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Let’s not beat around the bush. It doesn’t cost anything to say church mission is a priority. Talk is cheap; and frankly, mission-talk preaches really well.

Except the gap between mission-talk and mission-reality is often wider than we care to admit. As evidence, I submit to you Exhibit A: the church budget. In descending order and according to amount, dollars generally get spent this way: salaries, campus/building, and finally—mission.

I rest my case.

I know a consultant who tries to close this gap by dividing church budgets into three simple categories: mission, ministry, and mortar. The twist? Budget more for missions annually than for mortar. This preaches well, too. But assuming ministry equals salaries, aren’t mortar and missions akin to apples and oranges? Are they even close?

Maybe the needle gets threaded by saying, “The whole lot of it is missions, including mortar.” But that’s too easy, like saying “all of life is prayer”—so you don’t have to actually pray.

There’s help from Kennon Callahan who simplifies the matter in his book Effective Church Finances. “When it comes to budgets,” he says “there are two kinds of churches: those that never have enough and those that always have enough for mission.”

If it’s just lip service being paid to mission, there’s never enough money. Why? Because mission is just a plug-in for church life and ministry. It’s not the main thing.

In this light, a budget is really just a reflection of a church’s heart. Tilting numbers toward mission on a spreadsheet is merely cosmetic. The real issue is whether or not church members are tilted toward mission.

When mission is truly the agenda, the entire budget is for mission. Sure, this sounds a lot like “It’s all mission anyways” except for this…

The church which always has enough for mission is actually accomplishing it.

What does a missional budget look like? It doesn’t matter when mission is in the driver’s seat. Regardless of how dollars get sliced and diced, it’s a missional budget.

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