Cash is More Important than Your Mother (and Debt is Not Always a Bad Thing)

Cash is more important than your mother. My mom knows it. And agrees. Begrudgingly.

OK, maybe that’s not literally true. But cash on hand is far more important than most ministry leaders realize. That’s why instead of using as much money as possible to advance their ministry, lots of churches use any extra cash to pay down debt.

While “debt reduction,” will eventually lower your monthly payments, leaving you with more money to use for ministry tomorrow, it will also significantly lessen the funds you have available to do ministry today.

Why Paying Off A Ministry Mortgage Is Usually A Short-Sighted Mistake

Personal equity can be tapped in an emergency or used to provide for old age (and if untapped, it can be passed on to our heirs). But equity in a ministry facility is not only hard to tap in to, in a worst case scenario it allows a handful of people to hold onto “their” building rather than turning it over to new church down the street that is busting at the seams without an adequate facility to meet in.

I’m obviously not talking about crippling debt. But a mortgage payment that is roughly equal to what it would cost to rent or lease the buildings you meet in is not crippling. It’s just a cost of doing business.

Why Your Grocery Store Doesn’t Own Its Own Building

There is a reason your local grocery store, favorite coffee chain, and the big box retailer in town don’t own their own buildings. They lease them because they aren’t in the real estate business. They’re in the business of selling their products and acquiring more customers. So, rather than trying to eliminate all facility costs by buying a building and paying off the mortgage, they pour as much money as possible into upgrading their staffing, products, and the customer experience.

Churches should do the same. We’re not in the real estate business. We’re in the Great Commission business. If today is the day of salvation, the decision to focus on getting out of debt today so that we will have more someday in the future to reach people for Jesus is a shortsighted and wrongheaded decision.

Here’s Why Having More Cash Is Better Than A Paid Off Mortgage

Personally, I’m a no-debt guy. The equity my wife and I have built up by living below our means and eliminating debt has provided us with a measure of financial freedom. If needed, we can access the equity we have by selling the properties we own.

But imagine that Nancy and I had been so focused on getting out of debt when our children were young that we skimped on their nutrition, clothing, and education so that someday we’d have a lower house payment and more money for their nutrition, clothing, and education.

Most folks would see that as foolish, if not an abusive abdication of our responsibilities as parents. Yet that’s not much different than what I hear many ministry leaders advocate when they hold back on staffing, programs, and facility upgrades that would lead more people to Jesus today, so that they will have more money for the Great Commission tomorrow.

Cash on hand (rather than a paid off building) provides ministry leaders with the margin to weather life’s predictable storms. We may not know which particular emergency will rear its ugly head next, but an emergency shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s part of life and leadership in a fallen world.

Cash on hand (rather than a paid down mortgage) also allows a leadership team to seize unexpected opportunities that arise. Like emergencies, or special opportunities that never send a text message saying, “Get ready. I’m coming next week!” They just show up.

Ministries that have the financial resources to take advantage of them prosper. Those who don’t have the cash to take advantage because they used it to pay down debt can only dream of what-could-have-been-if-only.

And that’s why my mom and I both agree: Cash is more important than your mother.

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