our mission giving for decades through a system known as the Cooperative Program (CP). When you study the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, the initiation of the Cooperative Program is pretty amazing. There were other names for this considered, but Southern Baptists landed on Cooperative Program. The compiling of funds together enables missionaries to serve on the field, seminaries to educate pastors and ministers, agencies to function and denominational work to take place.

Over the years, collective giving to CP has gone down. 

Perhaps it's the name. To be honest, Cooperative Program sounds old. You know why? It is. Yet, old doesn't mean non-functioning. In fact, for decades CP giving has enabled the SBC to engage a lost culture more effectively than we ever could have done alone. As Baptists, we celebrate our autonomy. Yet, even in our autonomy, we affirm the value of cooperation.

While SBC agencies face difficult issues regarding funding and ministry engagement for the next generation, we (my church - firstFAMILY Church of Orange Park, FL) have continued to give through CP. In fact, we increased our collective giving to 11 percent of total receipts. Now, I readily admit there is no calling for local churches to "tithe" to denominational entities. Yet, there is a mandate to live generously. Living with the end in mind and with wide-angle glasses so we can attempt to see the larger picture, we understand the value of giving.

So, we give.

Unapologetically.

Faithfully.

Sacrificially.

As God leads.

In 2015, we gave over $264,000 through our Florida Baptist Convention to the Cooperative Program. I'm not bragging. In fact, I'm pretty amazed at that amount and there is a part of me that says "Do you know what we could've done with that amount of money to our property? With our staff? For church programs?" and then I shake my head and come back to reality. We have been able to do so much more through giving than we ever could have through keeping.

Now, in Florida, we have a "new and improved" version of CP giving. For the first time in SBC life, a state is sending more out of the state than is kept. We now give 51 percent of all CP giving out of our home state. This is what some may call "radical." 

New and Improved? Well, not so new, but improved. 

We're honored to be a part of a larger story.

Watch this video to see how Florida is engaging the world for the Kingdom through CP gifts:

 

 

 


Blessing Church Planters & Missionaries

Once again God has blessed First Baptist Church of Orange Park with a "surplus" of giving. There are expenses that have come up, but even after unbudgeted expenses and funding needed things, we are able to bless three church planters/missionaries with gifts this month. So, after meeting with our Finance & Stewardship Committee, we are proud to share the following.

When opportunities come to help increase the Kingdom, we must step into that story. These three men and their families have sacrificed much to ensure more people hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

Pray for them please.

Pray regularly.

Here is who we have blessed this month:

Allan Covington
Pastor Allan Covington and RiverEdge Church in Baldwinsville, New York (near Syracuse) with a gift of $1,500. Allan is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. RiverEdge is a Southern Baptist Church using the NorthPoint Church model that Andy Stanley has developed in Alpharetta, Georgia. There are no strategically evangelical churches in the area where RiverEdge is being planted. The SBC shows that only five to six percent of the population considers themselves evangelical Christian. RiverEdge is focused on the other 94-95 percent.

 

Jessups
Missionary and church planter Bill Jessup is serving as missionary in Reykjavik, Iceland through the Iceland Project. Bill is pastoring a small gathering now with intent of helping them plant numerous churches throughout the city and nation. Bill is also working to help them become self-sufficient with prayers that an Icelandic pastor would rise up and be called to lead the congregation. We were able to gift them with $1,200.

 

Tim Larson
Pastor Tim Larson of WaterMark Church here in Clay County. They meet weekly at Tynes Elementary School. We offer Tim an office here at First Baptist and the WMC staff meets here weekly. The financial gift of $1,200 will give them some flexibility financially as they continue to connect with people who have no church home and most likely will not connect with a traditional church.


Becoming a Debt Free Church. . .Seriously!

I know that we live in an era where finances are the major stressors for many. Just a little over a year ago, we were considering how to cut salaries and ministries just to pay bills. We were sinking into the red at a pretty alarming rate.

