Frequently Asked Questions

Big Questions

Church
Q Our church is blessed with a generous surplus in its general fund, and we’re wondering how much we should retain in reserve. Is one month’s operating expense sufficient? More? How should a congregation determine such things?

A Praise God for the faithful giving of your people! And give thanks for the desire to use money for ministry instead of sitting on it. Typically, financial planners encourage a family to have a three- to six-month operating surplus in case of emergencies. The church, a “family” of many families, probably needs only half of that.

It’s wise to plan for future expenses such as parking lot repair, a new roof, the expansion or replacement of the building, and the like. But great care must be taken to avoid amassing money in a world with so many pressing needs.

Money follows ministry, and the challenge of each council is to identify needs that God’s people can meet. Often people aren’t very excited about giving to the general fund, but they are excited about meeting a “special” need. If your general fund is already well-funded, consider creating some other giving opportunities such as sponsoring missionaries or meeting a particular need in your area. Or create an endowment fund and use the income of this fund for needs outside the congregation.

—George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Although he was declared missing in July 2013, we are running this Q&A, which was submitted earlier this year.

Relationships
Q When a couple divorces, should both parents remain members of the same church so that their kids can continue in their church family? Or is it better if one parent leaves? If so, what’s the best way to decide who should leave?

A As with so much in human relationships, there is no “one size fits all” answer to your very good questions.

Ideally, former spouses who both desire to stay within the same church family make that work by coming up with a plan for church attendance that respects each other’s needs and the needs of their children. For instance, they could decide that on first and third Sundays the kids sit with Dad on the left side of the sanctuary, and second and fourth with Mom on the right. Or the parents could agree to sit together with their children between them. The keys are agreement and follow-through. Kids quickly adapt to a new situation as long as it is predictable and consistent over time. Fellow church members, as well, quickly get used to a new pattern that maintains the unity of parenting even though the marriage is fractured or broken by separation or divorce.

However, the reality of brokenness individually, as couples, as families, and as a church family means the ideal is not easily realized.

In a less ideal situation, former spouses might take turns coming to church with their kids while choosing an alternative church family for themselves. Or the kids could go with one parent to the new church every other week. Do what works best in your situation, and keep it as simple as possible.

Kids will adapt, feel safe, and flourish as long as the adults around them (both parents and church family) practice forgiveness, acceptance, and love in the face of broken relationships. Kids also have a right to love both their parents, and will learn best what that means when all the adults in their lives show them the way.

—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

Ethics
Q My husband and I were in a restaurant that served Middle Eastern cuisine and had the “100% halel” stamp on the menu. Inside, we noticed a room with prayer mats. Is it O.K. for Christians to eat food that is specifically prepared to adhere to Muslim laws, including the practice of declaring Allah’s name during the butchering process? Any advice would be appreciated.

A It is commendable that you are conscientious about leading lives pleasing to God. My advice is to ask three questions. (1) By eating at this restaurant, am I creating a stumbling block for others who observe what I am doing? (2) By continuing to eat at this restaurant, am I less likely in the future to be discerning about my conduct? (3) By eating at this restaurant will my conscience bother me?

If you can honestly answer these questions in the negative, then, other things being equal, I see nothing wrong with continuing to eat there. In his excellent new book, The Moral Disciple (Eerdmans), Kent A. Van Til has a chapter about conscience and about what makes the Christian conscience unique. If you are not sure about your answer to the third question, you will find his discussion immensely helpful.

—Gregory Mellema is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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