“Ministry is the only profession that retains nothing to itself, gives away all its knowledge free, and invites those served to do the same work“. -Klyne Snodgrass
I often encounter people in my American culture that once they find out that I am a pastor/Christian/associated with church (or in their understanding “organized religion”) they usually have a pre-packaged opinion of who I am, what I am a part of/believe, and possibly a fear of what I may attempt to “shove down their throat” (In Jesus’ loving name of course).
I love talking about belief and faith. I do have a Christian identity, and that can sometimes be a difficult reality when connecting with people that do not share that identification. There are many reasons for the potential disconnects between me and others when my Christian identity is known, but one of the main ones is the church’s reputation with money.
From creepy pastors and/or priests who betray God, their congregants, (and the watching world) trust through inappropriate/sexual misconduct to sketchy-but-slick-talking tele-evangelists’ pyramid schemes who dupe lonely T.V. watchers with their “magic” anointed hanker-chief type antics… the church’s reputation remains in critical condition in 2019.
Most priest and pastors of Christian churches are not those described above. Although all humans (including the spiritual leaders) are capable of evil, many are decent, honest, caring individuals that want to better the world from their deepest convictions often stemming from their love for God and neighbor. Most pastors are not the name-it-claim-it-rather-than-exegete-it types. Many pastors hate asking for money, but realize that it is a part of keeping the ministry going and helping people respond to God with their lives (I am also not saying that they are against faith in God’s provision).
This post is mainly to reflect on “the elephant” too often in the room when it comes to many people’s objection to church… giving money (or more particularly being asked for money). Most Americans have been in a worship setting where a plate or basket was passed to everyone for a collection of tithes and offerings. This can be perceived by many as a medium or act of worship (rightly so). Others who might have second thought opinions about how a church uses the money gathered and still others feel that the church only exists for financial gain.
Unless an individual becomes popular through media, books, or building a large church, most do not become wealthy from ministry (Most churches are smaller congregations, not mega with the mega bucks). On top of the potential low pay that comes with pastoral positions, Bible college and Seminary can be an expensive investment when many must take loans out in order to get the schooling needed for their vocation.
The church has a lot to overcome with its reputation in our culture concerning money. Church attendance continues to decline and the entertainment church, I believe, has a shelf life. As the older generations that were/are faithful to institutions decline, churches will have to be creative (but faithful) in their attaining and usage of funds (hopefully it is attained as a result of healthy discipleship).
The scriptures say a lot about money. Jesus said a lot about money.
The irony is that ministry is done with money and often used to show tangible love through the meeting of other’s needs. This must not be forgotten. So there is this both/and reality to the church and money. We should be known by our love… not by our requests for money. The church’s reputation needs a money makeover.
Churches, however, if they continue to function like franchises of denominations (in my opinion) will have an uphill battle. Pastors currently function similar to that of general managers of a local food chain. Seasonally many put out the newest product-type-program/gimmick-media-décor to attract, retain, and impress attendees (and hope they tithe or at best TIP). This too is a both/and in my opinion. Communication mediums should be done well. They should also be evaluated for their purposes and where they point the attention to.
It is expected that people who connect, get involved, and love God want to express and respond with the most tangible ways like giving. The issue arises when the bills roll in and the building projects are too often funded by things hoped for but likely to be borrowed that the watching world gets distant. “Attractive church” is usually pitched/advertised as fun, safe, and sterile. In order to keep up the hype, however, big wheels need to keep on turning. The world gets reminded to get distant because burned out people talk… (a.k.a. they social media). When a church burns people out through expectation and exhaustion the bad news of money need (rather than the good news) spreads like a wildfire.
I “get” the attractive attempts by churches, but this too requires massive amounts of time, money, and volunteer energy. The issues are complex and many churches that do ministry like this do it well. The answer is not necessarily to boycott this approach (I don’t think anyway). The answer is also not to be so boring and waste people’s time through careless, thoughtless, boring homilies from the Bible and do music mediums poorly while still begging for money to keep an old ship floating.
The reality is that the Church (in all its forms) has done much good in each community to add value and meet the needs of people who would often be forgotten. This post cannot begin to highlight (and is not the purpose here) the mammoth ways that people who come to faith in Jesus end up changing the world for the better (through the generosity of the church).
This includes churches of all sizes and approaches to reach out to their world. It is a reminder to the Church to be the best steward as possible with their reputation through their use of people’s worship (giving). It is a reminder to those mad at the church for asking people to give money to be fair/reflective and also acknowledge how much churches help their local community (even if some are more obnoxious than they should be). Giving is not a sad thing. What is sad is that too many object going to a church for fear of feeling obligated or guilted into giving. Nobody should ever feel that God needs their money.
the reality is more intense than money… God wants their life.
The good news is that God is a good steward and has a great reputation when it comes to giving grace and eternal life.
Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 224.