Well, at that point, I laid out the financial circumstances to the church and after and through much prayer, God moved us to a place of ministry as a church where finances were no longer the biggest worry.

Now, just a little over 16 months later, we are in a real position to truly practice what we preach (or at least tell all good Christ-followers) regarding finances. 

The following is the text from an email being sent to all church members tomorrow, but I felt that sharing it here was appropriate. 

I want this to be clear. I share this information for these reasons only:

  • To the glory of God and God alone. That means, there is no glory here for anyone else, not me, not First Baptist Church, not the bank (definitely) but God alone.
  • To show that we cannot proclaim a biblical truth as a church and refuse to ever acknowledge that we, as a church, must also seek to live by the same truth.
  • To encourage those (other churches, families and individuals) going through difficult financial circumstances.
  • To express our desire to not only proclaim freedom, but to experience it. In this case, the freedom from debt.
  • To share my personal doubts and publicly repent for not believing.

I fully recognize that what I'm sharing here for some may seem like "putting the cart before the horse." In truth, we're not there yet. However, for the first time in my ministry I feel that we have a good, prayed over, biblically based, strategic plan as a church to become debt free in an amount of time that is actually very exciting. It's exciting because there's a good chance (unless God calls me home or elsewhere. . .no I'm not interviewing or seeking to go elsewhere) that I will be able to celebrate this future event with the people of God here at First Baptist.

So. . .here's the story:

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel (Becoming a Debt Free Church)

 

Debt-free

It has been a pretty amazing year for First Baptist in so many ways. One way that God has blessed beyond our understanding has been financially. As you know, we were able to bless some incredible ministries and church plants last fall as well as pay off the loan on our bus and use some funds for capital improvements. As we move through the beginning of 2012, we continue to seek God's leadership for His church here as we strive to be the very best stewards possible of His resources.

 

We have proclaimed for years through messages, emails, blog posts and financial classes that the goal is to avoid debt. We are reminded of Solomon's wisdom in this area. . .

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

Yet, the reality is that most of our church members carry much more debt that they (i.e. we) should. While most of our debt is often wrapped up in our home mortgages, there is often added debt in the form of lines of credit, credit cards, car loans, etc.

My wife and I are doing what many of you are. We are systematically and intentionally working to pay off outstanding debt. Why? Because "the borrower is the slave of the lender." Debt keeps us from being able to use the finances God has blessed us with to do more ministry.

Remember when I read the list of stressors last Sunday showing the stressors that many in America face today? The top three had to do with finances (personal finances, work and the economy.)

As a church, we have collectively fallen into the pit of debt. While I am very pleased that over the years the church saw fit to purchase the property we now have and build the facilities we use each week, the truth of the matter is that the monthly payments keep us from using our funds to their fullness.

So, I'm excited to share with you that not only are we advocating as a church that people (especially Christ-followers) work toward being debt free, but we are modeling this.

Here's how.

Over the last seven years, we have focused on paying off debt and God has blessed with the ability to do so. We paid off a loan we came to call "The Giant" (i.e. the imagery was of David and Goliath), we paid off loans for homes on our property that are being used for the Korean Church and the Haitian Church. We were able to pay off the outstanding bus loan last fall. All in all, that's been very relieving and has moved us strategically to the place we are now.

Currently, we owe approximately $2.2 million in loans for our facilities. This is the total payoff for the worship center/music suite complex built in 1994 as well as our education/administration/gym facility built in the early 2000s.

Our loan currently has a 7.5% interest rate and is up for renewal on April 15.

Due to the economic state and lower interest rates now, our Stewardship & Finance Committee went to three banks to see if we could negotiate for a lower rate. The end result has us refinancing a 15 year note beginning in April for a little over $2.2 million at only 4.5% interest. We will keep our loan with our current bank (Well Fargo) and only pay somewhere between $600-$1000 in closing costs. There is no prepayment penalty.

