Somebody floated an interesting question to me this week that I had always assumed had such an obvious answer that nobody could possibly think otherwise. Apparently, however, there are some who think quite differently on the issue to me. The question was some version of the following:
I have known of trust funds that gave bursaries that would not give if you tithed for missions on your budget because they argued you were not fully using the resources God was giving you for your Gospel mission. What do you make of that -and what would happen if churches that were either just making ends meet or running a deficit took that view?
As I say, I found the premise of the question incredible. Don’t all churches have a missions budget? Even the poorest churches give to the work of missions from whatever they have, don’t they? Apparently they don’t. Or, if they would, some encourage them not to do so.
What I find utterly iniquitous is the stated position that a bursary granting body wouldn’t even consider your church for support if you dared to give to the work of mission. What exactly are these people trying to encourage?
It would seem a refusal to give to missions smacks of a ‘me first’ approach to the kingdom of God. It feels a little like we’re saying my money is required to fund my church and my needs trump all else. It is a shocking approach to mission, not least because none of it is our money and nor is it our mission. The money is the Lord’s, graciously granted to us in his sovereign goodness. Likewise, the mission is his too. Oldham Bethel Church and its work can save nobody; the Lord is the only one capable of doing that. The idea that we can keep resources for the Lord’s work in our area, at the expense of another, rather implies the entire mission isn’t the Lord’s to begin with. Such a position actively encourages gospel stinginess and says, quite literally, to Hell with everyone else.
The approach outlined in the question sounds more like a view dreamt up by a middle class accountant or business manager than one based on any sort of gospel priority. It rather suggests the widow should have kept her mite because her giving was shockingly bad stewardship. Apparently, Jesus should have condemned her for giving, foolish woman!
But doesn’t Paul encourage all people to give generously? Don’t we encourage even the poorest individuals in our churches to give generously as the Lord has (or hasn’t, as the case may be) prospered them? If we (rightly) point our very poorest church members to those passages that insist they ought to give, why should poorer churches be exempt?
Such a position gives absolutely no room for faith. For example, most of the monthly deficit at Oldham Bethel Church is a result of their having, in faith, appointed a full-time pastor. The church rightly believe that the Lord will provide for the needs of the church if they seek to use the resources they have for the good of the kingdom. For that reason, the church spend money on in-house ministry, regular evangelism and – yes – supporting missions financially despite our obvious financial deficit.
The point is that although we run at a monthly deficit (that is, our monthly outgoings outstrip our monthly income), we do have money. Our people do give and we do have reserve funds on which we are drawing. Obviously, if things stay as they are, we will eventually go bust sometime in the next three years. Nonetheless, we are not in debt and we do have some income. To be consistent with scripture, is it not right for us to give as the Lord has prospered us? We may not be able to give as much as some but we do have some income from which we can and rightly should give.
The fact is, if we are asking people to be generous by supporting us, is it not incumbent on us to be generous? If we are asking people to give out of gospel concern, isn’t it right that we give out of gospel concern? If we are asking people to care about the work of mission by supporting us, shouldn’t we care about the work of mission by supporting others?
Such stipulations not to give in order to receive are so anti-gospel I can hardly believe a Christian organisation would moot them. They encourage gospel selfishness, a feathering of one’s own nest at the expense of others who may be even worse off, and smack of a mindset that owes more to middle class money management than gospel-centred generosity. What is more, if most churches took the view that we cannot act unless we have the resources to do so, the overwhelming majority of gospel work in the world would never have taken place at all.
Of course poorer churches should support mission. It is a statement of intent that the Lord’s work is what matters, not propping up our own empire. It is a recognition that the money we have comes from the Lord and should, therefore, be used for the Lord’s work wherever that may be. It helps to cultivate gospel generosity. Moreover, it shames many richer churches who should be helping. If even we – with our minimal income and monthly deficit – can give to the work of mission, surely any church can and should?
It is a horrible, anti-gospel position that suggests we should be stingy and self-centred with the Lord’s money before anyone will offer help to us. I think the approach implies a selfish, faithless approach to mission and partnership. I cannot see any biblical mandate for it and plenty of biblical warrant to actively eschew it. It sounds like the decision of a business manager/accountant rather than one borne out of any gospel-centred, faith-based concern.
Any gospel-centred granting body that insists on such a stipulation is not worthy of the name. They perhaps ought to run the strapline, ‘we give so you don’t have to’.