This is the seventh chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first six parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.
Money, money, money, if only I had enough money.
I started college in the Fall of 1980. I enrolled in a small Christian school called Grand Canyon College (now a university). It was inexpensive when compared to many other private schools, which is to say it is expensive when compared to most state sponsored schools. I took out student loans to pay for my education. I am still paying off those loans.
I transferred to Baylor University in 1982. It is a magnificent school. It is also quite a bargain when compared to comparable public universities. It remains quite expensive. I’m still paying off those loans as well.
Unless you’re a mega-church pastor with a book deal, you are not going to make a lot of money doing ministry (assuming you stay honest). Until recently I’ve been paying into a retirement account. I started investing small amounts in this annuity when I entered full-time ministry in 1992. I stopped paying into it because I cannot afford it at this time. No big deal, since I wouldn’t be able to retire for even a full year on what’s in the account. Many ministers in the denomination with which our church cooperates cannot retire comfortably.
When I entered seminary I started carrying medical insurance through the denomination. This year I had to stop paying for that too. It was a good policy, but it has become increasingly cost-prohibitive as I’ve grow older. To top it off, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will not pay for hearing aids. You can complain all you want about Obamacare, but it had nothing to do with this situation. Something needs to be done for people to be able to afford to go to the doctor.
I’d just enjoy having the funds to to pay the rent on our church building every month. It would be wonderful to be able to support more missions, and start some churches. Ministry requires money.
I refuse to manipulate or take advantage of people in order to collect more donations. I had a worldly-wise member who told me one time: “tend the sheep, milk the goats.” This means use the people who give larger amounts of money, even if they are cantankerous, but focus your energy on those whom you’ve been called to shepherd. The temptation to do this is not a problem for me. People who don’t like me, just leave without further ado, and I don’t go chasing them down.
I will not make visitors feel like they should give. I don’t keep tabs on which members are giving either. This may seem impractical, even foolish. However, many people are turned-off about church and Christianity because of preachers who constantly ask for money.
I do believe in tithing. I didn’t for a long time. I used to think it was legalism. Oh, I gave. I felt like quite the sacrificial youth minister when I would buy things our ministry needed. What I discovered is, that’s not the same thing. I read a book by Robert Morris called The Blessed Life wherein the mega-church pastor demonstrated that the tithe represents giving the first and best to God. Giving the tithe was practiced before the Law of Moses, most notably when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils he took in a battle (check Genesis 14:18-20). In other words, the tithe is an act of worship, not an attempt to please God by keeping the Law.
My tithing affects the entire church. They don’t realize it, but since the pastor got serious about tithing consistently about 10 years ago, our finances improved remarkably. I also started taking up an offering regularly during the worship service around this same time. Prior to that I’d been known to forget to ask for an offering at times.
We’ve gone through some difficult periods in my church, but God’s always pulled us through. I am grateful. I’d just like to stop having to worry about where the money will come from to pay all of the bills. In the last year and a half I’ve been depressed about this issue many times.
Honestly, I’ve been ready to leave the ministry and do something else. Really. Money problems will burn a minister out fast, and they can end a church. I told God that I’d quit if that’s what he wanted. I told him I’d teach school, or work for someone else, whether in our out of ministry. I just want to do God’s will. If I’m the problem, then remove the problem. No problem.
Every Sunday church attendance is a moratorium on my preaching. One week we have a full house. I preach to challenge or encourage or teach. It seems people are responsive. The next week we have half as many people in attendance. This is depressing, but it’s also a great burden because we have to pay the bills. I wonder, “where is the money going to come from?”
Don’t get me wrong, we have an amazing small core of individuals and families who do all they can to support our church. I have to worry when anyone leaves because it may mean we cannot pay our rent, support a mission, or give as much to the needy. I’d love to pay other ministers in our church who could use some help. This may not happen if people leave for the big church down the street.
So, why do I continue? I believe. I trust God. This will not continue. It cannot. It is a test. Will I, will we, stay faithful, or quit? Will I believe the promises in God’s Word? I am choosing to say yes, even though there are confounding variables and contradictory evidence at times.
Recently we’ve seen a number of people commit their lives to Christ. That is encouraging. Will they keep the commitment? In other words, do they really have faith? That’s not my call. However, it contributes to whether this church will continue to grow. I read a quote by Rick Warren today (I used to discount Rick Warren’s ministry as too unlike ours to be helpful. Actually, I’m just jealous). He spoke to pastors about their churches when he said, “You’re either a Risk taker, a Caretaker, or an Undertaker.” The last two are not good. A Caretaker is just keeping the status quo, keeping the members happy, not doing anything to elicit growth. An Undertaker is shepherding a dying church. Heaven forbid! So, I’ll pray about where and when and how to take risks to bring about growth.
I’ll end with some of those promises.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19, NASB)
“Honor the Lord from your wealth
And from the first of all your produce;
So your barns will be filled with plenty
And your vats will overflow with new wine.”
(Proverbs 3:9-10, NASB)
“Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
(Luke 6:38, NASB)
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
(2 Corinthians 9:7-11, NIV)
I believe Lord, help my unbelief (and unfaithfulness).