That's a savings of 3% on $2.2 million. In layman's terms, "That's a chunk of change!"

Not only that, our current monthly mortgage payment is $22,262.83. With the new loan, our monthly payment will be $17,178.45. However, our plan is to continue paying the $22,262.83 rate. Here's why.

By paying the higher amount (which is what we're used to paying now) plus the extra $4,000 or so that is given monthly by church members designating a portion of their regular offering (over their tithes) toward the "Building Fund," we can pay off our remaining debt in about 8.5 years.

Let that sink in a moment. . . .8.5 years.

That's 7 years before the loan will come due.

The amount of money to be saved in interest alone is astronomical. It's six to seven figures, literally.

While 8.5 years may seem like a long time for some (mainly those who are about 10 years old) it truly isn't. As I think about how long I have been serving here at First Baptist (17+ years) it really comes into focus as being a short time. I never thought I'd see the day when these millions of dollars in loans could be paid off, but I believe God is leading us to to this and providing us the way.

This means that we are working to not add any more debt during this time. Though houses come up for sale (one is for sale right now) that could be used by our church for a variety of things such as staff housing, missionary housing, classroom space, storage, etc., we do not plan on purchasing any homes if another loan is needed. In other words, if homes come available and church members wish to come together and purchase a home or fund the purchase, we will see that as God providing the means. If we have to take out a loan. . .well, God will have to give us very clear instructions to do so, otherwise we will pass and wait upon the Lord.

One other thing - our Stewardship and Finance Committee has put in place an accrual account where we "pay" ourselves as we can into savings to fund the future replacement of church facilities and vehicles. This will, hopefully, put us in a place to not have to take out other loans for "emergency" upgrades and replacements.

This is the plan. We plan to work the plan and stay on course. I pray that as a church, we will all continue to give faithfully. As the church moves from being a "slave to the lender" so too can we as individual Christ-followers. It takes time. It's takes steadfastness. It means we must stay the course. We will not stop or slow down in the doing of ministry, but as we have seen in the past twelve months, as we serve and live and give faithfully, God provides all that we need for His sake.

To God be the glory!

I'm really looking forward to that day when we can "burn the note" and celebrate God's faithfulness and our obedience in this. Then, the $22,000+ that has been used monthly for mortgage payments can go directly to ministries and Kingdom growth. Oh, in case you need perspective, the monthly mortgage payment is larger than our preschool ministry annual budget. It's larger than our children's ministry annual budget. It's larger than our student ministry annual budget. It's larger than our senior adult ministry, single adult ministry, men's ministry, and women's ministry annual budgets combined. It's larger than our music ministry annual budget. Did you catch that? The monthly payment is larger than the annual budgets mentioned. Just think of the ministries we feel call to fund now (adoption, church planting, missionary placement, etc.) that could be done with the available funding. Well, I know, God always provided the funding for the work He is doing. It's just that the practical numbers side of me sees this and becomes excited about what God is going to do next.

I said it earlier, but let me repeat this - To God be the glory! Just want to make sure we don't think we deserve any of the glory here.

Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep giving. Keep doing ministry. . .for the glory of God.


The Cooperative Program & Missional Living

Earlier this week I wrote about our church's increased giving to the Cooperative Program through undesignated gifts. This has spurred some interesting conversations. 

One question asked was "How does an individual's giving through CP help connect them to the field?"


It's a great question and deserves more than a simple "It just does!" answer.

In fact, even an answer that sounds more like "Well, that's what we're supposed to do as Southern Baptists," isn't valid.

As a church who has intentionally and strategically shifted focus to living missionally, the traditional CP gift must also be explained and understood. As one pastor shared "It's a new conversation." This new conversation must clearly explain and define how CP giving and all that entails the Cooperative Program equates to living missionally.

