I recently had a conversation with someone who has quite a bit of influence on the radio. When I told him I resigned as a pastor, he asked if I go to church I skirted around my answer, but he interrupted, “Me neither.” While taken back, I felt like I had an immediate confidant. He quipped, “churches are good for the economy because they provide jobs.” What?!

I mean, I believed in the local church as the hope for the world. But as he said it, I thought he had a really good point. He argued we ought to be serving those in need more than serving ourselves. He said we need to give to the poor and downtrodden as Jesus seemed to indicate. Just serve the poor and those in need! Paul certainly encouraged giving to the ministry (his and other house churches), but are our churches serving the poor like Jesus longed for us to? Or are we serving ourselves?

Money

I’ve heard of a number of churches that give to the poor and those in need out of “suprise money,” seemingly masked by the churchy word, “faith.” While I believe God can provide through those means, shouldn’t we be first giving to the poor out of what we have to begin with … and then to the church (check out Luke 11:42)? I mean, how many churches’ budgets are mostly designated to the poor those specifically in need? Very few churches are “poor,” and even less have a lot of poor people attending them. So is the church really serving the poor and needy locally, regionally and globally? There are more needs than just physical and spiritual – emotional, relational must be included – especially in defunct America. And I know churches are doing what they can to meet those needs, but now looking from the outside, I just wonder about efficiency and effectiveness. I guess I’ve always questioned this (and I know it’s probably a huge relief to some that me and my issues are no longer present).

So much donated dollars goes to overhead costs. The percentage of our money is rarely 50% actually going to those in need. Especially in churches. And church salaries are such that many pastors make more than their congregants (and again, the parishoners are not necessarily poor).

According to salary.com (and I’ve seen many other resources, too), the median Pastor’s salary is over $85,000. Particularly in my area, it’s $90,525. Really? Having served in ministry for 12 years and aware of this, I’m still flabbergasted. The median salary for California is $59,000. So . . . good for jobs? At least for pastors. Admin Assistants’ median was $13/hr & youth pastors/children’s directors was $40k ($27k for women – and that’s a whole new discussion)/$30k respectively. All this depends on on size of church and location, of course, but I tended to look towards the Northern California region and size of the church in which I served.

Hmmm… this all seems interesting when you compare those numbers. Granted you can argue that ministers are so sacrificing and use their own money for ministry dollars, but even still . . . I just have a hard time with all of this. I have been blessed by the Church in many ways, but I constantly struggled with these numbers even as I served. It even became a huge contributor in my stepping down. I couldn’t justify the money I received yet was told, “You’re not getting enough.”

Now that I’m out of church ministry, it has caused me to really question what the church is about and what it’s really doing. I mean, are we just serving ourselves? I think of not only salaries, but events, bills, rent, etc. It’s mostly all going to the flock. And how many needy join the flock on a regular basis? Certainly churches vary on their effectiveness of this, but I wonder: is a church supposed to have a budget similar to our personal budgets? I like the idea of saving at least 10%, giving away at least 10% and operating on 80%. But even that seems peculiar personally. If a church uses this model, is it best? I’ve heard it argued by some great leaders that churches ought to not cross the 50% threshold for staff. And I’ve heard from others that growing churches put 70-80% of God’s money towards staff. I honestly wrestle to the point of strongly disagreeing and questioning intensely all this moneyspeak.

Some say that the church is all about money. I would definitely disagree. I’ve never been a part of a body that was more focused on money than another pure-hearted motive. I’m sure there’s some out there, but I’ve not experienced it. I think I get more frustrated because for so many different reasons we don’t make the tough decisions monetarily and fall into some sort of trap either justifying, rationalizing or stressing about it and so overemphasizing it. Money is necessary for every ministry & a worker ought to be paid (pastors love to quote 1 Tim. 5:18). And ministry service is tough. Very tough. But I do question the discernment and system of figuring out wages for people, ministries, events, etc.

