Wednesday, April 13, 2011

PTL! (Pass the Loot!)

In 1977 I was a freshman in college near Charlotte, NC, and one of the big news stories of the day was the crash of Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL (Praise the Lord) Club for financial wrong-doings.  A local radio personality who went by name of Murphy in the Morning did a scathing parody of the Bakkers on a daily basis, featuring a pastor/used car salesman/strip club manager named Brother Bill and his PTL (Pass the Loot!) Club.  These parodies were both hilarious and sad.  Even today, people still list "being asked for money" as one of the top 5 reasons they don't attend church.  Money is a big deal.

There is very little that is more frustrating in ministry that to pray big honkin' prayers, dream big honkin' dreams and not be able to pay for any of them.  More pastors and churches wind up in trouble over money (Pass the Loot!) than almost any other issue.  Since the dawn of time (or at least since the publishing of the first Ideas book!) youth pastors have struggled with budgets.  In the beginning the conflict was very simple.  Churches did not like designating budget money for youth ministry, while youth ministry, by nature, is an expensive undertaking.  As time went along it became more complicated.  Today I want to share with you a little of my own history with budgets, and how all of this brought me to great grief at Wesley Memorial UMC in the summer of 2003.

I don't remember even being aware of any budgeted money for student ministry until 1980, when I discovered that the Youth Council at New Garden Friends Meeting had a whopping $100 to spend each year.  When I arrived at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1986, there was $800 per year designated for youth work.  By the autumn of 1987, we had started our nationally recognized TNT program, where we were spending an average of $30 per week on food, resources and door prizes.  At roughly 40 meetings during the school year, that meant that we were spending $1200 of our $800 budget just on TNT.  That's without mentioning the retreats and massive summer schedules we had.   Since even my math skills could figure out that is not possible, the extra money had to come from somewhere- and that somewhere was my wallet.  Over the years that followed I never hesitated to supplement the budget with personal funds- even when my family didn't really have a surplus.  It was not a smart thing to do, but I did it.

When we moved to FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994, one of the reasons was their financial commitment to youth ministry.  The budget was $12,000 when I arrived, and over $16,000 by the time I left in 2000.  And yet somehow we were always able to spend it all!  The church's Financial Secretary once told me that she was certain that it must be in the church by-laws that the student ministry must not only spend their budgeted funds, but also any money that is unspent by any other ministry.  I am sure it seemed that way- our program there was massive!  I then moved on to the Union Church of Hinsdale, where money was pretty much unlimited (although very hard to get;  putting in a check request was like filing your taxes), but we seldom needed it.  We just didn't do that much.  So I arrived at WMUMC with this as my budget history.

The one thing that had been constant through all of those years was this- no one ever tried to tell me how to spend the youth ministry budget money.  They told me how much to spend.  They told me when to slow down.  They told me when we were broke.  But until WMUMC, no one had ever said to me anything like the following: "Carl, there is still $3000 is your budget, but you can't spend any of it this summer."  And yet, as we approached the summer of 2003, I was told just that.  I was not to spend any budget money on "worthless" items like taking students out to lunch or buying them milk shakes at our One on One times.  I was not to spend money on games of other "silly" purchases.  We had made a large deposit for a group to attend the Big Stuff Camp in Panama Beach.  We had a reservation to work with the Center for Student Missions in Nashville.  And we had to cancel them both.  The chairman of the church Finance Committee would not approve the funding (from our budget!) we had planned on.  I got precious little support from my boss, who preferred to stay out of such problems.  In what was the first (but unfortunately, not the last) bizarre decision handed down by our financial folks, we actually lost more money (our forfeited deposit) than we need approved to be able to take the trip.  It was all tied into the money being raised for the new Family Life Center.  With double the fundraising going on (Pass the Loot, Pass the Loot! It sounds so nice when you say it twice!) things got really tight.  And yes- that is the same building that I wanted built so badly.  Irony hurts.

The good news was that we went ahead and had a couple of great trips that summer, to Atlanta and to Spartanburg, SC (a very interesting mission trip).  We charged ahead with our usual wild summer ministries (which I will write about more next Monday).  The bad news was I paid for most of it and didn't tell anyone.  Most people didn't know that the church budget was a mess.  Even fewer people knew that the building program was a disaster waiting to happen.  And no one knew that as all this went on around me, my personal behavior was falling apart.  That story is still to come...

Because of Jesus,

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