What About Financial Giving?
Few issues foment more knee-jerk reactions from otherwise calm people than money matters. While we all know the importance of financial giving, having felt frequently manipulated over the issue of finances and uncomfortably perturbed that so much ‘church money’ is spent on staff salaries, building and maintenance, many exploring simple church throw the baby out with the bath water.
Without question, too much teaching on financial giving is used to prop up and sustain an institutional construct of church. However, without an economic base, a sense of generosity and stewardship, a kingdom suffers poverty. If a kingdom has no economic resource, even a strong relational and authority base will deliver little in terms of promise and potential; the kingdom can only merely exist, clutching at what could be.
So, What about Financial Giving?
Again, the answer to abuse is not non-use but proper use. God’s Kingdom has an economic base and to undergird the Kingdom’s advance, a fresh understanding of generosity and stewardship needs to be grasped.
Firstly, three assumptions.
One. Money tests and exposes impure motives. For this reason, an elder must “not be greedy for money” (1 Timothy 3:3); that is, they must be proven faithful in this area. All Biblical leaders are subject to this criterion and thus, there is no place for a spirit of greed or entitlement in our hearts. I discuss this topic with this truth assumed.
Two. I’ve decided not to rehash the importance of giving; I assume the reader agrees that generosity and stewardship are hallmarks of a follower of Christ.
And three. As already intimated, due to abuses and the nature of man, finances are a sensitive subject for many. I write this article without reacting to these concerns, assuming the reader is aware of how a cynical attitude can askew an honest relook at the topic. So let’s take the plunge.
Is there a Biblical right to compensation?
Yes, Paul spoke of his “right” to financial support:
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more.”
(1 Corinthians 9:11, 12)
Paul made this statement sandwiched between three reasons why he could claim this right, including a reference to how the Old Testament priests were remunerated: “do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple” (vv. 6-13). Paul was certainly not advocating a return to the Old Testament priesthood; yet he freely pointed out an important principle: “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?”
Those who sow “spiritual things” are to be “materially” remunerated; as he also stressed to the Galatian believers: “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
But didn’t Paul say that he gave up this right?
Yes, he did so initially. In his letter to the Corinthians, he reminded the church that he refused to exercise this right when he first brought the Gospel to them (1 Corinthians 9:15). However, while he chose to initially forsake this right in the Corinthian situation it was an exception not the rule. In fact, he was forced to do so due to their immaturity and then, through both letters to the Corinthians, he brought up the issue in order to urge them to mature in their understanding of financial giving. While he initially passed over it, he was now reminding them of his right. In short, it was time to grow up.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spent two chapters concerning financial giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 9:1-15) and then explained again how he had “robbed” mature churches to serve them when he first worked in their midst:
I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you … for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied.”
(2 Corinthians 11:8, 9)
So even though Paul occasionally laid down this right someone still paid; either he did or those who gave financially from another source did. Paul had to make tents at times (Acts 18:3; 20:34); on other occasions, he “robbed” mature churches.
By stressing that he leant on “other churches” Paul provoked the Corinthian believers to mature in their understanding of Biblical compensation. Their immaturity had placed too much responsibility on him and on “other churches,” alleviating them from their Biblical responsibility. They had enjoyed an extended ‘free lunch’ while others were over stretched. Paul appealed here to the Corinthian believers to, like the Philippians in Macedonia, partner with him; that is, to “share with him concerning giving and receiving” (to use his words in Philippians 4:15).
While every apostolic worker would be wise to consider “tent-making” options—so that they too can forgo this right when necessary—this is not an obligation to strive under. Paul explained emphatically: “the Lord commanded that those who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). This “right”, which should certainly not spur an attitude of entitlement, is centred on, one, an apostolic worker’s faith in God’s ability to provide and, two, the hope that God’s people grow in an understanding of generosity and stewardship.
While an apostolic worker’s desire to serve “no strings attached” may seem to be a noble intention, it is not a Biblical one. There ought to be “strings” attached; that is, God has established this checks-and-balances equation where the giver and receiver are humbled and accountable in the grace of God. Mutual relationships are God’s self-selecting, testing ground in this regard. This keeps us all humble and interdependent.
Isn’t there potential for abuse?
For sure! But Scripture gives no air-tight system that we can strap over this issue and nail down. In fact, that would only play to a Pharisee-spirit and tempt our controlling, micro-managing desires. That it gives space begets the need for righteous government; first, as both giver and receiver rule over their own ungodly motives, and second, as each is accountable one to the other (including an agreed-upon administrative process).
Okay, so who ‘qualifies’ for this right?
Good question. It seems to include…
Equipping gift ministries (1 Corinthians 9:7-14)
Although very different from financing a pastoral, institutional system; it seems that all directives regarding finance in the New Testament are apostolic directives. This means that equipping gift ministries, or apostolic workers, who operate in a pioneering, itinerant capacity ‘qualify’ for this “right”.
Elders – in certain circumstances (1 Timothy 5:17, 18)
In contrast to the pioneering role of an apostolic worker, elders are resident “among” local church communities (1 Peter 5:2). While again, this is very different from the “old school” eldership paradigm, parent-elders who labour in “word and doctrine” are also to be remunerated.
