About a year ago, I wrote the post “But I gave at church” as part of a synchroblog. Our church had just decided on a novel budget (at least, it was novel to me). We decided to only included corporate responsibilities (such as rent) in our budget. We encouraged people to give specifically to other ministries, causes, and needy people. We’re still learning to work this budget for our corporate responsibilities, but people have been very excited about the freedom that they have to give as God directs.
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.