Five Reasons Why “We Pay the Bills” at This Church Is Such a Harmful Attitude

One of the most toxic statements a church member or group of church members can make is, “We pay the bills at this church.” Not only is it unbiblical, it is clearly divisive. It creates an “us versus them” mentality in the church.

Why is the statement so harmful? Here are five reasons.

  1. It makes giving more like paying country club dues than biblical stewardship. Thus, a certain level of giving by a member or a group engenders a sense of entitlement. The people who give with this attitude never really let go of the funds. They continue to hold on to them with strings of conditions.
  2. It is manipulative. In essence, giving becomes a controlling mechanism. If the church doesn’t do what I want it to do, I will withhold my funds. I have known church members and groups of church members that have held onto funds until they finally got their way. At that point, they released the funds to the church. They were truly holding the church hostage.
  3. It becomes a way of circumventing the budget. Most churches approve a budget every year. It becomes the guide for the church to steward the funds given to the congregation. On too many occasions, a malcontent in the church decides he or she doesn’t like the approved plans for spending, so they threaten to withhold their funds. One person told me smugly he knew the church was not spending funds in the best way, so his implied threat to withhold funds was necessary. I wonder what he thinks of the biblical story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44). She gave without reservation, but I doubt the Temple was the paragon of stewardship excellence.
  4. It creates different classes of members in the church. There are those who have and who can make such threats, and there are those who do not have and, thus, have insufficient resources to make demands. As noted earlier, this statement is both inflammatory and divisive.
  5. It is contrary to the servant spirit of Christ. Jesus was crystal clear on his mission. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Some church members utter the toxic statement, “We pay the bills at this church” to get their own way. Jesus made the sacrificial statement that He would put others before Himself, so much so that He would die for others.

“We pay the bills at this church.”

It is a toxic statement.

It is an unbiblical statement.

It is contrary to the spirit in which the Lord Himself came to serve, to give, and to sacrifice.

Posted on January 14, 2019

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • John Reynolds says on

    Mostly these are pastoral perspective responses. Many times good, tithing members who have sacrificially given are expressing frustration with a pastor throwing money at projects that are designed simply to impress his peers. M

    • Marguerite Colson says on

      Good grief, John! Do you really think it’s right for us laypersons to say “we pay the bills”? I have been a regular giver to my church for nearly half-a-century. I would NEVER make that statement. Quit creating a division by saying this is a pastoral perspective. Thom says it well. It’s a biblical perspective. Your categorical cynicism about pastors is sickening.

    • Most pastors I know don’t have the authority to “throw money at” anything.

  • Equally dangerous (and related) is the mindset “THEY pay the bills.” When the church begins to see certain people of means as essential to keeping the lights on, it can also hamstring the church. I’ve watched it many times when everyone walked on eggshells for fear of offending certain people without whom they thought the church could not survive financially. I’ve also watched as those people who were the source of such fear (because “they pay the bills”) finally leave, as they are inclined to do in a church with healthy leadership. A burden is lifted from the church and, lo and behold, the church discovers that the bills are still paid… and there are even EXCESS funds! How does that work? Eventually, people must realize that GOD pays the bills of the church that faithfully seeks and obeys Him.

  • Best I can recall, we’re told to render unto Caesar what’s his, and render unto God what is His. So, if we’re giving to God, it is God Who pays those salaries.

    Simply put: If we’re not doing that, we’re not acting as obedient Christians.

  • well said, thank you…

  • I think it comes from crossover when people say, ” I am a taxpayer and I think/want…..” My husband is a school administrator and he always answers, “well so I am…”

  • We know of a Church locally where several wealthy families withheld their tithe because they wanted the pastor to leave. They thought that if they didn’t tithe the pastor would be forced out because the Church would not be able to pay him. It did result in the pastor leaving. So sad the way grown Men and Women act, especially a professed christian. And we wonder why we are not making a difference in the world, or why our memberships are dwindling away.

    • Tina, I too have seen this very thing on several occasions. If I were ever to pastor again and this happened to me,you can be sure that my final sermon would include me sharing what these families have done. And yes,you better believe I would disclose names! Hopefully the next pastor wouldn’t have them to deal with!

  • There are times, albeit rare, that someone needs to get the attention of the leadership. Obviously this needs to be used sparingly, but I can understand why it is necessary. When one ministry is cut off from funds because someone powerful decides to defund it via the budget and others step up and direct contributions towards it, and they are appreciated. This can happen when leadership does not understand the needs of the congregation and no input is sought on the budget. I never understood why there was no budget committee in some churches.

