Karl Vaters

The Invisible Scandal: How Bad Debt and Poor Stewardship Are Killing the Church

There’s a scandal going on in the church today.

It is one of the biggest scandals in church history, yet it remains invisible to most of us.

No, it’s not the sexual sins of some of our leaders. It’s not the physical, emotional and spiritual abuse of church members, or the cover-up of those sins. It’s not the self-righteous legalism on one side, or the moral compromise on the other. It’s not even our tendency to quarrel and back-stab each other.

Those scandals are horrifying, for sure. They’ve been well-documented and need to be exposed to the light of day even more.

The scandal I’m talking about has flown under the radar for a long time – centuries, actually. It’s so common we seldom even think of it as the scandal it is, or how badly it hurts people and tarnishes the reputation of the church in the eyes of those affected by it.

The most widespread sin of the modern-day church is poor stewardship.

Innovation without Compromise: 5 Church Leadership Lessons from the Life of Billy Graham

Most of us have never known a world without Billy Graham.

Graham came to international prominence in the historic Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. So if you are 75 today, he was already famous when you were just ten years old.

Billy is 96 now. His crusade days are long over. But his legacy stills looms large.

Personally, aside from members of my family and Jesus himself, no one has had a longer or stronger impact on my life and ministry that this man whom I’ve never had the privilege of meeting.

Many of us can say the same thing.

Last month, my wife and I had the chance to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is a a fitting tribute. It’s down-home and simple, even corny at times, yet always done with understated excellence.

As we walked through the exhibits, I was struck by the realization that every Christian, and especially everyone in ministry, can learn several lessons from the life of this humble servant whose life still impacts the world.

Especially today, when it seems almost impossible to make a simple statement about faith without offending this or that ideological camp, Graham stands high as someone who set the standard for never compromising, but never causing unnecessary offense either.

As I ate a tasty, nutritious, modestly-priced lunch (of course) in the library’s cafeteria, I jotted down these 5 lessons we could all learn from the extraordinary life and legacy of Billy Graham.

7 Important Reasons to Thank Your Worship Leader Today

If your church has someone who is willing to lead your congregation in worship consistently, humbly and reliably, you need to take time to thank them on a regular basis.

Actually, don’t just thank them. Encourage them. Support them. And run interference for them.

This also applies to youth workers, children’s ministers, seniors leaders, and others. But I’m focusing on worship leaders today for one simple reason.

There is no ministry in our churches under more attack today than our worship departments and their leaders.

Yes, at times they are part of the problem. But, more often than not, they’re the unfairly-accused victim.

As pastors, we know what it’s like to work hard, only to have every decision second-guessed, to have every sermon dissected, and to get little to no acknowledgment for our hard work.

Well, we’re not alone. Our worship leaders face the same problems. Sometimes worse. And sometimes their pastors are adding to this pressure instead of helping to relieve it.

Church Leaders Need to Stop Playing H.O.R.S.E. with Each Other

I love learning the best ideas, methods and principles that I can find from as many people as possible.

But, no matter how good their idea is, no matter how well it’s working at their church, I’ve learned the hard way that my church isn’t their church. Because of that, I’d like to pass this simple principle on to you today, so you don’t have to learn it the hard way like I did.

We need to stop playing H.O.R.S.E. with other churches and church leaders.

For those who don’t know what that means, H.O.R.S.E. is a game basketball players like to challenge each other with. The first player tries a trick shot, then the other players have to duplicate it. If they do, they stay in the game. If they don’t, they add a letter until they’ve spelled H.O.R.S.E. and they’re out.

This happens in the church all the time.

We go to a pastoral leadership conference, where we hear about a church that’s discovered a new way to do a certain kind of ministry, so we go home and try to duplicate their trick shot, only to fail miserably. Then we wonder “what’s wrong with me and my church that we couldn’t pull it off?”

After trying and failing enough times, many ministers find themselves leaving ministry entirely because they couldn’t duplicate the success of others. But we’re not called to duplicate the success of others.

Learning principles from other churches is great. But trying to copy their methods, programs or style is just the church version of H.O.R.S.E.

When Church Growth Numbers Blind Us to Deeper Truths

Numbers can be a great way for church leaders to gain objective information. They can help us quantify data, spot patterns and trends, and face harsh realities.

But information is not the same as truth.

Numbers can give us facts, but they can’t give us truth. Yet, ironically, numbers can tell us lies.

While giving us all the data we need, numbers can actually disguise deeper truths, keeping us on a dangerous path for far too long.

That happened to me and my church.

Discipleship Looks More Like Sacrifice Than Success

I’ve chosen to be a follower of Jesus. A disciple. From the moment I did that, I gave up ownership of my life.

My life is no longer mine. It’s his. So my goals don’t matter anymore. My potential is not enough. Not for me, my church, my family or my ministry.

I don’t want my best. I want God’s best. Because his best is so much better than my best.

Of course that’s what so many of these self-help gurus are claiming. That, whatever my dreams for my life are, God has 10 or 100 times more than that for me. (The really holy ones will use old-timey bible terms like 10-fold and 100-fold).

But the difference between my best and God’s best for me is not a matter of scale. It’s not that I’m asking for 100 and God wants me to ask for 1,000 or 10,000. Getting more of what I want is not God’s best, it’s just more of my best.

How To Give Money Less Power Over Your Church

Money is in charge of too many of our churches.

We all know about the (so-called) churches, ministers and ministries that are in it for the money, while using their religious exemption to avoid taxes. Those aren’t the ones I’m talking about. I’ll leave them to the Lord and the IRS. (Thankfully, those are far more rare than the anti-church cynics want to believe.)

I’m talking about good churches that want to do great ministry, but their limited finances cause them to make too many decisions based on what they can or can’t afford, instead of what God is calling them to do.

It’s a trap too many good churches find ourselves in. Maybe yours.

There are no easy answers, but in today’s post I want to tell you about a decision my church made over two decades ago that has been a great starting point in allowing us to follow God more and money less.

When Is a Bigger Church a Better Church?

I love big churches. I think they’re great.

Obviously, I love small ones, too.

Because I minister to Small Churches, I’m often asked, “aren’t you worried, that by supporting Small Churches you’ll be encouraging churches that could grow, to stay small instead?”

Yes. That is a concern. One that I’ve addressed in The Grasshopper Myth and in several posts including, Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse.

But I also have to answer that question by asking one of my own. It’s one that’s almost never considered. Namely, “aren’t you worried, that by supporting individual congregational growth, you’ll be encouraging churches that should stay small, to get bigger instead?”

I know. It’s weird to even read that question, isn’t it?

Before we go any further, let me state again that I’m not against church growth. I very much support it as an essential element in fulfilling the Great Commission. But as I wrote in, Are You Serious about Worldwide Church Growth? Support Small Churches, true church growth (that is, as a percentage of the population) doesn’t always mean bigger churches. Sometimes it means a whole lot of smaller ones.

The Church Stewardship Prime Directive: Don’t Spend More Than You Bring In

Today’s post isn’t long, because today’s point is very simple.

When it comes to the issue of Money & the Small Church, (or money & big churches, money & family finances, money & business, etc) there is one principle that stands high above all the others.

It’s so basic, I almost feel silly having to write it.

I call it the Church Stewardship Prime Directive, because I believe there is no financial principle more important for a church to observe than this.

Don’t spend more money than you bring in.

That’s it.

Maybe it’s because this principle is so basic and commonsense, that it’s often taken for granted, and therefore ignored. And it’s always a problem when we do.