On June 5 of last year, I published a blog that still remains the most popular, most viewed, most commented on, and most shared post on this site to date. You might remember "10 Things Your Church Communicator Won't Tell You."
In that post, I discussed several things that the average church communicator likely struggles with and faces in this ever-evolving ministry niche. I covered a lot of issues ranging from personal battles with perfectionism to working late nights or even the occasional overnighter. But, if you recall, the very first statement in the list was this: "I spend my own personal money on a lot of digital media, software, and/or equipment."
Over the last few days, that statement seems to have sparked some interesting dialogue and debate concerning what actually constitutes fair practice in this regard, with people landing on both sides of the fence. (And a few people straddling the fence.) Before I get into that, let's clarify one thing. The statement would probably read better like this: "I may sometimes spend my own personal money on a lot of digital media, software, and/or equipment."
Now, let's look at the arguments, opinions, and thoughts that are coming in via social media and email and see if we can tackle this thing from a rational and Scriptural perspective.
I think it's safe to assume that I've got followers and readers across the church communications spectrum, hailing from all sorts of different ministry backgrounds, walks of life, situations, and scenarios, including those serving in big church world and others in the small church world. This is very important to keep in mind because the ministry niche in which you serve will often, even if it happens subconsciously, influence how you see things like this. You may not even be aware that the way you think about a particular issue has been influenced by the years or decades that you've spent in a particular type of church or ministry.
With all that being said, I think we can also agree on the fact that every person/church/situation is dramatically different. There is no rule of thumb here. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Many small churches, like the one where I serve, would never be able to even remotely dream of affording the digital tech and resources that larger churches take for granted. At my small rural church in south Alabama, I serve on staff as full-time volunteer Communications Director. I easily put 30-40+ hours/week into the digital and social media management, graphic design, print design, marketing/promo content, photo/video editing, website management, and much more on a weekly basis. I am essentially a team of one. I do not receive a salary. I never have. I've been in this position since around my freshman year of college in 2005. Yes, I am well aware that there are church communicators in larger churches who are doing exactly what I am doing and being paid a full-time, livable salary for it. This is not news to me. I know the stats. I know the numbers.
But, here's the thing: A lot of small churches across America, like mine, are usually doing good if they can keep the lights on every week and pay their water bill. In fact, ever since the PC in our tech booth died, I've been using my personal MacBook Pro to run the Sunday morning digital media. Also, in all transparency, my church has a gym that is, quite literally, falling apart. My church is in need of a new roof. My church has bathrooms that need repair. My church has rooms that need new carpet. I could go on for two more paragraphs, but you get the picture. The building was constructed during the 70's and has many shortcomings, defects, and structural problems. From a financial perspective, these issues are far more pressing and relevant than finding room in the budget for Josh's monthly Adobe CC subscription or his sporadic purchases from sites like Lightstock and iStock. Is Josh using Adobe CC for his church? Yep. Do his Lightstock and iStock purchases show up in digital worship media, sermon series graphics, social media graphics, web design, event graphics/promo campaigns, and half a dozen other things all the time? Yep. But, Josh would have to be The World's Biggest Jerk to expect his blue collar/no collar church to pay for that when his church is supporting missions, inner city faith-based rehabs, saving for building repairs, and doing 100 other Kingdom-focused things that require funds which they do not have, but that they know that God will provide. [And He always does.]
Now, my situation is slightly different because, in addition to my unpaid volunteer position at my church, I am also the full-time Comms Director for a church revitalization nonprofit organization. This is where I earn my salary, such as it is. (In effect, you might say I am bi-vocational.) Some, but not all, of my digital and tech needs have been factored into the budget here and are covered by the organization, which has been nice. For example, I work remote and they purchased my iMac. They also cover the cost of a few of my design softwares on a monthly basis. And I usually have the green light to use the company card for digital purchases like stock photos and other various design elements. So, I am usually not spending personal money on THIS SIDE of my ministry/work world. They did not, however, cover the cost of my MacBook Pro. I bought that myself. And when I decide to upgrade my MacBook Pro to a newer model, I will probably have to do that on my own. But, you know what? That's ok. (Side note: I also use my tech and software for freelance work and side hustles, so that's a factor worth discussing in a later post or in the comment thread.)
