When my wife, Barb, and I were counseled by her pastor, Rev. Douglas Vander Wall, in the months leading up to our wedding, he brought up the issue of finances and budgeting. Then, as now, financial problems are one of the chief areas of stress that can slip in as an uninvited guest to a marriage.
He suggested that we take a number of envelopes, labeling each one with an area of expenditure and indicating a monthly amount on the front. Then we should take our wages and make sure we placed half of the required amount into each envelope on each of our two pay dates every month.
Simple, wise, and responsible. His advice has probably been offered thousands and thousands of times—updated, of course, with today’s technological innovations.
As a denomination, we’ve been using a similar system for decades, with one main envelope and a bunch of sub-envelopes. The labels of the sub-envelopes are familiar: World Missions, Home Missions, Back to God Ministries International, Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin College or a local Reformed college or university, and a variety of denominational services.
Churches are asked by synod to contribute around $7 per active adult professing member each week to an envelope called Ministry Shares. When Ministry Shares are received, they are distributed among the various sub-envelopes according to synodical directives.
Simple, yes—but also complex, because each of us has more than just a denominational Ministry Shares envelope. Our local congregations provide us with an additional set of envelopes representing expenses such as the pastor’s salary, mortgage and utilities, and local ministry programs, as well as envelopes for benevolence, Christian education, and the like. Many of us support other-than-CRC ministries and charities as well.
And then there are our household envelopes: mortgages, insurance and utilities, groceries and gasoline, the family’s cell phone plan, and the like.
With all these envelopes to fill, there are times when some envelopes don’t receive what’s needed. Why?
In some cases, the dollars just don’t stretch far enough, and the envelope farthest away gets forgotten. In other cases someone might be angry about something—maybe even a recent Banner article!—and purposely skip that envelope. In still other cases, our excitement and passion for local ministry might cause us to judge some of the denominational sub-envelopes to be less worthy.
In reality, the Ministry Shares envelope receives between $24 and $25 million each year—praise the Lord! But it is important to notice that this amount is about 60 percent of what would be received if everyone participated fully.
At this point, you might expect me to say something like, “The ‘marriage’ is going to run into financial trouble if our envelope system falls apart.” But I’m not going to say that. My next step is to stop and listen. I’ve given some examples of why the Ministry Shares system has less than full participation by our congregations. But there are probably more reasons I’ve yet to learn.
A number of months ago, the Board of Trustees commissioned a group of CRC staffers and members to take a close look at our Ministry Shares system. While a 2009 synodical report indicated it was still the best system for funding our shared ministries, the past six years have showed that it’s time to look carefully again at the way we participate financially in our denomination.
I hope that, beginning with Synod 2016 this June, the topic will be before us and that, as a result, we’ll grow more closely together as the body of Christ.
Are there changes ahead? Maybe. By the way, Barb and I are still using a variation of the envelope system, and the Lord has never failed us yet. The Lord hasn’t failed the CRC either, and we must not forget what’s required of us, as mentioned in this familiar song: “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.”