FIRST-PERSON: Whose money is it anyway?
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP) -- I was put in a difficult situation as pastor of a small Baptist church many years ago. One of the largest financial supporters for our little congregation had made a commitment to a friend that would require a significant change in our church's doctrinal position.
He had promised that his friend could unite with our church by simply transferring his membership from a church that is viewed as a cult to this very day. My answer was that we would love to help this person find new life in Christ and follow in believer's baptism, but we do not receive such transfers from churches that are not theologically sound. I also said I was certain that the church in question would not send any transfer of membership.
I was immediately threatened by the major giver and told we would accept this person by statement or he would withhold his giving to the church.
I will never forget the sting I felt as he said these words. I realized that I was heading into a dark storm, and my fear seemed nearly overwhelming. I am sad to say that my experience was not unusual. Many pastors have shared similar experiences when a significant giver was inappropriately leveraging them with the threat of withholding giving. I have talked with pastors who felt muzzled from clearly speaking the truth because of similar issues.
When I look at Scripture, the very first act of church discipline is found in Acts, chapter 5. God was less than pleased with a couple who sought to use money for prestige and personal gain in the early church, versus the example of an early church member's giving from a pure heart in Acts 4:36-37.
Let's consider what we should expect as a Return on Investment (ROI) when we give money to the local church. Is ROI really the standard we want to use in our giving? Giving begins with God, and I can assure you that He was not looking at a Return on Investment when Jesus died for your sin and mine. His gift for my salvation is far superior to any return that I can offer Him.
-- God owns everything. Psalm 24:1 tells us that God is Lord over all. Colossians 1:16 explains that all things were created by Him and for Him. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 both promises and warns when it states that God is sovereign over our ability to make wealth. In an instant, He can prosper or destroy us financially. 1 Corinthians 4:7 asks an interesting question, "What do you have that you did not receive?"
-- Stewardship means we are not owners, but managers of everything God places at our disposal. That is why tithes and offerings are merely one aspect of our stewardship. God also holds us accountable for how we spend our time and how we use our talents. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that we will stand before God and give an account of stewardship.
-- We make a major error if we think money can provide anything lasting. Possessions cannot provide satisfaction (Ecclesiastes 5:10), significance (Luke 12:15) or security (Proverbs 23:5).
Having dealt with that errant church member more than 30 years ago, the experience taught me a great deal. I had to learn to trust God to provide for my family's every need. My responsibility was to seek God as Matthew 6:33 instructs.
The threatening man I faced went to the church's deacons and shared his demands. The deacons were nonresponsive, and I felt more alone than ever. I could not understand why they would not step up and take a stand. I praise God that our association of churches had a godly director of missions who walked beside me. He reminded me there are times that leadership may even cost you your job by staying true to scriptural convictions.
That counsel prepared me for one of the most difficult evenings of my life.
It was a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and you could cut the tension with a knife. The big giver was noticeably absent and emotionally present. I was walking to the front of the auditorium when the church treasurer handed me a note. I thought it was a prayer request. One sentence read, "I guess you know that you ran off 10 percent of our church's budget."
I knew the time had come to settle the matter once and for all. I stood before the core of our people and said, "Tonight you all will decide to either follow me or fire me."
I sent my wife to gather the boys and we went home. I told the men of the church to please stop by the house when they had made a decision. I was scared. The home we lived in belonged to the church. My meager bank account would not last long. In about two hours, a couple of men came by and said, "Preacher, God called you here and we are going to follow you." The rest is history. We lost the big giving family that night and God sent others to more than cover the need.
My biggest lesson from this experience had nothing to do with anything other than I learned that every gift I would ever place in the offering plate was God's with no strings attached, period.