It is easy for churches to think only about their own needs: there are ministries to be funded, staff to be compensated, and long-term missionaries depending on your support. Opportunities outnumber resources and churches are forced to prioritize. For some churches, paying basic bills can be challenging.
Meadowcroft Presbyterian in eastern Pennsylvania is not accustomed to surpluses. Max Benfer was called to serve Meadowcroft as a pastor in 2013. Jeff Rendell, one of the ruling elders at the time, recalls that the church leadership didn’t know if they would be able to continue supporting a full-time pastor. Looking back, they could not have envisioned what God would do over the course of the next seven years.
As 2019 ended, Meadowcroft went from having an uncertain future to having two full-time pastors, a growing congregation, and a surplus of funds. By the end of last year, the cumulative offerings the church collected exceeded expenses by $150,000. Max and Jeff both now serve on the pastoral staff and decided to recommend the church give away half of the surplus, including a large donation to support PCA church servants in need through the Ministerial Relief Fund.
How does a church steward a surplus? We sat down with Max and Jeff to learn from their experience. Here are three highlights from our conversation:
#1: Model Generosity For Church Members
Meadowcroft could have easily justified using the surplus to increase its cash reserves. However, they realized it was an opportunity to model the behavior they wanted to encourage in their own members. When God gives us resources, we must prayerfully decide how he wants us to use them.
“It was in this context of God’s great blessing to us that we talked about how we were going to steward these funds. We articulated clearly that we want to be good stewards of what we’re given,” according to Jeff.
The elders laid out very clearly to their congregation what it was they were doing with the funds. “They have designated us to make those decisions so we owed it to them to communicate well what we were doing,” says Jeff. “It gave our church a chance to grow and look outwardly.”
Every church can ask themselves this question: what do we want our church members to do when they have “extra” funds? There is certainly wisdom in reducing debts, which is what Meadowcroft did with the other half of the surplus. There is also wisdom in establishing patterns of generosity for church members to imitate.
#2: Focus Outside The Church Walls
“We as a church are consciously concerned about the larger kingdom of Christ that extends outside of our four walls,” says Max. For Meadowcroft Presbyterian, focusing on the larger church means focusing on multiplying other congregations around the world and strengthening kingdom-advancing ministries within the PCA.
Max and Jeff note pastors can achieve this expanded congregational focus even in small ways during the weekly service. “Every single week our church prays along with us for all kinds of churches out there,” says Max. Whether it’s praying for people facing imprisonment and death in other countries or supporting a church that needs funds after a disaster, Meadowcroft Presbyterian Church believes that their mission is bigger than them.
Meadowcroft does not exist for Meadowcroft’s sake. Rather, the church understands itself to exist to exalt the name of Christ and extend his kingdom. Once a church has articulated clearly what it stands for, then it’s not a big stretch to direct some surplus funds to support the larger kingdom of Christ. Max points out, “Supporting other churches and ministries was not a shock to our congregation because they’re hearing about this stuff on a weekly basis.”
#3: Support Ministries Serving Vulnerable People
Meadowcroft Presbyterian saw the surplus as an opportunity to demonstrate what we see in Acts, which is wealthy churches helping the less wealthy churches. “The Lord gave us an opportunity to demonstrate that generosity by using the church’s funds that way,” says Max. The Meadowcroft elders sought to support ministries who are serving vulnerable people, which includes the PCA Ministerial Relief Fund. Max and Jeff say that they chose to support the PCA Ministerial Relief Fund because, as scripture says, God is very concerned for the orphan and the widow. “Those are the people that get forgotten,” says Max.
When Meadowcroft’s elders made the decision to support PCA Ministerial Relief, their congregation supported them wholeheartedly. “It was amazing to see,” says Max. “I didn’t get one complaint from anybody that we were taking funds that could have been poured back into our building, our land, or our property and giving instead to support someone who was needy.
The generosity of churches like Meadowcroft Presbyterian makes it possible for the PCA to look after widows and pastors in financial distress in keeping with the command of James 1:27. This year, PCA congregations around the country are invited to collect an offering and designate a gift to support PCA Ministerial Relief. These funds will provide financial assistance to retired ministers and their widows, many of whom have income near or below the poverty line.
Learn how you can activate your church to look after widows and retired pastors. Visit pcarbi.org/toolkit.
Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.