    • What’s being taught in seminaries is that the pastor should run the show, unchallenged by anyone else. The old days of “church committees” are few and far between. Legally the church will have to have a “board” of some sort, but it’s made up of the pastor, his spouse, and a few close running buddies who will rubber stamp whatever (and if they won’t, the bylaws are set up to where the pastor can replace them at will).

      • Christopher says on

        I’m not saying pastors should not be accountable but every thriving church I’ve seen or been involved with the pastor is the one in authority. Deacon run churches always struggle.

        Authority in the bible is always top down. There are no examples in the bible of committees.

      • There was the Jerusalem council.

      • Christopher says on

        The Jerusalem Council was comprised of Apostles and Elders, top-down authority.

        Boards and committees and church councils with elected members, while useful for organizing ministries, are in reality the result of running the church like a business and members viewing themselves as shareholders.

  • The conundrum for some church members is an “inward-focused” leadership that wants to “save for the rainy day” (well beyond what prudence would require) rather than invest in the Kingdom. Bro. Thom, you had a chapter in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” about this inward focus. When leadership resists all good-faith efforts to change to an outward-focus it presents a serious issue, at least for me. The two servants who were praised in the parable of the talents were rewarded because they wisely invested and, as a result of their wisdom and faithfulness, harvested benefits for the Master. For me, a tithe represents the starting point of genuine New Testament generosity, and I will never withhold that from my church. Beyond that, I feel I must exercise good judgement and discretion on how and where to invest the resources God has given me to further the Great Commission. Some may disagree, and I may be wrong in my approach (won’t be the first time), but this is where I am today.

    • Good thoughts, Coleman.

    • Amen. So thoughtfully expressed

    • There is only one way that one should consider withholding the tithe, and that is if things have reached the point where one can no longer in good conscience support the church where they are attending. At that point, though, one should start looking for a place they can attend and support in good conscience.

      However, some churches have decided to institute the unbiblical practice of “covenant membership”, whereby one can’t leave a church unless the leadership agrees. Essentially the Hotel California (you can check out any time you like but you can never leave). In those cases, big deal. They can’t force you to attend or donate (just make sure if you have automatic withdrawals you stop those BEFORE you leave).

      Again this is only in the extreme cases.

  • Charlie Miller says on

    Good post. Closely akin to another toxic statement, “I pay your salary!”

  • Josh White says on

    As a sub point to #2, it holds the pastors hostage.

  • Christopher says on

    I’ve seen circumvention of the budget through designated giving. In two different churches the youth had the largest ministry line item in the budget yet the youth pastor spent it all well before the end of the year. The youth pastors in both churches then manipulated members to designate their tithe for the youth. In one church this was definitely used as a way showing displeasure with the budget.

    • I, too, have seen the budget circumvented through designated giving. It’s a very unfortunate circumstance, and such a poor use of emotional, spiritual and even financial resources.

      On the other hand, I’ve also seen the ethical opposite – where leaders “recruit” members to win battles. There’s no real interest or investment in the recruits they just need them to sway the vote. So you end up with non-grounded, minimally giving (sometimes completely non-giving) minimally interested, often short-term members making vital decisions because they happen to outnumber the grounded, sacrificing, committed, long-standing members.

      Then, usually in frustration and with a growing sense of helplessness, people resort to the “I/we pay the bills” offense. For the most part however, average churchgoers don’t even think of themselves as the bill payers let alone say it, and when they do say it it’s usually said to their peers, not to the actual decision makers.

      I agree that it is a problematic AND divisive statement. But it is more likely a reflection of the division rather than the cause of it. Whether anyone says it or not, the church is divided when members (any members) are disempowered. It is equally problematic that any of the membership would have to resort to tactics like “I pay the bills” to feel empowered.

      • On the other hand, grounded, sacrificing, committed, long-standing members can be the worst at controlling every aspect of the congregation including the leadership. I recommended once that the younger people hire a lobbying firm to go these members and try to get their support for anything they really needed. Now the parents of the younger people did not want to make waves but wanted to keep the older people happy but that is another discussion.

      • MdLincoln says on

        You are right.

        We need committees at churches. Not “yes” men, either.

  • Christopher says on

    The church is not the Body of Christ, it’s an institution to be controlled. “We pay the bills at this church” and “This is MY church” come from the same attitude.

    • I will say Amen to the spirit behind your comment, and Oh My to the fact that you had to say it because it is sadly so true in some churches.

    • David Troublefield, DMin says on

      But when members of a congregation leave for any reason–good or bad–then it becomes obvious that God indeed pays the bills of the congregation via the pockets and purses of members. A congregation maintaining its focus on numerical growth via evangelism and discipleship is less threatened by tithes and offerings going out the door–or the threat of it; a church not growing numerically can dread the exiting of its members.

1 2