So, how does CP giving connect people to the field? In a broad sense, through the funding of missionaries and other ministries, the field workers can actually stay on the field longer. In this sense, the giver (i.e. the local chuch member) is connected to the field through support. Of course, portions of CP monies go toward theological education and denominational budgets, but these must be viewed as essential as well. No one desires to see a top-heavy beaurocracy develop that keeps funds from the field. I imagine that the denomination-wide Great Commission Resurgence has brought this to everyone's attention. Our (Southern Baptists) desire to be good stewards of God's resources.

Though I espoused support of CP and even shared why we as a church are increasing our percentage giving, just giving to CP is not necessarily missional. It can be, and in our case is, a portion of our missional strategy.

BB2I love basketball, and one of the most popular and effective basketball plays of all time is the "give and go." I won't go into the finer points of the give and go here, but I do believe this is a good strategy for the local church and for leading into missionality.

Give and Go!

To give financially and do nothing else is inefficient and ineffective. Sure, the finances can be used for Kingdom work, but a deeper connectivity of the individual to Kingdom work is forsaken.

Our strategy is to lead God's people to "give" generously and cheerfully as an expression of worship. While doing this, we are to be "going" to the field and serving Him there.

The Great Commission reminds us that as Christians, we are to go. As we go, we are to make disciples. This is not up for a vote. It's our mandate.

Matthew 28:19-20(ESV)
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in£ the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We believe that all Christians are to be on mission and serving missionally in our community and on the field. For some, this means participating in a global mission trip. For others, it may be volunteering at one of our local schools as a mentor. It may be numerous other missional activities such as disaster relief, serving at the Clothes Closet, even raking a neighbors yard. For the few who are truly homebound, their act of service may be writing cards, making phone calls and as with all other believers, praying earnestly for the lives and eternal destinations of those in our community and world. All this work, which is an outgrowth of our faith, is done solely for the glory of God and with a Kingdom focus.

It's my belief that each Christian must not only give faithfully and generously, but go as well to the field.

To go without giving is incomplete.

To give without going is ineffective.

 


Why We Are Increasing Our Giving to the Cooperative Program

In Southern Baptist life, the Cooperative Program has been a mainstay for decades. From our beginning as Southern Baptists, the idea of being "on mission" and fulfilling the Great Commission together has existed. It wasn't until 1925 that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) launched a concerted giving partnership to fund missions, education and denominational work. This effort was, and is called the Cooperative Program (CP).

2011-2012-CPBudgetThrough the collaboration of donated gifts from SBC churches, the CP funds missions through the International and North American Mission Boards (72.99 percent) theological education through the six SBC seminaries and historical archives (22.16 percent) the operating budget of the SBC (3.2 percent) and Christian Ethics and Religious Liberty ministries (percent)* CP also funds the missions and ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention, including church planting, theological education, compassionate ministries and other efforts of Florida Baptists.

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life. While growing up, my family claimed membership in numerous Southern Baptist churches. Oh, we were not church hoppers. My father was in the military and so our moves were determined by the Department of the Air Force. However, regardless where my father was stationed, we would find a Southern Baptist church to unite with and serve in.

In those days, most Southern Baptist churches were similar. Whether we were in Alaska or Alabama, Texas or Tennessee, the SBC churches we united with had similar floor plans (from the Architectural Department of the then Baptist Sunday School Board,) the same bulletins (complete with the image on the front, devotional story on the back and the little missionary picture and bio as well which we. . .well I. . .used to embellish with added sunglasses and mustaches.) We even had the same hymnbooks - The Baptist Hymnal (though there was the radical change from the older blue ones to the newer 1975 maroon editions.) 

The aesthetic similarities were there, but more importantly, each church we united with was an active giver to the Cooperative Program.