So, back to the church/volunteer world. Since I am not a paid staff member, I do not have the expectation that the church pay for things that I, out of servanthood and personal sacrifice, choose to pay for myself. If the church had extra money lying around, I would prefer to see them put that toward building repairs, missions, rehab ministry partnerships, etc. before trying to factor digital media expenses into the budget or trying to give me a salary.
See, here's the thing: If I have been blessed by God with the financial and digital resources, and the time and talents, to give my small church a professional and attractive presence on social media and the Internet, and to have nice worship service visuals, why would I NOT do that? Moreover, I consider the digital design resources that I pay for on a regular, monthly, or recurring basis — as well as the ones that crop up unexpectedly and spontaneously — to all be gifts for my church. Think of it like tithing. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul has been asking his Corinthian readers to marvel with him at the evidence of God's grace in the lives of the Macedonian believers. Remember this? Despite the poverty, persecution, and difficulties that they endured, these Christians in Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi gave generously, abundantly, and sacrificially in order to meet the needs of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. You might remember what Paul said of their giving in verse three: "For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord." (ESV) The New Living Translation says it like this: "For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will." (NLT)
I've seen a lot of arguments that no church should ever expect or force a church communicator (or any other staff member) to pay for ministry resources out of their own pocket. That's certainly fair and true. Let's not force anything. But, if we're being honest here, that was never the point of my blog post or my Facebook post, was it? The reality is that small churches are the majority in America and it's these churches that usually [often] do not have a budget for digital media ministry. In fact, it's typically the farthest thing from their mind. They've got more pressing financial dilemmas to overcome. Some of them are trying to figure out how to pay the pastor(s).
And, in the end, the overarching point and bigger picture here is this: If you're a Church Communicator who has chosen, of your own free will, to give generously, sacrificially, and abundantly — over and above — to the work of the Kingdom, you are storing up treasures in Heaven. [Matthew 6:19-21] This applies no matter what size church you are serving. (And, please remember, "serve" is the key word here.) It doesn't make you any better than anyone else. It doesn't make you more spiritual. It doesn't make our other Church Communicators enemies. It just mean you're in a different boat and, because of your situation, you choose to operate differently. I have ministry friends, worship leadership friends, and Church Comms friends who work/serve in both the big church and small church arenas. I have very close friends who work/serve at big churches that have all of the cool toys, all of the resources, and the budget to make it all happen. And, let me be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I love my friends in the big church ministry space. A lot of those churches are able to do a lot of good work for the Kingdom. In fact, I've worked in and been a part of the big church world myself.
But, that simply isn't the case for a lot of little churches — like the one I have been at for 20 years now — that are filled with blue collar/no collar people. There are countless churches where tithing is a rarity and monthly income is irregular and unpredictable. In fact, through my work in the church revitalization space, I personally know a lot of churches where the lead pastor is bi-vocational so that he can support his family and he isn't even taking a salary from the church (because they can't afford to pay him one.) These churches have digital media, worship instruments, soundboards, lighting, coffee, and much more all because of the personal sacrifices of individuals within the church, oftentimes including people who are on "staff." They love the church enough to give over and above what is expected of them.
I understand the argument that when ministry leaders pay for their own resources it can potentially lead to an enablement mindset. I understand the argument that it can set expectations high. I understand the argument that it can potentially set an unhealthy precedent and potentially override personal boundaries. And, as we've said already, no church should ever force this sort of thing to happen or expect it.
But, I have to ask: Should small churches just go completely and utterly without technology, digital media, and/or worship instruments for the sake of "potentials"?
I just have to wonder how many of the Macedonian Christians were worried about those things. I would think that, in 2024, the least we can do is buy an $8.00 stock photo or a guitar capo every once in a while. The least we can do is pay for our monthly software subscriptions to win souls for Jesus. I mean, it's the least we can do, guys.
Also, I have to wonder how many of those arguments will wash when we're on our faces before Jesus, our risen King and Savior, who still has nail scars on His hands. I have to wonder how many of those arguments will matter when it's time to lay our crowns at His feet. I have to wonder how He would respond if I said, "Well, you see, Jesus, there just wasn't enough money in the budget." or "Sorry, Jesus, the finance committee just wouldn't approve that."
I have to wonder.
When all is said and done, it's obvious that there are pros and cons to both models and both situations/scenarios. But, budgets and personal expenditures and personal choices aside, I do think there's one thing on which we can all agree: It would be super cool for the big churches and the little churches to work together more often for the sake of the Gospel and the call of the Kingdom.