What about bi-vocational ministers and churches that truly serve with an amount that reflects outreach more than inreach? I’m a bit more prone to feel comfortable with this model, but even with that I wonder how many other resources (time, energy, money) are used to, again, mostly serve ourselves? Is this right? Biblical? We do need to spend time on ourselves, I’m not dismissing that. Personally. Organizationally. Communally. We need to think through this, though. How? How much? And when we do, are we patting ourselves on the back for something that was actually more about us than the heart of the gospel?

When I first started giving money to the church in junior high, I took it very seriously as if it were going into God’s hands in heaven; it was a holy act. It is. I think we need to seriously consider the church’s budget, God’s money, with that perspective. I went back and forth in my obedience to this as a minister. I don’t like the idea of tithing as much as giving of firstfruits (probably one of my favorite messages I relayed was on this idea. It’s lost it with all the others on my hard drive.) Sadly we go from giving faith like a child to more “educated,” seeing and judging where the dollars are distributed. While it’s never perfect, we often have concerns. In fact, I guarantee no leadership has ever agreed completely on any church budget if you were to look in their heart of hearts.

It’s faux pas to discuss money with religion. But it’s a huge hindrance for many and concern for almost everyone. It’s almost as if we want to know the details but simultaneously don’t. I am so thankful that I never saw who pledged, gave or didn’t at the church. Leaders should not be given those specifics. Those who “need” them may have some control issues.

Money is necessary for anything to operate. Churches need to operate and thus need money. It’s a tough battle within the context of each individual body. Many have left local churches, and even the faith, because of money. Some times it was probably wise. Other times it may have been emotional. No church is perfect. No church budget is. And it is tough (impossible without God) to handle God’s money as broken, sinful people.

Mission

One necessary part of a church you can’t do by yourself is: equally yoked community/fellowship. We need to gather as believers. Reading Acts recently affirms that big time, but is the local church how it’s come to exist in the 21st century what the early apostles would imagine it would become? I’m beginning to seriously wonder. You actually might be able to in the context of your home, work or neighborhood; you may even be able to include communal worship in this. Being with others is crucial, especially those who are like-minded. But again, is a church necessary to do it? Is church as we see it today just the best we’ve come up with over the course of history? Or is it just how it’s evolved? (I know, I just mentioned evolution, this is now clearly heretical!)

Now, I repeat that I believed that the local church is the hope of the world. But I think I stand corrected that Jesus actually is. And while the church can be a conduit of Jesus causing people to glorify Himself, I would argue strongly that the Church does far more for itself than it does for others. I know, despite this pejorative attitude, God does so much kingdom work through the Church: people are saved from their sins through Jesus’ love, the good news is preached, kingdom work is done, saints become equipped, and people are entertained. I simply question the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution it has become. Timothy Keller (who I consider my “pastor-teacher” at this time) says his church Redeemer’s goals are to help facilitate: personal conversion, community formation, social justice and culture changing. I like that. I think that’s a great goal on paper. Two inreaches and two outreaches. I don’t know how they carry that out, but it supports my concerns.

