Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban Legends About Giving, Part 7

I don’t agree with how my church might spend the money.
That is an understandable objection. But God teaches us to submit to those he has placed in authority over us, and not give them trouble (Hebrews 13:17). As Christians, we may have many good-faith disagreements over how money is used in the church; but only if a church is using money immorally or illegally should we consider a confrontational approach, and even then only in a biblical manner (Matthew 18:15-20). The best way to influence our church is to (1) pray. The next step is to (2) model a biblical approach to handling money. We can also shape our churches’ habits in respectful, harmonious ways by (3) talking with leaders, (4) serving on a finance committee or as a church officer, (5) leading through small group discipleship or (6) teaching Sunday school. If these avenues for influence are not available to us, or if they fail to produce the results we had sought, we may have to leave it in God’s hands, acknowledging that he may not want us to run the church. Above all, we must speak and act lovingly and graciously, refraining from criticism or gossip inside or outside the church. Remember, there are other ways to use our money for the Lord. If a church is failing to evangelize, for example, supporting an evangelistic para-church ministry may be a good idea.

My pastor ought to get a day job, like the apostle Paul; that’s a more biblical way to minister.
It is true that Paul sometimes tried not to ask certain churches for money if he feared that his motives would be questioned or that he would be associated with those trying to get rich from preaching (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 9:3-14). Usually, however, this resulted in him asking for money from other churches (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). Why take money from some but not from others? It seems that Paul cautiously avoided taking money from problem churches, while he joyfully raised support from spiritually healthy churches. In fact, the normal pattern for healthy churches seems to be financial support for their spiritual leaders (see 1 Timothy 5:17-19; the context of chapters 5 and 6 is largely about Christian finances). Paul defended and engaged in this practice himself, relying on the support of others when he was in need (Philippians 4:14-19). In this regard Paul simply followed Jesus, who himself relied on the gifts of others and taught his disciples to do the same (Luke 8:1-4; 10:7). In so doing, the early Christians learned how to trust God and rely on their family, the church. As if his own example were not enough, Paul explicitly tells us to share with those who teach us the word (Galatians 6:6). We as givers should follow his advice, not just for the benefit of our spiritual leaders, but for ours as well: Paul told the Philippians that he wasn’t primarily concerned with their gift for him but with “what may be credited to your account” when they gave (Philippians 4:17). In most cases, a pastor’s ministry is his day job, and it is right for the church to give him due compensation. Such an arrangement is in fact quite biblical and in keeping with Paul’s own teaching in 1 Corinthians 9.

I am up to my ears in debt. I cannot give now.
The Christian in debt has an obligation, not only to his creditors but also to God, to pay off his debts and, what is more, to stay out of debt in the future (Roman 13:8). But the responsibility to pay off debts does not cancel out the responsibility to give to the Lord. Specifically, the Bible tells us to give to the Lord from our “firstfruits,” that is, the first and best of our income (Proverbs 3:9). As Larry Burkett has said, the first check we write belongs to the Lord and no one else, not even a creditor. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but in fact, giving like this turns out to be in our own best interest. We refrain from giving because it feels financially insecure. But in fact, God promises that giving to him is the most secure financial move one can make. If he gave up his own Son for us, surely we can count on him to give us all things (Romans 8:32). For those who give, he will provide all they need at all times, even making them rich so that they can keep on giving (2 Corinthians 9:8-11). We should make it a high and immediate priority to pay off our debts, but we should also give whatever we can in the meanwhile.