Introduction

The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

January 7, 2009

Money


I seldom talk about money. It is not that I am embarrassed by the topic. My hesitation lies in my concern about the potential for subtle hidden agendas whenever people who work in the church bring up the topic of finances.

My primary responsibility in the church is to support and nurture the spiritual lives of the people in the community I serve. In order to support the flourishing of the human spirit I must encourage those I serve to live in the freedom for which Christ has set them free. There is no place in spiritual nurture for guilt, manipulation, pressure, or hidden agendas.

When we clergy talk about money it is difficult to avoid the potential for a hidden subtext lurking beneath our words. When clergy talk about money, we are usually talking about our church budget. We are talking about our own salary. A bigger budget in my church means more programs, more staff, more ministry. And the more programs, staff and ministry in my church, the better I look as a leader in the community. The potential for a conflict of interest is clear.

It is tempting to urge my congregation to consider the deep spiritual principle of financial giving to God through the church. But what motivation lies behind my urging?

I once attended a service in which, just before the offering was taken, the minister conducting the service paraphrased (and abused) Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:38, announcing to the congregation, “Just remember as you consider what to give to God, Jesus promised the more you give, the more you will get back.” This was not for the spiritual benefit of the congregation. It was an attempt to raise money for the church. Money-talk in the church is a dangerous business.

It is distressing how many clergy seem to find it relatively easy to bypass the Bible’s clear and frequent exhortations to practice justice and mercy, embracing the poor and welcoming the outcast and the marginalized. Yet, these same clergy suddenly become all biblical when it is time to preach their stewardship sermon and boldly announce the spiritual relevance of obscure biblical references to “tithing.”

The problem with money-talk in the church points to a central tension for church leaders. On the one hand we want ordained ministers in our church to be spiritual leaders. We look to them to be people of prayer, to have a deep interior life, profound devotional practices and to be able to offer insightful spiritual council and direction. At the same time we want clergy to be aggressive entrepreneurs, capable of raising an annual budget and developing ever-expanding church programs. In my experience, the skills required for a rich inner life and the skills for growing a small business are seldom found in the same package.

But churches need money. Salaries are expensive. Buildings and their upkeep are enormously costly. Most peoples’ worship experience would not be enriched by an unheated building in the deep freeze of a Canadian winter. The programs and ministries performed by all churches have to be financed somehow.

Some churches operate masterful fundraising programs. Others are well endowed with bequests left by the wealthy dead. But, most churches depend for their regular upkeep on the freely given offerings of those who regularly worship as part of the community. And frequently, giving seems to fall a little short of what is required to finance the smooth operation of the church. This is when it becomes tempting to start badgering, using a little guilt to pad the offering plate each Sunday.

So what can clergy safely say about money?

Perhaps I can safely suggest four general principles that might guide us in how we live in relation to money.

1. Always practice gratitude; everything we have is a gift. In I Corinthians 4:7 Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” It is all gift. We did not create ourselves. We do not keep ourselves breathing, our heart beating or the blood coursing through our veins. God is the source of life, the source of all goodness and beauty in the world. When we start to view life as a personal possession, or as a right, we begin to destroy the world around us and the human community entrusted to our care.

Anyone who lives in North America is already fabulously wealthy beyond the wildest imagining of the majority of the population of the world. No matter what the stock market may be doing, we in the privileged West are the most materially blessed people in the world. We did not earn this birthright. We do not merit our material riches. We just happen to have been born in a part of the world where we are blessed with material benefits in enormous abundance.

2. The operational principle of the Christian life is generosity. The only logical response to abundance is generosity. Generosity is one of the fruit of God’s Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) It is a sign of God’s presence and work in our lives. When we are generous we are behaving like God who “is generous to all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12) It is tempting to think that we will enjoy life more fully when we have more, more financial security, more toys, more money for holidays. In fact, we live more fully when we become more like God in whose image we were created. And to be like God is to give generously.

