Big churches with lots of bling
Before I go any further, let me say that if you are in a very large church (I have been in both small and large), the scenario I described in the last post may not be so prevalent, or at least obvious. It was glaring in the small church and house church we were in. I can't say I observed it clearly in the big church I was in- I was but a grain of salt in the proverbial ocean there. If you've never been in a big church- mine wasn't a mega, but it was big- you would be amazed. Here is what mine had:
*a professional level band(s) leading praise and worship
*an continuous stream of professional speakers coming through on the church circuit
I didn't care whether those things were there or not. We enjoyed it there because so much of The Church was there. The leader wasn't working a formula and didn't point to himself. Pretty much he often didn't even teach, he would just parade among us believers the mighty works God had done among us all that week and gave God all the praise. So the wonderful thing about him was that he wasn't necessary and he knew it. He just loved God so much and so did we that he stood at the front because, well, someone needed to and he happened to be a darn good speaker. I loved that man and still do but he's not there anymore. The church board tried to throw him under the proverbial bus and he did what most men do when they seek God about such a mess...walk away. Right when all that was happening we were in the middle of a whopping building plan that plunged us into debt right when the recession hit. When that was all said and done this is what was added to the church's list of features:
*a state of the art new building equipped with a coffeeshop, new offices, a library, and a dining facility
*the rest of the facilities were completely remodeled, with granite countertops in the bathrooms and state of the art sound and light systems
*a kids playset that I believe was well over $100,000
*a multimedia sign that cost $80,000
*an on-site college AND arts department (I confess my son took karate there)complete with a dance ministry that now includes aerial artistry- ballerinas on wires to fly through air for special services
The more bling, the less bread
I don't have a problem with any of those things. They are not bad in and of themselves. Unfortunately, when you spend money on them though, you don't have it for other things that we will get to in just a minute. Believe it or not, this kind of place is the brass ring in the mind of many pastors. It means they have arrived. I told you about all of that because I want you to keep it in the back of your mind as I go on about money for the rest of the small and average sized churches. I hadn't forgotten about these whopping ones. Their financial scenario is just so absurd, I wanted to use a more mainstream example for our discussion.
Tithe- a very brief look at the raw truth
First, let me tell you I tithed just like I was told I should do by every church leader I have ever met from the time I started going to church til I started going to a house church, which was approximately one year before I stopped going to any 'church.' I never even looked it up. If they said I was supposed to give 10% of my gross income, I was gonna do it. And I did. Someone challenged me to research it. I did and I found you are not required to tithe at all. It was an Old Testament law, similar to slaughtering animals, that wasn't needed any longer because the Levites (designated priests)no longer needed to maintain the temple(since all that remained there was a ripped curtain). [The other purpose for the tithe, aside from paying the priests who cared for the now-empty temple, was caring for the poor. This is now done, at least in our country, through taxation- the 18% we give to the government before the 10% to the church. Though the church should still be doing this, it is difficult for them to... you'll see why further below] I am not going to try to prove it to you- research it yourself. I understand that if you are as well 'churched' as I was, you just immediately tuned me out. That's what I would have done. Understand I have been inside all the meetings. I know Churchianity. I speak the lingo, know the jargon, know the tactics, know the schpeel and one good thing I learned is not to entertain someone who is speaking falsehood to me for long at all. I'm with you. That's why I said look it up yourself. And if you want to keep tithing, go ahead. I want to explain the conclusion I've come to but you can do what you want. By the way...
The New Giving- much harder than tithing
The New Testament actually talks about giving cheerfully, giving to Caesar (the government) what is Caesar's, giving to God what is God's (everything), and giving everything you have to the poor. You can see that seeking to be obedient in your own heart within those kind of guidelines is actually much harder than tithing.
