I donít care how dire your situation: this practice of oppressing your members for cash has no biblical model. The churchís 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 itís 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.
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 youíre there or not and may not
much care. The big church doesnít 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 doesnít 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 youíre
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 thereís no budget for
capital improvements. Thereís likely no musician at all because
thereís 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 heís 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 ďbishop,Ē 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 churchís mission is to see to the needs of people, to pour the love of Jesus Christ into their lives and communities. Iím not sure how that is better accomplished from a stadium, but Iím 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, Satanís most effective weapon against the ministry of the cross. The message of the churchóof hope and a new life in Jesus Christóis routinely overshadowed by the anxiety over the collection plate: we know itís 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 isnít 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 wonít 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
discipleship. Itís 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. Itís like
visiting a half-empty night club. You wonder what went wrong,
and your assumption is that you wonít 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. Thatís 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 ďpray amiss,Ē [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. Itís 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 doesnít have to suffer that Sunday anxiety of hoping every tithe-paying member shows up, as Church Folk donít 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.
Fairly little of which has anything to do with ministering to the needs of people. Itís about money. Itís about ego. God canít breathe on that, and itís why your church isnít growing. If we took money out of religion we could save the world. We could win the world to Jesus Christ if weíd 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 didnít 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 wasnít 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 Godís 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 youíre supposed to. Ideally, there ought to be a lock box somewhere toward the exit where we can drop in our offeringsóanonymously and discretely. The church shouldnít have to beg you. The pastor shouldnít have to shame you.