the weblog of Alan Knox

But I gave at church

Posted by on Nov 15, 2007 in discipleship, service, synchroblog | 11 comments

This post is part of a synchroblog concerning “Money and the Church”. I recently wrote a blog series on paying a salary to elders/pastors ,which would also go along with this synchroblog (see my post “Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?” for a summary of my argument and links to the argument details). However, for this synchroblog, I decided to go in a different direction. For this post I want to think about this question: How does a church – that is a group of believers – balance the corporate and individual responsibility of being good stewards of money? Also, I want to share an idea that some in the church came up with as a way to balance corporate and individual responsibilities of stewardship.

First, stewardship is a recognition that we – as God’s people – do not actually own anything that we possess. Instead, God is the owner, and we are stewards. Thus, we are responsible for using everything that we have in a manner worthy of and pleasing to God.

Second, stewardship is primarily a personal responsibility, as are other aspects of obedience. I cannot obey God for someone else, and someone else cannot obey God on my behalf. In the same way, I cannot be a steward of something that God has given to someone else, and other people are not responsible for stewarding those things that God has given to me. Of course, if someone gives me something – money, property, time, etc. – it is then my responsibility to be a good steward of those things that have been given to me.

Finally, if a group of people agree together to certain financial commitments, then they are corporately responsible – that is, responsible together – to meet those commitments. This is where most churches find themselves. They have corporate responsibilities to pay for buildings and other capital expenses, literature, salaries, benefits, etc. These types of expenses are rarely questioned and are usually considered to be necessary for a church – that is, a group of believers. In fact, many believers are taught that giving toward these corporate commitments is the way or at least the primary way of fulfilling financial stewardship.

However, there is a danger when considering corporate commitments. All corporate commitments are not biblical responsibilities. In fact, many church organizations have attempted to take personal responsibilities away from individuals and place them under the umbrella of the organization. Thus, many church organizations now take on benevolence and hospitality and service, such that the organization feels that the individual is obedient to God when the individual gives to the church organization. The church organization becomes a service middleman, obeying God as a representative of the individual. Is this a valid function of a church? If a person gives all of her money to a church organization is she actually obeying God?

As we examine the issues of corporate and personal responsibilities, let’s recognize that Scripture rarely – if ever – deals with the corporate aspect of stewardship. We only see instances in Scripture where people pool their money or possessions together for specific purposes, such as helping those who are in need (Acts 4:34-35; 1 Cor 16:1-3; etc.) or those who are travelling away from home to spread the gospel (Phil 4:14-17). We do not see instances of churches pooling together their money for their own benefit, in order to store the money in a bank account, or in order to provide for future needs.

However, we do see several instances where individuals are given the responsibility to personally provide for the needs of others. Here are a couple of passages in particular:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

There are other passages which deal with giving, doing charitable deeds, showing mercy, offering hospitality, providing food and drink – all of these are the personal responsibility of each follower of Jesus Christ. No one can obey for someone else. No group or church can obey on behalf of the individual Christian.

In many churches and in the minds of many Christians, the biblical concept of “use your money to provide for the needs of those around you” has been replaced with the concept of “put all of your money in the offering plate and let us decide how best to use it”. However, we should understand that putting all of our money into an offering plate is not a biblical teaching, and neither does it remove the responsibility from the individual for taking care of the needs of people that God brings into their lives.

I think that James might deal with this concept as follows: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘I put all of my money in the offering plate. Go talk to the benevolence committee and see if you are worthy of help,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” Perhaps, John would respond to this concept as follow: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and puts it all in an offering plate without considering his brother in need, and so closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

Recently, our church struggled with the balance between the corporate responsibilities and individual responsibilities of stewardship. The church had selected a few people to discuss these ideas and suggest a budget to help us meet corporate responsibilities as well as provide individuals with the means of meeting their personal stewardship responsibilities.

The group came up with a budget that was very different from anything that I have seen before – although, perhaps others have done something similar. I don’t think any of the people came into their meetings with this budget in mind. In fact, I know there were some differences of opinion in how to handle the money and the budget. I was not part of this group, but I was excited to see these people work together to come up with this concept.