The percentages don't lie and Martin helped a church out
I have the gift of giving. I like to give. I want to give. I was blessed with some skills that have allowed me to make a sizable income in the past and I am excited about launching a business this year from which I am hoping I can be able to give (more substantially than we can now) again. Now let me tell you what I see happening to every $100 that leaves my, or any other believer's hands at a 'church':
--------$10 goes to mission work
--------$90 goes to pay for the building so we can meet (I've already established that this isn't necessary) AND to pay for the staff so that once a week I can be taught WHAT IS IN THE BOOK SITTING ON MY LAP. I have to veer here for a second for another note on this:
When the early church started, please understand, they had no bible. They were depending on the teaching from the scrolls that people like Paul had learned when he was being trained as a Jew, the oral delivery of the gospel message, and (primarily) Paul's instructions regarding how they should be functioning. It wasn't until Martin Luther translated the Latin scriptures in the early 1500s into common language (german, which spurred the later english King James Version) that people had God's word for their own. Oral delivery of God's word now in mimicry of the early church is still edifying- any time the Word is taught it is edifying- but we have it ourselves now, in its entirety. I wonder if when we get to heaven and get to see the complete story of the church from beginning to end it will say something like, "and the printing press came along and things got really efficient so that the believers could concentrate their resources where they were really needed." JUST SAYIN.
1.)Orphans, many of whom are on the verge of starving daily.
2.)The lost. Do you know how many people groups on this earth have never heard the gospel because they don't even have the Word in their language?
These two priorities aren't just mine, they are the Lord's. He said He came to seek and save that which was lost and that true religion is caring for the widows and orphans. What about making disciples? We'll get to that in a sec.
Round about the same time I was wondering where to go with this church thing I read a book about a Wycliffe bible translator and I went to their website. I even called and talked to their organization and I want you to hear this very plainly if you have heard nothing else I have said:
The missionaries are underfunded. Grossly, grossly underfunded. They are in literal huts in the literal bush, on the literal frontlines, trying to get our precious Word (that we have whenever we want it, SITTING ON OUR &%$*& LAPS) to these tribes by scratching it out into their language, line by line... so they can know that Christ died for them and they can be saved. So they know there is hope. So they know of grace.
Rolling skinny too
So you see, for me it has become really simple. I can study the word for myself. I have a concordance and a commentary. I have the Holy Spirit. I can fellowship with other believers as God makes opportunities. I can worship from right here. I can do that if it means that any money I can give can be given to those missionaries; to reach those lost and those kids; so they can know the God who is the Father to the Fatherless. What about my time? Well you can give that too from right where you are, unless of course you want a ton of credit and a big pat on the back.
Discipleship and free-ness can be oh so freeing
I know there are still lost people in America. And I also know that training people to be disciples is critical- I am thankful for all the church people who have helped to teach me.
But I was thinking maybe some of us would be willing to do that for free.
Because if we did, those missionaries could concentrate without worrying if someone is going to cover them the next month for the supplies that they need. And maybe the missionaries feeding the orphans could concentrate on really helping them instead of spending so much times asking the churches for their leftover 10%....
Rage against the machine
Because this little bride called 'church' that insists she is the same bride as The Church demands that mission organizations work within her established infrastructure; and, in that infrastructure, SELF gets 90% and the rest gets 10%, missionaries just have to suck it up. I think missionaries have a serious right to be pissed off every day they go to work and hope a check shows up from their benevolent fat 'church' supporters. Sorry. That was a bit severe, huh?
And again with the 'what about us'
I know what you are saying. Well in that 90% people AT our 'church' get ministered to...yes, we all know a tiny percentage of people in American churches get saved every year; but we also know that those same people could be saved for free because they live in America, and mature Christians who don't use the pastor as a crutch to do all the 'ministry' should be WELL capable of handling that all by themselves. As a matter of fact, if you need an altar call, I bet you can find someone who will do it for free if you won't.
My confessions and finally my whys
I guess that's what it has really come down to for me. And I confess to you, after saying all that, that right now I don't have as much to give as I used to be able to- I am trying daily to improve our own financial situation so that we can give more.