Times have changed, and I'm not complaining. I actually like the new, creative floor plans that many churches have. The "cookie-cutter" churches weren't very creative. I'm even a fan of churches that meet in schools, theaters, homes and strip-centers. I've never really been enamored with facilities. Church bulletins are more announcement sheets now and hymnals? Well, we have them in the worship center, but we don't use them. Our songs are projected on the screen. I'm sure some don't like this, but I love it. People sing louder and better when they're looking up rather than staring down into a book.

However, not all changes have been good or progressive.

It seems that there are more SBC churches who have chosen to decrease their Cooperative Program efforts. In Florida alone, CP giving has decreased from a peak of $39.6 million four years ago to $32.6 million in 2010, with a budget of $31 million for 2011.

While there is no biblical mandate for the church to "tithe" to the Cooperative Program in giving, I believe it is a great model for good and proper stewardship.

As a church, we have consistently given 10 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program for years. I remember a discussion within the church years ago about reducing this percentage. That discussion was quickly squelched. It seemed then that 10 percent would be the floor for our giving through CP.

I am proud to share that pending approval of the 2012 budget this coming Sunday, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be increasing our giving to CP to 10.25 percent of undesignated receipts. Our intent is to systematically increase by one quarter of one percent over the next four years so that by 2015 we will be giving 11% of undesignated gifts to CP.  However, I don't want to make it seem that even 11 percent is the ceiling. Our giving may increase beyond that. I just don't know, but am seeking God's lead in this.

We are also increasing our giving to Jacksonville Baptist Association missions. 

The truth of the matter is that you cannot out-give God. 

As Southern Baptists, I pray we do not forsake the unique cooperative efforts of the CP. I fear that many Southern Baptists have no idea what the Cooperative Program is or what it does.

I know many churches have shifted funds for numerous reasons. Some reasons are based on economics. Some are based on wanting to fund church plants, satellite campuses and provide support for individual missionaries and mission efforts. Regardless the reason, I'm just not convinced they're good enough.

As a pastor and church, we have had to make some hard decisions regarding church finances. The economy affects all organizations.

We believe in supporting church planters and missionaries as well as mission trips, mission efforts and missional expressions locally. Each requires funding and we have committed to do these at different levels.

However, we have decided that at this point, Cooperative Program giving is an "untouchable" line item in our budget when it comes to decreasing. 

This is not a gimmick. It's not a game. It's about being faithful and trusting God. 

Throughout the state of Florida, SBC pastors and churches are being challenged to recommit their efforts of giving to CP. We have taken the challenge (Actually, we made the decision to increase our giving before we knew of the state-wide challenge. It's good to be early adopters. ) and are committed to the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptist churches and entities.

I would encourage all Florida Southern Baptist churches to take the challenge to increase CP giving. You can pledge to do this here.

Why do this?

Not to brag about the SBC.

Not to draw attention to our church.

Give because together we can reach more men, women, boys and girls throughout the world in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not want to miss what God is doing in His Kingdom.

As one friend told me, "We can run faster alone, but further together."

This is Kingdom work. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

*These are percentages for the 2011-2012 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.


Some May Never Get It. . .But We Must Follow God's Lead

It has been two weeks since I shared about the financial situation at my church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) We have experienced some incredible things this year - unlike any time in the past. At the close of September, we found ourselves with approximately $190,000 of surplus funds. Surplus may not be the best term. We aren't too sure what term to use, because we normally are saying "deficit" or "in the red." Basically, we received through tithes and offerings $190,000 more than we spent since January 1, 2011.

Given this great opportunity, I have been praying for God's lead along with members of our Stewardship/Finance Committee. God revealed, over time, that this was a test.

Rather than just hoard the funds and stow it all "away for a rainy day" we discerned that He desired us to live out what we teach. We teach what the Bible states, that God loves a cheerful, generous giver. This was a great opportunity to live out and model this teaching.

