Five ways to spend a legacy

Five Ways to Spend a Legacy

If you unexpectedly received some money for your church, what would you do with it? Here are a few different ways you could invest it for the Kingdom.

I used to dread receiving letters as a pastor. They were almost universally complaints about something or other that required an immediate response to avoid catastrophe.

But there was one type of mail I was pleased to receive – a solicitor’s letter saying that Mrs Jones or Mr Brown had left money to the church.

These kinds of letters are sometimes expected, sometimes not (some church members highlight their intentions, others do not).

Just as an aside – I always make it an inviolable rule not to talk to members about what they put in their will except to answer the most general of queries. I have always also declined to be an executor for a member’s will.

Nevertheless, letters like this do arrive and I was reflecting on this as I drove home from a meeting the other day. It got me thinking – what could you do with a legacy? I offer these suggestions not as an exhaustive list, but as a way of encouraging you to push the boundaries of your thinking a little bit.

You’ll notice that “mending the church roof” is not in my list! It may need mending, and badly so – but it could be argued that using such gifts to do the ongoing work of maintaining the church keeps the church from asking more fundamental questions about its continuing ministry.

I’m not saying that churches should only stay open if they can afford to do so on day to day income. Nevertheless, once a church becomes dependent on legacies to stay open, the leaders should at least be asking some searching questions.

So here are five things you could do with a legacy*.

1. Give away a lump sum

Perhaps the most radical thing to do is to give away the whole lot! Some churches want to bank cheques and save them for a rainy day, not realising that it’s already pouring down.

Many struggling churches or missions could make more use of this money than you might be able to. For the most part, I want to encourage churches to do this without strings attached.

You can, of course, specify the use for funds to give away, and the recipient is legally obliged to follow your limitations. But this hardly seems a model of gospel generosity and can seriously hamper the recipient. If you trust them enough to give them the money, you should trust them enough to use it wisely.

Frankly, this kind of sweeping generosity is very, very rare. But it shouldn’t be. It’s not difficult to find needy and worthy church projects. The existence of your church might not depend on you spending the inheritance. But the existence of another may well do so. What a great thing you could do for the Kingdom of God!

2. Support a training post

At The Hub Conference in January I was hugely encouraged by the number of people considering ministry. But then I had a revelation: we’re going to find there’s a lack of training posts where these younger guys can be trained up as assistants before being sent out.

And our training posts tend to be focused on a particular type of church, whereas what we actually need are all kinds of training posts – in rural churches, in hard-to-reach places and so on. Small churches should have assistant/training pastors not because they need them but because the wider Church needs them.

You may never have considered having an assistant (Too small? Too hard?) but perhaps a legacy allows you to do that – not so much because your church needs it, but because you can send him out to serve the wider family.

3. Support a training post at another church

A variation on this theme is perhaps to support a training post at another church you know. To be blunt, this kind of generosity is hard. It requires a selflessness that few of us possess. But what if, for example, you knew another church which needed help and which could do a better job at training someone up than you? Why would you not invest in that church?

This is exactly what happened at Gunnersbury Baptist in Chiswick. They received a legacy and, with our help, passed it on to Trinity Church Everton at the other end of the country.

If people leave houses to churches, it’s more likely that large legacies are going to be received in the south, so this is one way that some of that wealth can be appropriately redistributed around the country.

Here’s another way to do this. I recently heard about a church who received a large legacy – enough to train someone up, and then some. Why not use such a sum to train up three people? One at your church, two at other nearby churches. The three guys could learn together and local church networks and relationships flourish as a result.

4. Support our Training Fund

A variation on this is to consider supporting the FIEC Training Fund. I’ve put this as number four because I don’t want this to seem a bare-faced appeal to send us your money. Nevertheless, God has greatly used the Training Fund to ensure that men and women can be trained for gospel ministry. We have a small group of local church members and leaders who help us make wise decisions about where the money goes.

And it goes to some surprising places. The headlines often seem to be about university centres or large churches, but the reality is that a large amount of the funding goes to people who can’t otherwise afford it in places where it is most needed – an innovative ministry in the poorer parts of Brighton; a women’s worker on an estate in the north of England and so on.

The Fund can be an excellent way of directing funds when you don’t have the relationships or knowledge to actually make the connections yourself. I’d love to speak to you about it.

5. Use it to support another local church

Finally, what about simply bolstering another church in your locality? They may not share all your precise distinctives, but they’re a gospel work and they’re reaching local people. Perhaps they are better placed to reach a community that is very different from yours?

So rather than adding another youth worker to your church roster, why not add one to theirs?

It seems to me that our inter-dependency is hardest to make work at a very local level. We can often feel more affinity to a church far away than one nearby because it is not so threatening. However, intra-church fellowship means nothing if it doesn’t work locally, and maybe this super-generous step is the one that you could take?

So they are my five things to do with a legacy.

Of course, there are many more things you could consider and perhaps the answer is ‘all of the above’ and more besides. And maybe you do need to mend the roof. But maybe – just maybe – God has given you this gracious and generous gift to teach you and allow you to be gracious and generous to others.

I think I may have read that in the Bible somewhere.

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