What’s the purpose in gathering? I mean, this is what most people thing of when they think of “church,” the worship service. What would you say a church service is for? I think for most it would be to fellowship with others, focus on the Word of God and leave a changed person. Having been engaged in the leadership of more than a few worship services, usually there is a lot of strategy in it (as least I believe[d]) there should have been). Bringing people into worship through song to get their mind and emotions thinking on God, sharing what’s going on in the body, prayer, hearing God’s Word and leaving changed are often the goals. And this applies to services for 3 year olds to 103 year olds. What I don’t often hear in planning for such gatherings is the most important question: how can we bring glory to God and make that be our primary focus? It seems as if all that is done is for people. That’s not a bad thing. I mean, attempting to usher people into God’s presence, communicating great opportunities to serve or fellowship, having a “godly” person pray for all the people, hearing from the Word of God (or opinions from someone we think is “godly”), [entertaining people, giving people what they want], and changing people is great! But do we leave thinking, “I’m a better person than when I can in here,” “God did a great work in that service,” or “God was praised and He was given glory – I believe He was honored by our offering of praise, money, opportunities of fellowship and service, fervent prayer and seeking of His Word!” (funny, I totally forgot about money – that is a HUGE thing for many – obviously not a biggie to me in the context of services as I totally forgot to mention it)?
More often than not our thinking going in to a service of some sort is first on our selves: what do I have to do, what went on in my week I need to bring before God, what am I going to get out of this, who do I need to talk to today, what time do I need to be out of here by to get to the next thing? How much do I need to give to get by? A few years ago I began praying on Saturday nights (and even Fridays) that God would prepare our hearts for worship on Sunday. I think our preparation should be more like, “How does God want me to prepare myself to worship him fully (sleep, food, etc.)? What would demonstrate to God He is worthy of all we have to offer (arriving on time, attention solely focused on Him, maybe praying beforehand that He be glorified)? And maybe even meditating on the Lord’s prayer or other Scripture (even that which will be lifted up that morning).”
Are these unrealistic thoughts and emphases? I think more than point the finger and say, “you’re just in it for yourself,” I want to think of what the point of church is, go extreme in my arguments on what we can do to make it more about Him (for the leaders to the first-time visitor), and bring us back to the main point of any service, ministry or Christian worldview – gazing upon on the glory of God. In doing so we become humbled, joyful, trusting saints trying to make the One who makes all things possible know how much we value Him. But that’s not why we do it . We seek to love Him for Him.

Message

I used to think years ago that peaching would become a lost art in our fast-paced, MTV-quick-moving-camera-shot, impatient, can-only-sit-still-for-20-minute, culture. But as I’ve read Acts, preaching was a huge part in reaching the Jews and Gentiles who desperately needed to hear the Gospel of Jesus: love, sacrifice, love, humility, love, hope, love, eternity, love, God. Was there preaching to the believers as well? I imagine quite of bit of sharing could have come off as preaching – and maybe church leaders did preach in the context of teaching/training/correcting. But then again, they lived in a Greek culture following Plato, Socrates, and other philosophers. They discussed, debated and argued in that culture almost like entertainment (see Acts 17 for more on that & how Paul used it). Maybe you can argue we haven’t changed much in our debating and criticizing of others in the political realm today.

So, is preaching good? Is that why we should go to [a particular] church? I mean, the preaching/speaking/teaching (however you want to word it), is probably the number 1 reason why (educated?) people choose their church – they are inspired by some message and/or they have the correct theology on whatever points the congregant sees as “deal breakers”. As a result, the preacher becomes the “star” of the church. I know I fell into this mindset & was humbled (and continue to be), in desiring to be that “celebrity.” This was even a problem in the early church when Peter was worshipped. So is celebrity preaching a problem? Certainly it can be. It’s a heart thing. And the context matters. Even Paul utilizes this accreditation in 2 Corinthians when he says, ““With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Cor. 8:18). Paul understood that people need to have credentials and the communicator may be why some listen or not to what is being communicated. There’s a great article on this by a blogger Kevin DeYoung.

Conclusion of sorts

So am I just bitter in all of this? Am I reverting to my old anabaptist service-first-minded ways? Am I jealous because I’m not a celebrity? Or am I on to something? Having mentioned these thoughts to some really intelligent people recently, I tend to think the latter. But I have no problem if I stand to be corrected. It is an important dialogue. Clearly my conclusion is that a church, ministry, or worldview must first and foremost be one that seeks to glorify God and lift Him up, being simultaneously humbled through brokenness, encouraged and inspired by the Spirit, and service (particularly the needy). Any biblical organization communicates this in its use of resources, emphasis in its communication, and energy and time spent in praxis.