Generous Therefore, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our church's finance team developed a plan that I felt was just perfect. Honestly, this committee has shown great discernment and leadership. The church body selected them and affirmed them to serve in this capacity and they have gone above and beyond. A portion of the "extra" money was to be placed on the debt that we carry as a church (Proverbs 22:7) and for capital improvements and upgrades. Another portion was to be saved, up to a certain amount, as funds for unforeseen emergencies (Proverbs 30:25). A final portion was to be set aside for a very special purpose. This final portion was to be given away (Proverbs 11:24-25, Proverbs 22:9, Romans 12:13).

The response from church members regarding this plan has been overwhelmingly positive. I have had numerous conversations, emails and notes that have affirmed this plan. Brothers and sisters in Christ at other churches have shared with me as well how this is the model for godly stewardship. Our financial secretary, Bert Gates, shared with me as well that the response she has received has been so very positive. 

People are excited about this. The prospect of paying off debt, preparing for the future and blessing others has moved us to a place of good stewardship that previously we have either never considered or have not been able to see due to financial stress.

However, not everyone understands. 

I knew I would get these calls. I even warned the other pastors and the members of the Stewardship/Finance Committee at the time. Some just don't "get it."

One of my friends just couldn't understand why we did not put all the extra funds toward debt reduction. He asked this question honestly and with no agenda. I appreciated his spirit. We talked and I explained that God had led us to pay off debt, but at the same time to invest in Kingdom work in such a way that we would receive no "return on investment" this side of heaven. As we discussed the eternal ramifications of the donations, he began to understand. In fact, he stated that he now agreed that we must give this away. 

Another friend,  just could not get his mind around why we would donate funds to ministries and church plants outside our county when there is so much within our own community that could be done. He referenced one particular community organization that provides food and clothing for the poor and needy. He was pretty passionate about this because of his love for the organization. He and I talked for a little while. I explained that the lead of the Spirit as discerned by the Stewardship/Finance Committee and me was to donate to Gospel-centric church plants and ministries that extend our reach to areas we could never impact here in Clay County.

I also reminded him that we, as a church, have been and continue to donate money, food, clothing, housing goods and other items to the local organization he referenced. In other words, we already are giving to his desired organization and will continue to do so. 

I believe that some will have have a hard time ever understanding this. Most have never been a part of a church that ever been able to do this. Most often, churches focus on funds to cover bills, debt and fund new buildings. I'm not saying those things aren't important, it's just that we have never been able to think beyond those things.

God's reach through First Baptist Church of Orange Park is extending. We are not forsaking the community or the city here. In fact, we are able to do more now locally and globally than ever in the past. 

Our discussion was cordial, but it was clear he just "didn't get it." 

There are most likely others who do not "get it" either.

At this point, that's OK. However, I pray that more and more will begin to "get it." What do I mean by "it?" I mean a Kingdom-mindedness that extends beyond our own little silo of ministry, whatever it may be. 

I believe the plans for these funds are more than just "good ideas." I truly believe they are "God ideas."

Our church does not receive glory for this. We, as members, do not receive glory for this. God alone receives the glory.

So, as of today, the following has occured:

  • Five Gospel-centric church plants and/or ministries have been mailed checks for $11,410.19 each. They should have them in hand by the end of the week. These include the following: Legacy Church of Tucson, River City Church of Dubuque, a ministry to internationals here in Jacksonville, China Nest of Hope orphanage and As Our Own Ministries in India through Passion's Do Something Now initiative.
  • We paid $59,610.46 on the loan for the church bus. This closed out this loan. We now own a bus.
  • We transferred $57,050.97 to our Money Market account (our emergency fund) to bring that to a total of $209,064.54.
  • The remaining $16,517 will be used to replace flooring in a portion of the Worship Center.

I have talked with the leaders of the minsitries we are blessing. Each is overwhelmed and so very grateful. One has shared that they are donating a portion of the gift to other ministries. This investment in Kingdom living is already paying dividends.

I'm so very excited about where God is leading us. 

