Most Americans are living on the financial edge. On average, Americans have less than $500 in savings, well below the recommended three to six months worth of living expenses. An unexpected car repair or medical expense can send most of us plunging into credit card debt.
Unfortunately, some church leaders can relate to the majority of Americans in this area. Their savings account balance is way too low. For some, they find themselves in this position because of a few past poor money choices. For others, their savings are low for reasons totally out of their control.
Financial stress does not operate in a vacuum. It spills over into other areas of our lives. Financial stress can impact our family, marriage, and generosity. It can also affect our ministry.
Having three to six months worth of living expenses set aside is an important component of financial health. It can take you off the financial edge. It can benefit your home life. And it can benefit your ministry.
Here are a few ways that savings can save your ministry:
1. Savings can help you focus on ministry not money. Your dishwasher goes out. Your hot water heater breaks. Unexpected financial expenditures hit all of us. None of us are immune. And, whether the costs are small or large, these unexpected financial expenses shift your focus. For those who have enough savings to cover these unfortunate events, the time spent thinking about the expense is somewhat limited. Those who do not have enough savings to cover the costs might find themselves in a financial and mental downward spiral. You want to focus on your ministry, but the financial burden is sometimes too great. Adequate savings can help reduce the burden.
2. Savings can help reduce the temptation to make financially immoral decisions. Very few ministers take a job with financial theft in mind. They never thought they would take from the petty cash drawer in the accounting office. They never thought they would use their church credit card for personal purposes and instead report them as church expenses. No, they found themselves in a financially desperate situation and acted in a way they would have never imagined. Can financially desperate situations find us all? Yes. Can adequate savings reduce these situations? Yes.
3. Savings can reduce family stress. Financial stress often leads to family stress. Many know the difficulty of trying to do ministry while faced with family stress. Patience can be reduced. Empathy can be minimalized. Our ability to minister well to others is hindered. Setting aside money for future emergencies will not eliminate all family stress, but is can help those caused by unforeseen bills.
So, where do you start? For those with minimal savings, this is a question many ask. The Money Challenge: 30 Days of Discovering God’s Design for You and Your Money identifies eight financial milestones. Let’s take a quick look at the first six of these milestones:
Milestone #1: Start giving. The Bible tells us that generosity is our financial priority. It is the foundation upon which financial health is built. If you are already giving, keep it up. If you don’t currently give, it’s time to start.
Milestone #2: Save $1,500 for minor emergency. This will help you if you run across some unexpected expenses.
Milestone #3: Max out your 401(k) or 403(b) match. You do not want to miss out on this incredible opportunity. If your employer offers it, take it. But don’t contribute beyond the match.
Milestone #4: Payoff all debt expect your mortgage. Use the Snowball Method—paying off your smallest debts first.
Milestone #5: Save 3 – 6 months of living expenses for a job-loss emergency. Of course, I hope you never find yourself needing to use it. Let your financial responsibility for others determine where you fall in the 3 – 6 month savings range.
Milestone #6: Put 15% of your gross income to retirement. Be sure to check out a good retirement calculator to see if you may need more than this amount.
Guard your ministry through sound stewardship. If you do not have enough saved, don’t fret. You can start today. You will be surprised what consistently setting aside a small amount of money can become over a long period of time. Let savings save your ministry.