I’ve begun re-thinking my whole philosophy and someone very close to me seems to think this is part of the work God is doing in me. I’m not a big fan of the Church right now (as if you didn’t notice up to this point). But like Ananias who was called to heal Paul in Acts, Jonah who didn’t want to go to Nineveh, Jeremiah who didn’t exactly love his calling (and the list goes on), I won’t say that God won’t call me again. I guess I just know I’m a totally different person with a completely different perspective serving the same God in much different ways and worldview. May we continue seeking God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in hopes that we can do that exclusively and life not be about us first.

4 thoughts on “On church: money, mission, message”

  1. Yeah, I think we are probably pretty much on the same page, too. And, just to clear things up, I didn’t mean to say you weren’t a part of the “Bride of Christ” because I don’t think a person who is in can get out without leaving Christ, but my wording wasn’t too clear. The point I intended may not pertain too much to your situation, but I was trying to say that I’ve known quite a few people who I think were gifted by God with a holy discontent for the ways things are in the Church/their church and that the discontentment was meant to drive them to help reform their church. Unfortunately, some of them just gave up on the church altogether, which isn’t just sad for them but also for the church that needs to hear the prophetic call that can help correct imbalances.

  2. I tend to agree. We are to be like Jesus. In Mathtew and Mark, Jesus had MANY encounters with people, but put of the 50+ encounters I believe only 3 of the encounters discussed happened in Church. I love singing praise with fellow believers, listening to the Word and daily applications, however it’s not about us, it’s about Him and reaching the world doesn’t happen (except a small percentage) inside the church building it happens by talking to and loving people out side the church.

  3. Thanks for these thoughts, man. I think you are really on to some great stuff, and I hope that your current disappointment with the Church doesn’t tempt you to give up on it. I know of quite a few people who have similar critiques of some of the flaws that show up in so many American-evangelical-suburban churches, and it has torn me up to see some of them abandon the Bride of Christ so deeply loved by our Lord. I really think that when the Holy Spirit is working in a person, causing you to think through this stuff and to weigh the good and the bad that have been jumbled together, that it is meant to be in service to the world by serving the Church. What I mean is, if everyone who begins to recognize besetting sins within the Church loses hope for the Church, then the very people that God may be raising up as agents of change are neglecting their responsibility and calling. While the Reformation certainly had its problems, I am grateful that Luther sought to reform the Church instead of giving it up, and his efforts were used by God to correct some major problems.

    I don’t want to be self-centered here, but as someone who has been hoping to serve the Kingdom as a church-planter and pastor for a while, I’ve been thinking about a lot of the things that you mention here and have hope for how the Church (or at least, one congregation of the Church at a time) might address some of these problems.

    On the issue of money, I completely agree that a pastor’s salary should approximate the average salary of church members (or perhaps the average salary of church households rather than per capita). The difficulty can be that, especially for those who have not come through a traditional denomination, so many pastors have funded themselves through undergrad and seminary educations and are left with a hefty debt that they acquired in hoping to serve the Church. I would suggest that a pastor earns a liveable wage for their family, and that includes being enough to help pay off the student debt. With that said, though, I think it is also a travesty that so often the different pastors at one church will make such different amounts of money. If a senior pastor, associate pastor, and youth pastor are all working full-time, I don’t understand how it can be justified that they are paid on a graduated scale like a business.

    But yes, I think churches do need to evaluate where there money goes more stringently. If a church has a campus, building, and facilities, those will obviously eat up quite a bit of the budget, but I think that many congregations could bring some holy imagination to the question of how they might use even the things they own to better serve the Kingdom of God. For instance, many churches have sizable chunks of their lots that are basically “yards” but that are not used for anything except lawn and some decorative shade trees. Why not tear that stuff out and plant fruit-bearing trees and develop the property into a community garden. The produce grown there could be put to good use in church fellowship meals (to which the surrounding community is invited) and extra produce could be given to low-income neighbors and food banks which are often really short on fresh and healthy produce. Church members who own their homes could even be encouraged to transform their lawns into the same pattern of fruit-bearing trees and gardens to help free of more of their own home budgets and also as a source from which to bless their neighbors.