In addition to this act of generosity, our Stewardship/Finance Committee approved the recommendation from our Missions Committee to increase our donations to the Cooperative Program in 2012 from 10% of receipts to 10.25% with an intent of increasing by .25% each year for the next four. In addition to this, our donations to the Jacksonville Baptist Association for the purpose of Engaging Jacksonville with the Gospel will increase from 2% to 2.1%. These may seem like small percentages, but they add up. It moves us to continually see outside ourselves.

To God be the glory!

I mean that. It's not just a "Christian" way to end a post. Seriously. . .To God be the Glory!!!!!


Questioning God

I have often said that God is not offended by our questions. In fact, He encourages them and definitely can handle them. I believe that honest, heart-felt questions can deepen our understanding of God and His will. You'll notice in Scripture there were numerous times when God's children questioned Him - and even asked for specific things. 

While standing by the oaks of Mamre, Abraham asked the Lord, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Genesis 18:25b)

At a very important time in his life, David asked the Lord two very specific questions:

After this David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" And the Lord said to him, "Go up." David said, "To which shall I go up?" And he said, "To Hebron." 2 Samuel 2:1-2 (ESV)

Now, most often in life, the types of questions that come to mind have to do with tragedies. Questions like "Why has my loved one been diagnosed with cancer?" or "Why did so-and-so have to die?" These are serious questions and God does not shy away from them, so ask. There are other questions that come to mind regarding direction in life. Questions like "Which college should I attend?" or "Should I even go to college?" or maybe "Should I take this job or that one?"

I remember questions I would ask as a child that were really serious like "Is the Loch Ness Monster real?" Still haven't received an answer on this one. Perhaps it's because the question isn't really that important.

Why-1 As you know, if you've been reading recent postings, I've been reading Randy Alcorn's book The Treasure Principle. It's an incredible little book all about realizing God's plan for being glorified through our lives. This book addresses how we often view giving. I believe Christians often have a worldly view regarding giving. In truth, some churches and minisitries operate on a worldly plan as well. In some cases, there are churches and ministries who should never receive gifts, based on their teaching and financial practices. However, rather than just present another book or teaching on why everyone should tithe, Alcorn addresses the core issue regarding grace and giving and materialism.

At the end of the book, he has a listing of "31 Radical, Liberating Questions to Ask God About Your Giving." This is not just another "You need to tithe" study. It's not even based on guilt, which is incredible especially since most sermons and teachings in the church seem to be guilt-motivated. (BTW - guilt-motivated giving never lasts long and I'm not really sure it's even God-honoring.) This is about experiencing God's grace fully and living our lives in His honor, for His Kingdom. I've summarized these questions below. I highlighted many portions of these questions in my book, so I thought I'd highlight them below as well. Guess these are the ones that really get me. Get a copy of the book here to read and to get the expanded questions with biblical references.

Questions to Ask God About My Giving (The Treasure Principle, 99-120)

