This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
There are many ways by which churches get in debt. Some of the more common may, we trust, be considered with profit. Let us, then, traverse the field and mark the places of danger, that others passing the same way may take warning lest they fall into the same mistakes and come to the same sad end.
I. One class of churches becomes involved in debt on account of the injudicious expenditures of the church officers, or financial agents of the church. • When the financial interests of a church are committed to the control of chosen men, it becomes their duty to inform themselves as to the financial ability of the congregation, and, in all cases, this is to be the bounds, beyond which they may not pass. They are entrusted with the duty of judiciously applying the means reallv at hand, and not under any consideration to invest the anticipated resources of the church - resources which should be expended no sooner than a prudent laborer would invest his money before he has earned it, and consequently not his at all. Not only is it unbusiness-like, but when prompted by improper motives it becomes disgraceful and even dishonest, and especially is this so when the income is not to fall due during their tenure of office. They apply that which is not theirs to apply, and leave their successors to struggle with difficulties and debts previously created, and by them inherited. The financial wardens of the church, being often unduly in a hurry, worried and burdened with their own affairs, and becoming neglectful of the best interests of the church, purchases are often made when the treasury will not warrant. These become very poor investments for the church, simply because sufficient time was not allowed for the selection nor due regard given to the price. In short, men who are business-like and judicious in the transaction of their own affairs, often become very injudicious and unbusiness-like in the transaction of the affairs of the church.
II. But perhaps a more frequent cause of church indebtedness arises from an entirety different source.
To secure harmony of action it is sometimes rendered necessary to call a church, or congregational meeting to consider the propriety of certain courses of action. In these, as in all public assemblages, there are usually those who will volunteer to do all the talking and none of the thinking, and the result too frequently is, that promiscuous gatherings are led to vote burdens upon the financial guardians of the church, and then go home never to give the matter any pecuniary aid, or wise council. In almost all cases where such assemblages are called, it should be simply to take action upon plans previously wrought out by careful deliberation and continuous study. It is said, "to invent begin to think, and then keep on thinking." Thinking must precede talking, or if the congregation at large is left to invent plans, and devise ways and means, the greater probabilities are that their half-fledged ideas, when put to the test, if they should flap and flutter about for a time, will finally come to the ground in embarrassing confusion.
The custom of laying every matter of minor import before the congregation is fraught with much danger. When matters of great importance are to be acted upon, it will often serve as an excellent means of awakening, in the minds of the people, an interest upon the subject, and help them to place confidence in measures which they are permitted fully to understand, and for the carrying into effect of which they are expected to contribute of their means or lend their aid. In order to succeed in some congregations, such a course is absolutely necessary, for some men of prudence and sagacity must understand a project thoroughly or they will not give it their aid. This is right and proper. But it is dangerous and detrimental to any church to submit to the congregation every matter of trifling- moment. It simply affords an opportunity for diversities of opinion, which finally beget factions, and dismember congregations, for some men will never recant when once publicly they have expressed, or advocated an opinion. It is well to take wise counsel, but no general assembles his soldiers to give advice at a council of war, for it would only be productive of diversity and confusion. If the church officers are elected for anything, it is to act and bear the responsibility in all minor matters. If the congregation has no respect for their opinion, or confidence in their judgment, they should not have elected them to these responsibilities, or if done unadvisedly, the error had better be corrected by allowing such officers to give place to others better qualified; for, in church, as in state, some one must be entrusted with the responsibility of leadership. A poor general is better than none at all, at least when the choice lies between these two evils.
III. Another way by which churches become embarrassed with large debts, is by the accumulation of smaller and more trifling ones.
Under no circumstances should a congregation allow these small arrearages to accumulate, and despoil the church of its honor and usefulness. Never lot a church live beyond its income. Yet it should not be forgotten that some people are ever harping on the one string of cutting down expenses, while they only prove their motive to be penurious and selfish, by being unfavorable, and even hostile, to any and every reasonable attempt to increase the income of the church to meet its pressing needs. Some men spend more time, and die meaner, trying to get their wants down to suit their income, than others do trying to get their income up to meet their wants. Every church should do as much as is in its power, but not outrun its ability to close up all accounts at the end of each year.
There are many successful and prosperous churches, which owe much of their usefulness to the fact that they allow no arrearages from year to year. In some churches, however, where this policy is pursued they fall into an error almost equally fatal. In all the various denominations, there are a few churches which permit, or cause this burden of furnishing the money needed for the annual settlements, to fall upon the wardens, or officers. The result of this course is evident. This financial burden, oft repeated, and superadded to a disinterested spirit upon the part of the congregation, finally becomes so grievously heavy, that judicious and competent officers, taxed and censured beyond endurance, eventually retire to let the interests of the church fall into the hands of others less competent. It is a process by which many congregations accomplish the old addage of "riding a free horse to death."