    At my current church out in here in Princeton, we are rolling out a program that makes it easy for church members to share their goods and skills with one another with a sort of private/Craigslist-like church directory. People are encouraged to go on the website and catalog things they own that they would be willing to loan out, share, or give away for free (or to list needs), so that the church can increasingly live like the early Jerusalem church where things were held in common. Just recently, a family in the church had a tree fall down in their yard, and instead of having to buy or rent a chainsaw, they found one being shared on the church site and borrowed it. They saved a lot of money (which is more free now to go to Kingdom investments), the people who own the chainsaw were happy to see their idle tool getting used, and both families felt the blessing of fellowship over sharing. This not only frees up more of a congregation’s money to help apply to mission and the poor, but also is a form of worship in itself (of good stewardship) and for poor families in the church (we should always remember that the poor aren’t just “out there”) who get access to resources they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    I think that it would be easy to find ways to help serve the community with a church building as well, whether it means inviting the homeless to sleep in the building on winter nights, making the parking lot a safe place for those living out of cars to spend their nights, allowing outside groups to meet in church rooms (e.g. Boy scouts, AA), or maybe helping poor couples in the community to have great weddings on the cheap (church members could even make food and donate flowers from their yards as gifts of love to the couple).

    Talking about mission and message, while I think that you are dead on that when we gather on Sunday mornings we should be seeking to glorify God in word and song, I also think that Sunday is a key opportunity to help the church live out its mission to the world during the rest of the week. For a while now, I have read Ephesians 4 as saying that while pastor/teachers are obviously called to “shepherd” God’s people, much of this is done not simply as a ministry to the church members but in order to equip them to fulfill the work of the Church in their day-to-day life. Good teaching from God’s word will provide people with the opportunity to be molded by the Holy Spirit to have hearts more in line with God’s, which will help them to recognize the importance of loving and serving their neighbors both by bringing the Good News and through acts of loving service.

    I’m afraid I’ve written too much for one comment, but I look forward to hearing more from you and would love to keep this conversation going.

    1. Thanks, Sam. Miss you, brother. Well written. And I think if we were to sit down and discuss this we’d probably come to 99% agreement. Certainly I write out of a mix of emotion/reason/experience, but I hope/think also the Holy Spirit. While I don’t want to be someone who just whines about what’s wrong (we’re all good at that . . . but I’m REALLY GOOD), I think this is more just where I am than anything else. I know God’s been breaking me & I know the Church (including local churches) can be excellent (and possibly, in fact, necessary).

      When I wrote the word “poor” a lot in the article, I was thinking more than just monetary; needy physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. I agree there are many needy people in the church. Who’m I kidding? We’re all needy, no matter who steps foot in a gathering.

      I wholeheartedly agree about the loans. When I was serving, 7% of my gross money was going to student loans. After taxes, basically 10% of my money went to pay off the training I received. I asked if the church could help me, but I was told no. Now we can argue whether that training is necessary, but that’s not the topic at hand. I agree completely that churches may need to keep that in consideration. Some people have scholarships, donors, etc. to help them. Others (like my wife and I), get to pay loans until Jesus comes back. I am thankful we could do it, though. I have no regrets going to seminary.

      Ephesians 4 IS a calling, was what I felt passionate about and spoke of repeatedly, but I tried to do too much and I failed at equipping other than in services (which I argued in this post is not services’ primary goal).

      I love the Acts 2 idea your church is doing. I attempted to initiate that with my church, but like so many churches, unless the “star/celebrity” broadcasts it, folks don’t buy in. We used arkalmighty.com. Keep up the good work with that. I also love the community garden idea. Excellent stuff.

      In terms of no longer being the Bride of Christ, I believe I am fully part of the Church, but I wonder how effective/efficient (local) churches are. So often it seems like we’re doing/playing church not stepping back to see what we are really accomplishing and what our resources, fruit and emphasis really is.

      Love you, brother. Keep enjoying Jersey for me!

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