  1. Time and again in Your Word, Lord, You make a direct connection between experiencing grace and expressing grace through giving. Grace is your lightning, and giving is our thunder in response. So here's my question: Has the degree of my giving suggested that I have recognized and embraced the full extent of Your grace in my life? Or does it suggest I need to recognize and respond to Your grace in deeper and more heartfelt ways?
  2. Could it be You have rased me up - with the financial assets You've entrusted to me - for such a time as this?
  3. Is my life revolving around You? Since money and things have mass, and mass exerts gravity, and gravity holds us in orbit, what can I give away that will bring me greater freedom?
  4. Have I been acting as if I own the store and You work for me, rather than recognizing that You own it and I work for You?
  5. Where in my community - or in the whole world - do You want me to go, to see and participate in meeting physical and spiritual needs through Christ-centered ministries?
  6. Why have You entrusted me with greater financial blessings than I once had? I guess I've assumed You've done it to raise my standard of living. But now, I'm asking "Is it instead to raise my standard of giving?"
  7. Have I overaccumulated? Have I allowed unwise spending and accumulating debet to inhibit my giving to You?
  8. I've wondered why You haven't blessed me more financially. Could it be that I've been spending money myself first, rather than giving You the firstfruits of what You've provided?
  9. Is it ever irresponsible for me to give to You now - no matter what my situation - rather than wait until later?
  10. Would it honor You if I determined a basic level of income and assets sufficient to live on, then simply gave away whatever You provide beyond that?
  11. Will the assets, accounts, and holdings I've stored up on earth be wasted if You return in my lifetime?
  12. Doesn't the fact that You've entrusted Your money to me, not others, indicate that You want me - during my lifetime - to invest in eternity, rather than passing along that responsibility to my children?
  13. How can I be sure that the assets You've entrusted to me will serve You after I die? If my children are adults and independent, should I just give away now what I can and, when I die, leave most of what remains to my church or missions or ministries that are close to Your heart?
  14. What's the eternal downside in giving as much as I can give to You now? What's the eternal downside of minimizing my giving or delaying giving until later? Is there a real danger in giving too much too soon? Or is the true danger in giving too little too late?
  15. You've prompted me to give now. If I delay that giving - for whatever reason - is it possible I may die before I get a chance to give it later? Or, might the money disappear before I get around to giving it?
  16. By postponing giving, will my heart become hardened to Your promptings to give?
  17. Since I have no choice but to leave money behind when I die, is it really "giving" to designate through my will the distribution of my estate? Will I rob myself the joy and reward and rob You of my trust by holding on, until death, to significant assets I could have joyfully given to You while still alive?
  18. Why are my eyes so often focused on temporary, earthly investments with such pitifully small returns? Who could match Your promise of 10,000 percent (a hundredfold return)?
  19. Help me see clearly when it comes to where I give Your money. Am I giving to causes You truly value most? Opera? Art museums? The Humane Society? As good as those things may be, are they as close to Your heart as evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or helping the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned, and the unborn and their mothers?
  20. Since I make twice as much money as most people do [globally], might giving away half of what I have be a reasonable Christ-honoring option for me?
  21. If I'm not putting everything on the table and asking You what You want me to do with it, am I really Your disciple?
  22. Why do I hang on to my possessions with a white-knuckle grip? Am I trying to prove something? Is it about pride? Power? Prestige? Selfishness? Insecurity? Fear? Without realizing it, am I making money my God-substitute?
  23. Am I living to hear others say of me "He's a great success!" - or to have You say to me, "WEll done, My good and faithful servant"?
  24. Is my fear of health-related catastrophes and old age causing me to hold back my giving? When it comes right down to it, am I hanging on to excess as a backup plan in case You fail me?
  25. Are my material assets competing for lordship in my life with You?
  26. What specifically am I hanging on to that You want me to give away?
  27. How can I better communicate and pray with my spouse and children so we can walk together down this exhilarating road of giving?
  28. What am I doing - and what should I be doing - to train my children to regular, joyful and generous givers?
  29. Have I been missing out on blessing and joy by not excersiging the gift of giving?
  30. If I am a giver, who have I been teaching and mentoring in giving? Are you calling some to be examples who show others how to give and stir them to raise the bar of giving?
  31. Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I had given away while I still had the chance?

These are incredible questions and force me to think about my concepts of giving and grace. I love the concept that God's grace is the lightning and our giving is the responsive thunder. Wow. That, and the concept of my material possessions having mass and the gravity from that mass holding me too tightly.

I choose to experience God's grace and freedom and do not want my "stuff" (which really isn't mine anyway) keeping me from this. How difficult in the affluent nation we live in where being patriotic and pursuing the "American Dream" is the driving force for many, is it to live as fully devoted followers of Christ? 

God is really working in me through this study. It's a study centered around shifting from self-centric living to God-centric living. It's about understanding that my salvation is not just a one time event, but continues throughout my lifetime through His sanctification.