Have you ever noticed that our awareness of an issue or our dedication to a cause expands proportionate to the impact of the matter at hand upon our daily lives? It is an indisputable quality of human nature. The more something affects us personally, the more interested in it we become. Sometimes almost to the point of obsession.
Parents who once could barely spell “autistic,” let alone define it, develop an intense interest in the condition soon after their child begins to show signs of autism. Breast cancer survivors and their families frequently devote themselves to programs that promote early detection and the search for a cure. And the list goes on.
I have served in vocational ministry all my adult life. In that role, to paraphrase Blanche DuBois, “I have always relied on the kindness of donors.” That is, whether as a pastor, a parachurch executive, or a professor in a church-related Bible college, my salary has been tied to the generosity of my constituency. That reality has tempered my expectations regarding financial compensation and has deepened my appreciation for frugality as a spiritual discipline and liberality as a mark of spiritual maturity. It has also heightened my sensitivity to the ways churches go about formulating their budgets and the means by which Christian agencies and institutions allocate their financial resources.
I know that God is infinite and His wealth is boundless. As the Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 50…
1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets;
7 “Listen, my people, and I will speak…
I am God, your God.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
God needs nothing. Everything belongs to Him already. That means…
- Sufficient resources exist to accomplish all that God wants done in the world. If He chose to do so, He could open the windows of heaven, or sell some of the cattle on those hills, and pour out unlimited prosperity so that every Christian enterprise would be fully and generously funded from its inception.
- For His own reasons, God has chosen to limit the resources that are available for use in Kingdom ministry and to make them dependent, for the most part, on the faithfulness and generosity of His people.
- Since everything belongs to God already, we don’t actually own any of the wealth or resources in our possession. God has merely entrusted them to us for a time, and it is our privilege and responsibility to use them in ways that reflect Kingdom values and bring honor to God.
There is no more accurate measure of spiritual maturity and sensitivity to the Spirit of God, for individuals and institutions, than money—how we get it and how we use it. But Christians don’t like to talk about their personal finances. How we use our money is nobody else’s business. Bank balances and investment portfolios, like bedrooms and voting booths, are off limits to outsiders. This attitude has blinded us to the relationship between financial stewardship and spirituality.
That blindspot extends to institutional and organizational finances as well. Many Christians assume that if the leadership of their church or the board of their alma mater or their favorite televangelist authorizes an expenditure or allocates funds for a particular venture, it must therefore be the best and most prudent use of those resources. Au contraire, mon frère.
A church budget is as much a moral document as a financial one. Since the church is the agent of the Kingdom of God, a church’s budget must reflect the values of the Kingdom. Church members are obliged to ask, with regard to every penny of expenditure which the budget allocates, “Is this absolutely the best and most prudent use of these resources which God has entrusted to our stewardship? Does this budget (or even this line item) reflect Kingdom values? Will this expenditure enhance our effectiveness in advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom? Could this allocation of funds be put to better use in some other enterprise?”
It is remarkably easy to talk about Christianity in contemporary America, but it is exceedingly difficult, in this culture, to implement the characteristics of cross-bearing discipleship. One reason for that discrepancy is a fundamental flaw in our thinking about money. We have more money than most of the rest of the world, we interpret our affluence as a sign of the blessing of God, and yet we fail to recognize that this great “blessing” is also the means by which God tests the true character of our faith.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus had more to say about money and its effect—both good and bad—on Christian believers, the citizens of the Kingdom of God, than any other single subject except for the Kingdom in general. That’s one reason you read about money and financial stewardship so often in this blog. That and the fact that my future ministry depends, in large measure, on the faithfulness and generosity of fellow-believers, my compatriots in the Kingdom of God.
I hear you ask, “Why are you so drawn to this subject these days? In the old days we never noticed your near-obsession with the role of money and the importance of stewardship for Kingdom citizens. What has changed?” “Well,” I respond, “in the old days I didn’t have a blog, now did I?”