Just because the market is slow and the budget flat doesn’t mean that the work of the church has to be as well. Quite the contrary! In times when money is sparse, opportunities are endless. Sometimes, though, we think you have to have one to chase the other. Well, let’s rethink that. Remember – While money may not be inconsequential, it certainly isn’t indispensible.
In doing exactly that — rethinking how closely ministry and money are actually connected, I went to Acts, asking myself, “What is biblical about the connection between the two?” While I have not exhausted the answer to that question, here are at least two things I do believe to be biblical about ministry and money:
Ministry isn’t a commodity governed by the market; it’s an opportunity empowered by the Spirit. The early church wasn’t looking for permission from society or approval from the culture. They didn’t test the market to see if it was ripe for disciple making. Instead, the early believers took the command of Jesus seriously and “witnessed” of his resurrection the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. They didn’t check to see if “witnessing” was in the budget, or if the apostles had approved an evangelism category under “outreach.” No, they just did it.
I realize this is hard for some of us to accept because we are so engrained with the American style of ministry. But try and see it as a first-century Jew or Gentile believer. There was intense persecution, little organization, minimal resources, and many obstacles. Yet, a contagious and courageous people rose up and, led by the Spirit that Jesus left, continued his work anyway. The result? Christianity spread over the known world! Essentially, a “down” time culturally was actually an “up” time spiritually for the early church.
Ministry isn’t bought with money; it is pursued with boldness. The New Testament believers knew nothing of waiting for a line item in the budget before proceeding towards spiritual opportunities. They simply obeyed God courageously as he led them by his Holy Spirit. Check out Acts – Prayer meetings were held by rivers, churches were started in homes, and city-wide crusades took place in the streets as God’s Spirit enabled. It wasn’t like they said, “We’ll move forward when the money comes in.” Not even, “We’ll move forward and hope the money comes in.” They instead probably just said, “We’ll move forward.” Generally speaking, I personally don’t believe they even factored in money as a primary part of the opportunity equation.
In fact, on one occasion when Peter was asked by a first-century roadie to sell the Holy Spirit, he gravely rebuked Simon the magician and told him he “had no share in this ministry” (Acts 8). Apparently, money didn’t equate to ministry in Peter’s mind.
When money was requested in New Testament ministry, it was primarily given away to other churches who were struggling due to famine and persecution (Phil 4; 2 Cor. 8). The bulk of Paul’s financial appeals in his letters were not for his own ministry projects or ideas; they were on behalf of others. It seems Paul didn’t feel like is ministry hinged on money, either.
Rather, both Peter and Paul were bold in how they pursued the work of God in spite of a lack of resources. So bold they weren’t afraid to be broke if that’s what obedience meant! Personally, I suspect it didn’t matter to them that much. After all, their kingdom initiatives weren’t items to be purchased, but calls to be obeyed.
Too many church leaders have a dysfunctional attachment to the bottom line. Our enthusiasm levels are unfortunately tied to the offering levels, and often our boldness dries up when the budget looks similar. May God forgive us of this unfortunate endearment to sources of motivation that are earthly and temporal.
So what have I done with these thoughts that have been circulating in my head for months now? As I have looked specifically at what is ahead for the church I help pastor in the next several years, a lot of what I and the elders are sensing God calling us to pursue aren’t things we are going to purchase; they are opportunities we are going to chase. Explore. And we don’t need to have dollar amount in the budget in order to have a spirit of boldness in us. I am realizing, thankfully, that nothing in a streamlined budget stops true ministry from occurring. I can paint a strong vision and maintain a tight budget at the same time.
Granted – there are no doubt some costs associated with our vision; there will be some expenses in chasing the opportunities God puts before us. But none that should prevent obedience. There, I said it. None! Which means, regardless of where we landed on the budget, we could still chase the opportunities and open doors with fervency, not hesitancy. It is God going before us, not Benjamin Franklin.
I can still picture the smile on my face after that conversation with Jesus and interaction with his Word. Ah, the freedom in seeing things biblically, not just culturally. And yes, I am still processing how all of this is going to sound to our staff. Our leaders. Our church. But even as that unfolds, it will be an opportunity for God to show himself strong on our behalf and lead us all towards a more scriptural understanding of ministry and money in the body of Christ!