According to this new budget – which was just approved by the church – we will take care of corporate responsibilities through our corporate offering. They removed everything from the budget that should be considered a personal responsibility. Since we have very little overhead and very few corporate expenses, the budget came to under $40 per person per month. This is the extent of our budget. Everyone knows that this amount is all that they are responsible for giving toward the “corporate budget”.

However, we all also understand that this is not the extent of our stewardship. We are individually responsible for giving to people and ministries as God leads us. Some of us are involved in ministries to children, and it makes sense that God would want them to use their money in those ministries. Others are involved in ministries overseas, and again it would make sense that God would want them to use their money in those endeavors. Some are involved in evangelistic or community service projects, and again it makes sense that God would want these people to use the money that he gives them to support these endeavors.

We also know that there will be times when there are special needs that we will want to contribute to together – much like the offering for the Jerusalem church during the famine, and the offering for Paul during his travels. When we know of these needs, we will take up contributions specifically to meet these needs, much like we see the church doing in Scripture.

I’m not putting this forward as the only possible option for how the church should deal with money. I’m not even saying that this is a good example. However, this is the way that we have decided to deal with these stewardship issues. I am excited that we are recognizing that we have both corporate and individual responsibilities when it comes to stewardship, and that according to Scripture, the individual responsibilities outweigh the corporate. We are moving away from a model where people feel they are being obedient stewards by simply placing a check in an offering plate. Now, we must consider the needs of people that God brings into our lives and how he would want us to meet those needs both individually and corporately.

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The November Synchroblog is on the topic “Money and the Church”. Take the time to check out the contributions of the other bloggers who are taking part in this synchroblog:

The Check That Controls at Igneous Quill
Pushing The Camel: Why there might be more rich people in Heaven than in your local Church at Fernando’s desk
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes
Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz at Hello Said Jenelle
Zaque at Johnny Beloved
Walking with the Camels at Calacirian
Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody’s Got it Right About Money and The Church at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Wealth Amidst Powers at Theocity
Money and the Church: A Fulltime Story at The Pursuit
But I Gave at Church at The Assembling of the Church
Moving Out of Jesus Neighborhood at Be the Revolution
Money and the Church: why the big fuss? at Mike’s Musings
Coffee Hour Morality at One Hand Clapping
Bling Bling in the Holy of Holies at In Reba’s World
Magazinial Outreach at Decompressing Faith
Money’s too tight to mention at Out of the Cocoon
Bullshit at The Agent B Files
The Bourgeois Elephant in the Missional/Emergent Living Room at Headspace
When the Church Gives at Payneful Memories
Who, or What, Do You Worship at Charis Shalom
Greed at Hollow Again
Silver and Gold Have We – Oops! at Subversive Influence
Tithe Schmithe at Discombobula


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-15-2007

    The approach you’ve illustrated for breaking down the church budget seems really mature. I’ve been in (Baptist) churches where this sort of thing has been discussed, but the sticking point has always been the support of denomiational HQ and mission agencies. In fact that becomes something of a sore point.

    Almost all Christians I know give well over and above what they put in the plate on any Sunday. That’s not a message that gets much airtime.

  2. 11-15-2007

    A couple of things came to mind as I read your post.

    As to corporate discussions of money in scripture, what about the OT discussions about exactly how the tithes should be distributed to the priests and the poor?

    And as to the new budget. I think in some ways stuff like that is a good thing and we have played with ideas like that, but have run into a few issues. First in engaging in missional activities (like holding Christmas dinners for the poor) if the church budget doesn’t cover the expense, it is usually one or two people (including the Pastor) who personally bear the entire cost of the function. It makes doing anything regularlly very difficult.

    Secondly, do you guys not get the unending phone calls from strangers going through the church list in the phone book with some rehearsed story asking for money? Does the pastor just give personally to all these guys? Hang-up on them? Or is there still a church system in place to engage with those seeking help?

  3. 11-15-2007

    I like this post Alan, it seems to me that we either abdicate of grasp at responsibility within the church… there needs to be a mature and sensible balance.

  4. 11-15-2007

    Fernando,

    Actually, we do support the SBC missions agencies. I think one of the reasons that we can operate on such a tight budget, allowing more money to be freed up for missions and service, is that we do not pay staff, nor do we own buildlings.

