Having been a Christian for over 40 years and in ministry for 35, I can truthfully say with David, "I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread" (Psalm 37:25). There's never been a time when the Lord failed to provide my needs or those of the ministry. He has always been faithful, even when it seemed He was unaware of my needs or not heeding my call for help.
This is one of those times. We've been negatively impacted by the 'up-side-down' economy and are crying out to God. And we're not alone. I regularly receive calls from PCC leaders who ask for counsel on their financial crises. It's a worthy subject for a column.
So, what should leaders think about when several months go by in which expenses exceed donations? What if the trouble continues six months or more? What should they do?
My guidance typically focuses on these areas:
Does the PCC have up-to-date and relevant mission and vision statements?
Have board and staff members developed a strategic plan? Are they carrying it out?
Have there been any recent changes in the mission or programming that account for the current stress?
Has your community been particularly hard-hit by the recession?
Is the ministry operating on the highest standards of integrity, stewarding resources faithfully and transparently?
At a recent Alliance for Life of Michigan board meeting, I polled the seven executive directors present for their input on this subject. For the next hour, these representatives from centers of various sizes engaged in a lively discussion. I'll pass their insights on to you.
First, remember the ministry and its members all belong to the Lord and He has a plan for you. Therefore, hold everything — the ministry's finances and programs — with open hands and trust Him to lead you in the way He wants you to go. If it's necessary, He'll reveal His plan, but He may not. Continue to trust.
Second, don't allow all the difficulties and struggles to be borne by one person (i.e., the executive director). The entire team — board, staff and volunteers — should shoulder burdens. All may need to make sacrifices or lend additional support to assure the ultimate success of the ministry. Pull together, or pull apart.
Third, hard times could be an indication the Lord is trying to tell you something. If so, what?
Is there sin in the camp that may hinder God's blessing? Consider Joshua 7 and Israel's defeat at Ai.
Is there a need to change or drop a program? Put everything on the table for discussion. No "sacred cows."
Is God saying, "Stay the course, trust Me, I'll provide"?
How should ministry leaders discern which message the Lord is sending you? The first step is easy to say, but hard to do, especially when we're looking for immediate answers. PRAY! Bring your needs persistently before the throne of God. It may seem presumptuous to be constantly asking, requesting, petitioning, and supplicating, but this brings glory to God (Daniel 6). Whatever you do, do not fail to ask Him for direction, solutions, and provisions.
The second step is to LISTEN to what He says in His Word by reflecting on the promises in these passages: Psalm 37:1-9, 46:1-11, 139:23-24; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 65:24; Jeremiah 29:11-13, 33:3; Matthew 6:33-34; John 14:13; Philippians 4:4-7; Hebrews 4:16; and others.
Here are some additional suggestions for hard times:
Consider cuts, but also work harder to increase income.
When considering cuts, keep the big picture in mind. Ask, "Can we cut this program or staff position and still maintain the ministry's mission and vision?"
Do some homework. Look at the giving history of your top donors and supporting churches and ask them to consider an extra gift or a pledge to continue or renew their gifts in coming months.
Share your needs with donors, friends who haven't given in a while, and churches in the area. Being specific allows them to join you in prayer. Be sure to communicate with key donors, because they've made an investment in your ministry and may come up with fresh ideas and funding sources. Who knows? The Lord may lead them to be part of your solution.
Perhaps your ministry isn't in financial trouble ... yet. Jim Sprague of the Pregnancy Resource Center in Grand Rapids suggests developing contingency plans before hard times come.
Finally, REFLECT on how the Lord has blessed and cared for your ministry in the past. Be thankful and recommit your way to Him. Expect Him to be faithful to His Word and anticipate His provision, as you remain faithful to His Word and leading.
Tom Lothamer is President of Life Matters Worldwide
in Grand Rapids, Michigan.