And I also confess to you that it can be lonely out here. When I paid my monthly tithe (our one friend calls them 'club dues') and was able to fellowship weekly with other believers, it was nice...because The Church often hangs out in a 'church.' True. I also liked the weekly sermon, like I like a motivational speech or learning anything. And it was also nice to see the trickle of people that got saved. That happened too. I also wasn't always totally appalled by leaders working their formulas. A lot of us had an unspoken understanding that we were humoring them, but we knew the real reason we were there.... which is actually the real reason I'm not there anymore... and why we are trusting God is preparing one Bride for Himself- and that He is including us as part of it. Not only that but that He will provide the properly portioned timely fellowship with other believers to minister to us, and for us to minister to as well- exactly at the right timing in the right way.
Exit strategies and a little grace finally for the good pastors
Finally I confess I don't have a formula. I know what I'd like to see but I am not going to infiltrate your 'church' with an 8 step plan. I'd like to see domestic evangelism, teaching, and counseling done for free. A lot of it is... though we are still paying salaries to staff 'church leaders' so they can 'equip us' to do the work for free (don't get me started).
I would absolutely insist that every church put in place an immediate an aggressive plan to get out of debt. The building isn't a problem, it's the huge debt on the church's shoulders that is. NO CHURCH should be in debt.
I'd like to see congregations fund transition plans for their staff so they can get secular jobs and serve God's people for free. That would need to happen at the same time the congregation learned that their gifts are equally as important and equally as needed as the pastors. Or if the preachers really wanted to reach the lost, pay them to go to where the lost don't have people that will preach to them for free-make them missionaries. A pastor in America and a missionary in the bush have vastly different obligations; not to mention a pastor has an entire congregation ready to serve each other just sitting there...literally. Often times the best thing he can do is get out of the way anyhow. By the way, if you look in the bible at the role of pastor it does not describe the role we have exalted it to today. Okay, I have to veer again and throw this in:
I am not unsympathetic to pastors. They stepped into a machine that churned them out; and stepping out of the system is scary, not to mention the whopping suitcase of disillusionment they have to haul out with them. I would be upset too if I spent money to go to college and did everything I was told only to find it is all backwards at best. They have kids to feed too. These guys sincerely start out serving the Lord so we should help them, like we all help each other. I do have sympathy....not so much for the ones who let pride inflate their ego maniac head into a giant balloon...but for the rest I have sympathy.
Show them the money
And then this: I'd like to see all The Church take its resources and push it all, with all its might, to the frontlines- to the missionaries, to the orphans, to the impoverished, to the lost- in places that aren't right in our backyard and where supporting the people that need to get to them makes sense. Because I imagine it's hard for a man to get a job in Gambia while he is doing mission work there. So he probably could use our support.
Don't worry about me
I am not opposed to meeting with a group of believers intentionally again. Actually, I look forward to it. When our house isn't ripped apart, we might just host that very thing here. In the meantime God seems to be quite sufficient all on His own. We're tight, Him and me. Also, I have a handful of people in my life who are part of my very fabric, believers that I love so much it is hard to speak of them because there are no words. They may not meet the formula requirements set forth by any of the little local 'brides' but they are part of The One Church and they minister to me, and I hope I to them.
I've tried to spare you from a lot of quotes and keep this as direct as possible, but I want to end with an actual quote so you hear this from someone other than me. This is from And the Word Came with Power by Joanne Shelter- missionary to the Balangao people:
A couple of years ago Ignacio was visiting in the village of Madokayan and asked an old man why they were so easily persuaded by false religious teachings. The man said, "Son, we've been waiting for ages for someone to come and really teach us God's Word. Do you blame us if we believe false teachers? I remember going to Balangao once during your Bible conference; you there have learned more and more about God because you have his Word in your language. But what about us? We have nothing So, my son, don't ask me why- that's like putting the blame on us when we have no Book.