    I agree that most Christians give above what they put in the plate. Our desire is to free up more money for these inidividuals to use to provide for the needs and opportunities that God brings into their lives, instead of keeping all the money is a bank account and then deciding later what to do with it.

    Julie,

    I appreciate your concerns, and our budget does address them. For example, within that tight budget we provide for fellowship meals. We are also planning to provide Christmas dinner for a poor neighborhood in a few weeks. The expense will be handled by the budget as well as the individuals, with the individuals providing all of the food.

    Also within the budget we have a monthly amount for emergency benevolence. Usually, however, we have found that benevolence is best handled on a case by case basis. Sometimes individuals take care of needs; sometimes we take up a special collection to meet needs.

    As far as the analogy with the OT priests… aren’t we all priests now? So, by our budget, we are providing more money for the priests – that is, all of us – to help the poor and needy.

    Finally… phone calls. No, we do not get phone calls, because we do not have a phone. I mean, each of us has a phone and many times cell phones as well. When someone calls needing help, they are calling someone they know. That person can decide whether to handle the need herself, to ask a few others to help, or to bring it up to the whole group for help.

    Sally,

    I’m glad that you found this post helpful. I think most Christians are caught in a cycle that I call “representative obedience”… we feel that we are obedient when the church has programs or commitees to handle a certain situation. I’m not sure that’s obedience.

    -Alan

  5. 11-15-2007

    By the way, for a good example of this kind of giving in action and the results, see Leah’s contribution to this synchroblog called When the church gives.

    -Alan

  6. 11-15-2007

    I love this concept and had not heard of it before. Good idea. I happen to know a good receptacle for missions giving. :) Great post.

  7. 11-15-2007

    Interesting about the phone calls. Officially our church phone is just my husband personal cell phone, but the number is given out so that those looking for a church can find us (we don’t have a building). Getting calls at midnight from angry strangers upset that we won’t give them $50 right that minute so they can go visit their sick grandma/dad/wife is always fun. Our policy is that any stranger asking for money has to come meet us at church at least once. With church “members” its way more relational.

  8. 11-15-2007

    Bryan,

    Thanks for the comment. I wish I could take credity for the idea, but I can’t. I’m interested to see how many different ways the people are able to serve and help others.

    Julie,

    I’ve had people approach me for money, and I know that others among the church here have as well. I usually talk to them, find out what their need is, and then try to meet that need. Money is rarely the true need. When the need is food, then I offer to buy them food. When there is a real need for money – rent, utilities, etc. – then that has to also be handled on a case by case basis. I agree that many times these kinds of phone calls and confrontations are not pleasant, but I’m sure you have had many great opportunities to discuss and demonstrate the love of God because of them.

    -Alan

  9. 11-16-2007

    I would really like to track along to see how your local-assembling continues to work with the new budget. It sounds like we could learn a lot from what’s going on with you people.

  10. 11-17-2007

    Alan–

    I would find it thrilling to be part of an assembly with a budget structured this way.

    To be given back the trust, and the responsibility, to faithfully steward God’s money as He leads would, I imagine, open each believer’s eyes more to the needs and opportunities around us. It would require a renewed sensitivity to the Spirit’s promptings, and would yield a fresh experience of God’s work in and through the individual givers and receivers alike.

    The typical model of ‘representative obedience’ as you name it, too easily leaves us with the feeling that once we have dropped our check in the plate, we’ve done our financial duty, and what’s left in our wallets is ‘ours’. That mindset produces selfishness, complacency, and even a resentment toward others whose needs escape the carefully crafted church budget. After all, if it isn’t in the budget, can it really be a legitimate need?

    Kathy J

    Kathy J

  11. 11-17-2007

    Jenelle,

    I will try to remember to post updates occasionally. Like I said, this is probably not for everyone. But, I agree that we should be able to learn from one another.

    Kathy J,

    Thank you for adding to my thoughts here. Yes, I’m hopeful that many people will seek God’s will in how to use their money to serve others. But, there is great comfort in placing a check in an offering plate, and it takes great trust to do otherwise.

    -Alan