What are they doing with our money?

Editorial

February 10, 2021 | Editorial | Volume 25 Issue 4
Virginia A. Hostetler | Executive Editor
(Image by ptra/Pixabay)

The annual congregational meeting is moving along with the usual reports and updates. Then it’s time to discuss next year’s budget. Seeing the dollar amount the congregation will forward to the regional church, a well-intentioned member stands up to ask the question: What are they doing with our money anyway?

A fair question. When you and I sit down regularly to write out cheques or do electronic transfers to our church, we know that some of that money will be passed on to ministries outside our congregation. We want those gifts to benefit our own community and to do much good elsewhere in the world.

A verse that comes to mind is 1 Peter 4:10: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” It’s good to remind ourselves that our donations are God’s money, an expression of God’s grace to be shared beyond our own circles.

Quick review: Mennonite Church Canada is made up of five regional churches (in former times called conferences), that are geographically based. Congregations in those areas are members of their respective regional churches. They are Mennonite Church British Columbia (with 29 congregations), Mennonite Church Alberta (12), Mennonite Church Saskatchewan (26), Mennonite Church Manitoba (39) and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (97).

The regional churches have an agreement—a covenant—with each other to form Mennonite Church Canada. While the regional churches engage in their own ministries closer to home, they also help in the ministries of the nationwide church. A small staff at the nationwide office carries out tasks done on behalf of the larger church.

Often larger visions for ministry depend on cooperation among the various parts, beyond our individual congregations. “Doing together what we cannot do alone,” is how the MC Saskatchewan website expresses it. The regional and nationwide church structures are in place to help us accomplish things that our individual congregations cannot do efficiently on their own.

So, what’s happening with the money our congregations give to the larger church? Here are a few examples:

  • Helping churches find pastors;
  • Providing support to new congregations;
  • Giving practical help for congregations to build new websites;
  • Contributing toward the cost of your Canadian Mennonite subscription;
  • Encouraging connections between congregations;
  • Organizing events for youth;
  • Offering ongoing training and accountability for pastors;
  • Planning events for inspiration, learning and spiritual growth;
  • Supporting publishing projects for curriculum and worship materials;
  • Distributing books and other materials that encourage faith development
  • Supporting Mennonite schools and camps, who in turn train new leaders;
  • Setting priorities for working together in nationwide efforts and guiding us into new callings;
  • Informing Mennonites about ministries across Canada and overseas, inviting prayer, volunteers and financial support;
  • Coordinating projects with other Mennonite denominations in North America;
  • Representing MC Canada in ecumenical efforts for peace and justice;
  • Equipping and supporting International Witness workers to share God’s good news in China, Philippines, South Korea and Thailand;
  • Cooperating with Anabaptist siblings in other places to help them carry out their ministries.

The financial gifts you and I send to our regional church help the church carry out God’s mission in many places, close to home and thousands of kilometres away. So maybe the question isn’t: What are they doing with our money? A better question would be: What are we doing with God’s money?

In the coming weeks, the five regional churches will be holding their annual delegate sessions. With meetings happening online this year, you may be able to take part and hear more about what we—together—are doing with God’s money. Check your regional church website for details.

Canadian Mennonite will report on these meetings in upcoming issues. In the meantime, keep following other stories in our magazine, where you will see many examples of your/our/God’s money at work. 

Read more editorials:
Hope in a bleak midwinter
Learning together, apart
First draft
Under the sparkling stars
Gifts received, gifts given

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Comments

thank-you for this chronicling of the various activities of regional conference and national conference. if one asks how much activity there is; the answer is clear. administrators meet with administrators to talk about administration (of shrinking budgets). and work very hard to meet all these obligations of meeting.

then administrators fret about shrinking budgets and hold conferences (Does the Church have legs October 2020 ?) where the insight gleaned from these pages was that the Church (administration) had varicose veins.

But, if one asks, "what benefit did your congregation gain from your contribution to these administrative structures? the answer is ambiguous at best, and little to no benefit at worst. This answer from lay people, not administrators.

Without deficit financing these structures would have already failed.

Perhaps more problematic, is the lack of interest in parsing how this might be remedied.

Ginny, this is an excellent summary of the way we serve and work together as "church". Thank you and God bless you for Canadian Mennonite's dedication to tell these stories so well. Along with you, we encourage everyone who is able to attend their regional church delegate sessions (online) to hear even more of what God is doing in and through all of us.

The root of all evil
Virginia Hostetler asks and answers a pertinent question for members of Mennonite Church Canada at a time of the year when congregations and conferences are preparing year-end reports, "what are they doing with our money?" This question is frequently heard at reporting time, answers are perfunctorily given through series of slides and speakers, discussion is promoted, motions are made and carried, and business continues for another year. Ms. Hostetler's answers too are perfunctory in that her list contains a number of seemingly acceptable items which are normally found at many year-end reports in response to "what are they doing with our money?" most of which in this instance seem to be related to how our money helps sustain the organization of Mennonite Church Canada.

Perhaps in regard to how our money is spent, it would be useful to clarify what "God's mission" is for Mennonite Church Canada. Is God's mission primarily the "saving of souls" or primarily "helping the needy." Perhaps both. In any case, we should be made aware of the "bang for our buck" on an annual basis. How many souls were saved this year, and how were the needy helped? Any responsible set of financial auditors should be able to provide a report which accurately describes and outlines the efficacy of how management carried out its mandate for the fiscal year.

The larger question raised by Ms. Hostetler in my opinion is "what are we doing with God's money?" First of all I think we need to contemplate whether this is a serious question or whether Ms. Hostetler is serious in asking this question. In my experience within the Mennonite Church, this question has not been addressed in any serious way ever. Mostly, we make a distinction between "my money" and "God's money." "God's money" becomes that amount which we decide to tithe/donate to the church, we control and designate "God's money," the rest of it belongs to each of us individually.

When it comes to money, Mennonite Christians are part of a very "secretive order," an order in which Revenue Canada or the IRS provide the ground rules, and an order in which only the "taxman" knows for sure the state of our financial situation. In some cases, not even the taxman is aware of where our "stash" is stashed, whether under the mattress or in some off-shore account. Certainly no Mennonite Canada Church body has access to or aware of the state of the personal finances of its members. But this is God's money apparently. What do we have to hide?

From my personal experience of working for five years in a banking institution in a predominantly Mennonite community, we as members of Mennonite congregations have much to hide. Over-flowing bank accounts and exorbitant life-styles coexist simultaneously in reality with the needy and the poor. I suppose there is nothing to be embarrassed about when we are empire building, when we are hoarding, after-all God encourages responsible stewardship.

At a church membership meeting in my distant past when the annual budget was not being met, I did suggest that each of us lay bare our tax/financial statements to see how "God's money" was being spent/hoarded. I worked in the local financial institution and many of our church members banked at this institution. Needless to say, my exhortations for each of us to reveal the state of our personal finances was rebuffed. God's money indeed.

It is refreshing to hear the question being raised, "what are we doing with God's money?" God might not even know what we are doing with "God's money." Some secrets are personal, and nobody's business but our own. Probably this is not a serious question.

Thanks for now
Peter Reimer
Gretna, Manitoba

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