I don’t care how dire your situation: this practice of oppressing your members for cash has no biblical model. The church’s mission is to see to the needs of people, to pour the love of Jesus Christ into their lives. But the message of the church is routinely overshadowed by the anxiety over the collection plate: we know it’s coming. There is no record of Jesus having collected so much as a dime from anyone. If we took money out of religion we could save the world.

Reason 8: Money

Most people love going to a big church. For one thing, a big church is, well, big. It has a big choir. Usually, a big band. It has money and therefore resources. The best musicians want to play there. The best preachers want to preach there. Churches tend to be regarded in much the same way as retail chains: a big church tends to command more attention and, therefore, more respect than, say, a storefront. But the storefront church can be and often is on the front lines of ministry, there at street level, ground zero, while the big church tends to be somewhat disconnected from the community other than to tie up traffic and take up all of the parking spaces on Sunday. In a big church, we can be entertained. We can attend a big church in much the same way we attend the movies: anonymously and without major demands being made of our time, energy or money. The big church hardly knows whether you’re there or not and may not much care. The big church doesn’t really need your money. The big church usually has its own money from real estate and retail investments, certificates of deposits and so on. Big churches tend to have deep pockets and tend to be run like corporations. The pastor doesn’t usually know your name, and rarely if ever calls to see how you are. The small neighborhood church, on the other hand, may be struggling. They know, for sure, when you’re not there because your absence hits them right in the wallet. The pastor may go without a paycheck because the light bill is due. The place is kind of run down because there’s no budget for capital improvements. There’s likely no musician at all because there’s no money to pay one. There may not be a choir, just a few faithful tone-deaf folk willing to serve. The pastor may not be the greatest orator, but he’s at your house helping you repair that hole in your fence.

None of the above is intended as an indictment against the big church, but I need to ask the question: did God intend for us to build these big mega-ministries? Did He intend for our pastors to elevate themselves, for no apparent reason, to “bishop,” to live in luxury, wearing platinum and diamonds and driving fabulous luxury vehicles? Was this part of the plan of Calvary? Seems to me, the money raised and spent in huge mega-churches could be more effectively used if, instead of one huge church, you had five moderate-sized ones planted strategically across the city. Not storefronts, but good-sized congregations big enough to be effective but small enough for the pastor to actually know the people he is pastoring. I am not seeing the logic of the 21,000-member mega church beyond its entertainment value and its status within the community. The largest recorded crowd Jesus preached to was five thousand men [Matt 14], and even that was nearly unmanageable until he got them fed.

It seems to me the church’s mission is to see to the needs of people, to pour the love of Jesus Christ into their lives and communities. I’m not sure how that is better accomplished from a stadium, but I’m willing to be convinced.

For the rest of us, however, money is often the central issue and largest struggle for many of our churches. Money is, likely, Satan’s most effective weapon against the ministry of the cross. The message of the church—of hope and a new life in Jesus Christ—is routinely overshadowed by the anxiety over the collection plate: we know it’s coming. It is, for many churches, the entire point of Sunday worship. One pastor lamented closing his church during a snow storm because they really needed that offering. That offering?! The saddest part of cancelling service isn’t the revenue loss but the souls lost. Too many of us have been in this Baptist-COGIC thing way, way too long, and a pastor who is caught even thinking that way needs to be sat down: he is tired. His spirit needs to be reinvigorated. He needs to find his calling again.

For many of us, money has become
the very center, the beating heart, of ministry.

We need people to give in order to keep the doors open. We know people won’t give unless we guilt-trip them, threaten them, entertain them. Sunday worship becomes orchestrated around the time of giving, with, usually, more emphasis given to and time spent on the offering than on the invitation to discipleship. It’s all about the money. The reality is: the church must have an income in order to keep functioning. For many of us, the biblical model is tithes and offering, with many pastors eschewing other fundraising efforts. Many churches, as they grow, will eventually invest their money in real estate and other ventures, but most smaller churches rely exclusively on the pocketbooks of their congregants. The emphasis placed on weekly attendance, therefore, usually has money as its prime motivator rather than the spiritual health of the people. The main reason the pastor wants you there on Sunday is (1) to give money and (2) to make the church look full so (3) more people will want to come and (4) give money. The half-empty or even three-quarters empty congregation tends to fend people off. When people visit a half-empty church on Sunday, the impression is that nothing is going on there. It’s like visiting a half-empty night club. You wonder what went wrong, and your assumption is that you won’t have a good time. Expectations have a way of becoming reality as church is an interactive experience. The more energy we put into a church service, usually the more energy we get out of it. A handful of people spread around huge blocks of empty pews usually produces low energy if any at all. And, because no energy is coming from the congregation, the onus is on the pulpit to entertain, to pump folks up and get them to worship. That’s a huge weight to carry.

Which leads pastors toward church growth. For many pastors, church growth is about (1) money and (2) ego, which places their efforts at a disadvantage because God responds not to our words but to our motives. Praying for a new car is an utter waste of time if your reason for wanting it is so you can be seen in your fancy new ride. This is what the Bible means when it says we “pray amiss,” [James 4:3], that we ask for the right things for the wrong reasons. God not only knows what we ask Him for, he knows why we want it.

Pastors want more butts in the seats cheering for him. He loves preaching at bigger churches because the adrenaline rush of hundreds of people roaring to their feet, cheering you on, is an amazing thing. It’s intoxicating and addictive. It stimulates the ego and is a huge rush. But, even more than the ego trip, pastors want more butts in the seats because more butts means more money. More money means less struggle as bills are paid, commitments are met. The pastor doesn’t have to suffer that Sunday anxiety of hoping every tithe-paying member shows up, as Church Folk don’t tend to send their tithes in when they are not there. There is a palpable relieving of stress connected to an increase in the size of the crowd Sunday morning as that increase is connected directly to the church's income. Pastors attend seminars on church growth and buy expensive kits with tool sets to show them how to spur church growth. They put their existing members through all manner of turns, making some uncomfortable in their own skin, in efforts toward church growth. The stress over money can actually be supplanted by the stress over church growth: keeping everyone on edge all the time and pressuring church members to invite everyone they know, twisting arms and dragging folks to church.

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Fairly little of which has anything to do with ministering to the needs of people. It’s about money. It’s about ego. God can’t breathe on that, and it’s why your church isn’t growing. If we took money out of religion we could save the world. We could win the world to Jesus Christ if we’d just stop passing that plate around on Sunday. Biblical giving has almost nothing to do with passing a hat. The people of the early church gave because they wanted to give. And they didn’t just give a tenth, they gave everything they had to the church, and the church redistributed that income to those in need [Acts 2]. I wasn’t there, but I tend to doubt there was a time during the worship service where the early church stopped everything and put on some dog and pony show to guilt trip people into giving. Beloved: it is right to give to God’s work. It is our duty to support it. But, more than that, we should be willing to give. We should enjoy giving, knowing we are all doing our part in supporting the work of the Gospel. Nobody should have to guilt-trip you. Nobody should have to threaten you to do what you’re supposed to. Ideally, there ought to be a lock box somewhere toward the exit where we can drop in our offerings—anonymously and discretely. The church shouldn’t have to beg you. The pastor shouldn’t have to shame you.

The Glass House   Improper Motives   The Pastor   The Invitation   Insincere Worship   Youth Ministry   Non-Relevance   Non-Inclusiveness   MONEY   Fear   Disobedience