When, rather than living generously, we try to create security for ourselves by hoarding the material benefits of our lives, we are living as far less than the generous beings we were created to be. Jesus told the story of a wealthy farmer blessed with great abundance. Rather than sharing his wealth, the farmer tore down his barns and built bigger ones saying to his soul, “you have ample goods for many years.” (Luke 12:19) He believed that safety security and fullness of life lay in the quantity of his possessions. But, God said to the secure wealthy man, “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.’” (Luke 12:20) Jesus told this story to remind us of the importance of being “rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) We discover the richness of God, when we live generously which brings us to point number three.

3. How we relate to money is a sign of the depth of our God-following. Jesus met a rich young man who sincerely desired to follow God. The young man was moral, religious and faithful to his tradition. But Jesus said to him, “‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor.’” (Matthew 19:21) But the young man was attached to his wealth more deeply than he desired to follow God. So, “he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:22) His relationship to money demonstrated the lack of depth in his commitment to follow God.

When I am pinched and tight with my financial resources, I demonstrate my lack of trust in God’s provision and my determination to establish a sense of security using material resources. When I sit lightly to material possessions I show that I am free of attachment to the external world. So point three leads naturally to point four.

4. Those who give freely grow in their freedom. Freedom is perhaps the most underrated gift of the Christian life. Paul promised that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (I Corinthians 3:17) Freedom is one of the signs of God’s presence and the more freely we give, the more we grow in that freedom. This is the real meaning of Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:38 that the minister so abused in the service I visited years ago. Jesus said, “give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:38)

True human freedom is not the freedom to do whatever we feel we want to do. Freedom is the ability to live in tune with our true nature. The great tragedy of the human race is that we have concluded that human beings are designed for accumulating. In fact, we are designed for giving. When we give we live in tune with our deepest nature as free being created in the image of God.

Conclusion

So, will these four convictions help fill the church’s bank account? They may, or they may not. But, filling the church’s bank account is not the point. The point is that, wherever a community practices gratitude, generosity, God-following, and giving, that community will be filled with the light of Christ. However, great or however small the ministry of such a church may be, it will be a place of light and hope. Whatever flows from a grateful, generous, God-following, giving heart will bring transformation and freedom. Finances will follow. As Jesus said, when we “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

The church that seeks to live in God’s kingdom will have all it needs to follow faithfully wherever God may be leading. To share in the vibrant life of a grateful, generous, God-following, giving community will be far more fulfilling than all the ego gratification that may come from being an outwardly “successful” church.

1 comment:

Rob Holloway said...

Ah.....
Money.
They say we do not need it to leave this world but someone has to pay for our body to be placed back in the earth and all the licenses required to prove one did die so you can pass on to your heirs , church, whatever assets one had.

In the context of the Church the reality is that we do not request our pastor to raise his own funds as some Christian Outreach groups do.
We as a family promise to provide to the best of our gifts so the pastor can do what is his gift to us.
I agree, a teacher cannot be a fund raiser at the same time.

God leads us thru our lives and shows us how to share, if we listen, what we can do best at the time.
Nothing is wrong to say we have a wee problem as an update to the Church's finances.
It is the way we receive the message and I hope to open our hearts and what gifts we have availble. In truth we also expect the Church to be wise in its spending of the family monies.
For myself I do not want a visit into our finances to say one should do this but I do want to be reminded at times that all is well or not.
It is interesting that in my partial retirement I and my spouse can give more monies though we had to adjust to loss of full income.

We though had to be wise stewards to prepare and God gifted us in allowing us to have a house owned fully by us now.
When we raised children we tried to contribute perhaps more in church time (help) then monies as we had to balance our daily life. Going into debt to tithe at xn percent was not the answer per our guidance.
Giving of a whole heart to allow our church family to grow and be nurtured was the key. Ensuring we shared our gifts at each stage of our life with Gods people is the way.
We are blessed to have folks who give of their time as gifts in music, teaching , sharing and as monies become available then that to is shared.

My mumbles for the day

Cheers
Rob