What Word(s) Shall We Use?

by David Cleaver-Bartholomew, Southern New England Conference

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” I was introduced to a new way of referring to what we typically call a budget in a local church. The person introducing the budget used the phrase mission spending plan and challenged us to do similarly in our own settings.

Words matter.  As we all know, words play a crucial role in framing the way we view and think about things. The term budget is a term borrowed primarily, but not exclusively, from the business world. It basically refers to an estimate of income and expenses for a given period. As such, the term budget by itself neither denotes nor connotes any special aspect regarding the income and expenses it sets forth.

In a church this is both regrettable and does us, its users, a disservice.  Our income and expenses do possess a special nature, namely, they are to serve the specific purpose of fulfilling God’s mission in and to the world, both within and outside of the congregation.

By using the phrase mission spending plan instead of budget, we continually remind ourselves of the central, missional purpose behind the numbers. By extension, we also remind ourselves how the resources that God has given us the privilege and responsibility of managing should be allocated and prioritized – that is, in ways that most effectively accomplish God’s mission and reflect God’s priorities.

Finally, the phrase mission spending plan unlike its counterpart, budget, reminds us that we are dealing with a theological document. The resources it represents, their distribution, and their prioritization reflect our prayerful discernment of how we believe God is calling us to fulfill our unique divine calling as that relates to God’s overall mission – how we are to be the body of Christ in our particular setting, both living out and extending Christ’s ministry, mission, and priorities.

My siblings in Christ, our Christian faith invites us to adopt a different mindset from that of our contemporary culture regarding our economy, our possessions, our needs, our role, and the Church’s role in something much larger than ourselves – as collaborators with God in God’s mission of reconciliation, justice, healing, and wholeness moving the world toward shalom and salvation. Paying attention to our language and shifting it can both help us remember and call us back to this different mindset even amid our contemporary culture.

In the various settings I have served not only changing, but also embracing, the shift from budget to mission spending plan (or sometimes simply mission plan) has proven helpful in re-grounding us and re-framing the sacred nature of our financial deliberations and discernment. Hence, I encourage others to consider making this shift to language that more accurately reflects the special, theological nature and purpose of the income and expenses of their congregation.

May the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit continue to bless and guide you in your respective ministries!


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