EN article: We need more than words to see churches planted, established and supported

I have been asked to write a regular column for Evangelicals Now. The latest article (my original, unedited version) is below.

Talk, they say, is cheap. But it’s not really is it? My Dad recently reminded me of a very expensive phone call I apparently placed to America (I have no memory of doing so). I don’t know who I was ringing, but Dad grabbed the receiver to hear the person at the other end of the line tell him he has ‘a very polite little boy.’ My Dad was not nearly so polite when the phone bill landed! Equally, nobody appears to have let on to Vodafone that talk is cheap, as they burn a monthly hole in my pocket. Talk is, in fact, often very expensive. Except, much like my phone call to America, we are frequently not the ones who pay for our cheap words.

Of course, ‘talk is cheap’ is about saying grand things and doing nothing about them. I can say I’ll do all sorts but if I don’t actually make good on them, what has it really cost me? Talk is cheap for me. But the problem with my cheap words is that they might impact quite severely on you. Let’s just think about one example.

There has been a positive push to see more churches planted, revitalised and supported in recent years. You would be hard pressed to find people in the church who say anything other than that we want to see strong, gospel churches planted where there are currently none. But when so few put their money where their mouth is, it can appear to be a case of talk being cheap.

But that is not where the issue starts and ends. Sometimes people say big things on which they never deliver, but the impact of their doing nothing is negligible. Yet when we talk big about church planting, revitalisation and support, the consequences are very costly indeed. They may not cost us anything, but the impact is serious for others.

I am so tired of hearing about pastors and their families struggling to scratch out a living for their ministry. They spend their time worried about the very real possibility of losing their job because they can’t get the support. They think about whether they can become bi-vocational even though they know that any job they might pick up won’t cover the shortfall and will take them away from their ministry which loses further momentum. That is a heavy weight to bear. Just imagine going into work every day, for years, wondering whether your job will be there tomorrow?

Other churches go under altogether, so we lose gospel witness in an area. They couldn’t support themselves because all of their people come from backgrounds where they have nothing to give. They may see the gospel take root in the lives of people in their communities, but they too are saved from deprived backgrounds and can’t help the church financially. Churches nearby, meanwhile, talk a good game about supporting such churches, and spend hours poring over whether to bung the struggling place down the road £500 – eventually deciding not to help – whilst, at the same meeting, sign off thousands of pounds to relay the meeting hall carpets.

Worst of all, unbelievers who knew engaged with the church suddenly lose their only access to gospel content. For those who can no longer encounter the life-saving gospel, the eternal consequences are far from cheap! So often we talk a good game, but the reality of actual support never comes.

When we say that we want to see the nation reached for Christ, do we really mean it? When we say we want to see churches planted, established and supported, what evidence is there that this is true? We need to put out money where our mouths are. All our talk might be cheap for us, but it carries a massive cost for others. For all our talk, the Apostle John has some words for us: ‘let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).