Charity, Holiness and Church-Planting
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1
Somewhere, someone has surely already told you that Jesus talks about money a lot in the Bible. More, in fact, than pretty much anything else with the possible exception of love. When Jesus talks about money, he exposes his courage and our fears.
Money makes us nervous. Mention it in church and folks become quickly suspicious. Images of T.V. evangelists dance in their heads — white teeth and mascara-stained tears coercing us to send every extra penny to a P.O. box.
Our nervousness and suspicion around those images may have more to do with us than with Jesus. As church planters, we need to find our own peace with the place of money in the Kingdom of God, so we don’t breed into the birth of a new church the fears and dysfunctions that so often accompany spiritual ventures.
In Matthew 6:1 (see above), Jesus defines the use of money as a spiritual issue rather than a financial issue. He talks to his followers about how to practice their righteousness. In Hebrew, the word for “righteousness” (Tzedakah or Tzedek) is also translated “charity” or “justice.” A Jewish audience would have heard the term and immediate connected it to self-giving service.
To give is to be holy; to be holy is to give.
Giving is a discipleship issue.
Giving is about holiness, which means that giving is a discipleship issue, a tangible, practical way of showing devotion to God. Since our work as planter and pastor is to make disciples, it is imperative that we offer both education and opportunity for helping people give as an act of worship. This process should begin with the inception of the church. It requires us, even in our own spirits, to link giving with holiness and not with need. As planters with a new vision and new energy, we have a compelling opportunity to help others become righteous givers.
I offer what I’ve learned in the crucible of practice, with the prayer that you will make better mistakes than I did. These thoughts are for planters who are just starting out on the journey, and for those who need course correction early on:
1. Teach your leaders to give from the very beginning and expect them to give consistently. Yes, leaders should be givers. Yes, you should review giving records at least once a year (preferably more often than that) to help you better understand the spiritual health of your people. And yes, your decision to review giving records should not be a secret. It is a responsible act of spiritual leadership that needs no defense. Anyone who takes offense should probably find a place outside leadership to serve.
2. Educate everyone on the spiritual implications of developing a giving heart. Folks only worry about things they don’t understand. Give them the theological underpinning that makes giving make sense from a discipleship perspective.
One lesson I learned about giving and holiness, I learned from my car. I had a problem with one of those little lights on the dash that come on to indicate something is wrong. This one said, “Service engine soon.” The first time I saw it, I asked the guys at the oil-change place to check it. They hooked up a little machine that gave them a code for the problem, then they poke around a little. Finally, they proclaimed that the light needed to be turned off! And that’s what they did. They turned the light off and told me to watch to see if it came on again.
From then on (because I’m not the brightest bulb in the car-repair world), that’s how I handled the little light. Every few months, it would light up, and I would stop by the oil-change place and they’d turn it off for me. Eventually, though, that solution no longer worked. The light came on and stayed on. And then I began to hear unfortunate noises. That’s when I had to take the car to an actual mechanic, who told me that a gasket deep inside the engine (one of those hard-to-get-to gaskets that costs money to find) had dry-rotted. He also informed me that if I’d ignored it for much longer, I’d have ruined the engine.
Most of Jesus’ teachings on money and giving have this same flavor. He speaks as someone who knows how we are wired and how our engines work. He warns us not to ignore warning signs like greed or stinginess or hard-heartedness toward real needs. He tells us that those signs indicate something serious deep within our spiritual “engines.” They are not disconnected from our wiring somehow. To the contrary, they ought to give us cause for concern. If we continue to ignore the signs, we can end up doing serious damage to our spirits.
We aren’t wired for self-serving behavior. We are wired to holy-fy God. We’ve been given this great responsibility of partnership with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth. When we as planters teach people to give, and when we give them opportunity to invest in Kingdom work, we help become healthy, committed disciples. We empower them to worship the Father.
What if my people aren’t there yet?
If you’re doing church-planting right, you’ll attract a fair number of non-believers and new believers who may not come on board ready to give. I have found that bringing new believers to the place of giving takes longer and costs more than I had ever imagined it would. Meanwhile, the cost of ministry goes on. Bills come due every month. Salaries must be paid. The need required me to reach beyond the walls and seek partners in ministry.
Should you also seek givers beyond your core team or initial congregation? Absolutely! How do you do that? Here are a few thoughts that helped me when I got started:
1. You’re only as good as your list. This is a sales maxim that holds true in every sphere of life. Keep accurate records of everyone you are grooming spiritually. Know when you’ve last been in touch. Make regular contact. Keep up with changes in their contact info. You can’t disciple someone if you don’t know how to get in touch with them.
2. Speak any time you’re asked to speak. This was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. I still speak every time I’m asked, if it is at all possible. When I first got started, I actively promoted my vision at Rotary Clubs, women’s groups, Chamber of Commerce events and any other venue where people met regularly and invited speakers in. You never know who will be in that audience, or who God is cultivating to become part of your ministry.
3. Send a quick monthly “story” to everyone who sends you a Christmas card. Send a longer annual report. Stay in touch, especially through stories. No success story should go untold.
4. Ask current donors who they might know. Meet with every person whose name you are given. Share the vision and the stories. Meet one on one or in groups — whatever works. When I first started, I’d share the vision with someone, then ask who they knew who might like to hear what I’d just shared. Then I’d enlist that person to set up a meeting. The largest donor to our ministry (who not only doesn’t attend our church, but doesn’t even live in our city) has introduced me to two other major donors. What a blessing they have been to us, even as I have been able to speak spiritually into their lives.
5. Assume that someone who has given money is interested. One of the biggest lies of the enemy is that you’re “bothering people” if you are in touch too often. You’re not bothering them. You’re keeping them in the loop. Folks who give money want to hear that they are investing in something that is successful. Use stories to challenge your donors. “If this meth addict who came to our church saw Jesus and surrendered his life, then maybe its time for you to re-think and re-commit to your own life in Christ.” It has been such a privilege to witness to some of our outside donors, to walk with them through health crises, to receive their prayer requests and to talk with them about the holy use of money. Giving truly is a discipleship issue and by connecting at the point of giving, donors allow us to speak into their lives from that place.
6. Visit every church in the area. Ask for money. Some churches will give; he rest of them will at least be grateful you kept them in the loop. Not only did I visit with every pastor in our area who allowed me the time, but I became a prayer partner with one of our sister churches. That prayer partnership transformed a suspicious, fearful congregation into an enthusiastic supporter of our ministry. Another church purchased our chairs. Yet another church has joined us in mission on more than one occasion. Those early visits were a great way to invest my time.
7. Ask community leaders who in the area has an interest in the kind of ministry you’re working on. Recovery? With the poor? Evangelism? Be specific. There are people looking for ministries to invest in, who will not go out and start it themselves. You may be their link to living out their calling. We purchased our building from one such person — a community leader who always wanted to see a church like ours contributing as we do.
8. What about fund raisers? I believe they kill real growth. Fund-raisers give the illusion that you’re always asking for money and they rarely raise much money. They also make giving about money rather than about discipleship. Mostly, it seems to me they wear people out. Instead, make a strategic plan for funding your vision by growing disciples who connect holiness with giving, then invest the time it takes for real growth to happen.
Make disciples, not money.
It is so tempting, as a new church planter, to operate out of a spirit of scarcity, which is really a spirit of fear. But we serve a God who the Bible says owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I have watched Him provide over and over again in the most miraculous ways for the things close to His heart. So we step out in faith, trusting what Jesus says: “Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”
That is a spirit of abundance.
May God bless you with that spirit as you seek to serve him by planting new works in his vineyard.