It seems this refers to elders who have a sphere of influence beyond just a simple church family, but who, along with their responsibility there, serve into the context of a number of simple church communities in a local area. Certainly the network of simple churches in the city of Ephesus would have been extensive by the time Paul sent Timothy there and it seems that some elders were asked to serve beyond their simple church families. It, no doubt, also includes Ephesians 4:11 equipping gifts who are more resident in their service of a local fellowship of simple church communities.
Those who fall into these categories have to die to their own pride; die to the reality that living by faith does require that we live as beneficiaries of the generosity of others (Luke 8:1-3; Philippians 4:16). Personally, I certainly don’t want to be a burden to anyone and would prefer to serve “no strings attached”. But until I die to this, I will impoverish myself and others who God intends to connect apostolically through, among other ways, financial support. Again, “the Lord commanded that those who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel”.
What’s the difference between this and an institutional construct of church?
At least two things: expectations and compulsion.
First, there are no unbiblical expectations: no one is on a salary roll; nobody is “creating” work to fill a day to justify a guaranteed cheque at month end.
Second, there is no compulsion: there is no whipping station to manipulate and compel people to give towards the “vision”. While there is no harm in reminding people of the value of giving and, from time to time, clarifying the administrative procedures involved, this is usually done by those not on the receiving end and is not a scripted “offering time” drive.
Ideally an apostolic worker, for example, should not speak on his own behalf. While there may be times that he has to, this is where team can and should support him.
So what should a simple church give to?
Simple church communities should consider giving in a two-fold way. (I’ve chosen to be practical here, drawing from personal experience, in the hope that this is helpful to the reader and jogs some thought).
Firstly, through spontaneous Spirit-led giving to the needy in their missional sphere of influence and to needs that arise in their spiritual family (1 Timothy 5:3-16; James 1:26, 27; 2:14-17).
Besides sensitively bringing up a request on behalf of another and asking people to consider giving, simple churches would do well to have a “common purse”. Someone, usually the regular host of the meeting, could oversee this cash box and people can contribute to it as led.
When needs arise, the church family can pray and decide whether drawing from it to assist is in the Lord’s will. This seems to be the idea behind Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Also agreeing that the host draw an amount from the “common purse” to defray the costs of hosting is another good idea to think through.
Having said this, it is also important to mention that this does not mean that the church is a charity that dishes out money to all and sundry. Paul urged Timothy to discern those who were genuinely marginalised in Ephesus (1 Timothy 5:3, 4, 9, 11). In fact, a good rule of thumb is that handing out money is never the answer. Providing necessities, paying for repairs or helping to settle debts, for example, as part of a discipleship process is far better.
Secondly, through consistent Spirit-led giving to the apostolic team and vision to whom they are aligned (2 Corinthians 11:8, 9; Philippians 4:10-20).
There are various ways this can be done. Let me offer some suggestions.
First, individuals can ask the Father if He desires them to sow financially into a specific apostolic worker or into the apostolic team as a whole. Or simple church communities can talk and pray into whether they feel led to do this.
Second, this could be a once off “love gift” every now and again or it could be a monthly contribution over a period of time. The individual or simple church could give anonymously or speak to the apostolic worker in question and discuss their intentions.
This is not so difficult as some may imagine. In fact, it can be done with much grace and warmth. Paul was well in the know as churches walked with him in this. Usually, the two things that should be talked through is, one, whether or not the apostolic worker should confirm receipt of the money to the giver (if it’s deposited straight into his account) and, two, the period of time that the arrangement will last for (if it is a monthly contribution).
Committing to a 3-, 6- or 12-month period is not only helpful to the apostolic worker but gives the giver a non-emotive way to graciously stop the arrangement. Should the giver(s) choose to continue the arrangement for another period of time, it’s their prerogative in God; that the apostolic worker expects them to conclude at said date means that there is no awkwardness when they do.
We have found it helpful for a bank account to be set up on behalf of an apostolic team so that such monies can be administrated well. Should individuals or simple churches desire to give directly to a specific apostolic worker, they of course have the freedom to do so; but where possible, the bank account can be used integrally. Paul urged that we “provide [all things] honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:20).
In whatever way simple churches choose to sow into apostolic vision and ministry, Paul spoke of the tremendous blessing when churches, and believers, do so.
Now you Philippians know [that] no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only … Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account … the things sent from you [are] a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.”
(Philippians 4:15, 17, 18)
Giving to apostolic ministry plugs simple church communities into apostolic, Kingdom advance but even more importantly, it is a New Testament act of worship to God: “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God”.
And it is noteworthy that Paul’s confidence expressed in the well-known statement, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), is in the context of their faithful and generous giving into apostolic vision.
But what about “tent-making”?
Where does tent-making fit in? Two thoughts here:
First, tent-making is important.
Tent-making never became Paul’s only source of revenue nor was it an interim step towards a permanent salary. Rather, Paul made tents—a vital and distinguished occupation in his day—simply when he needed to. This happened…
- Circumstantially, when Paul’s motives could be questioned, especially with new works or problematic situations, he preferred to deny his “right” to be remunerated to avoid losing objectivity in the minds of those concerned.
- Tactfully, when Paul had to lean on his tent-making trade, he used it to demonstrate that God was His Source and to teach others to live to give.
Second, tent-making ought to be supplementary not primary.
When Paul laid down his “right” someone still paid. And while this may be necessary in new works; as believers and churches mature in the faith, it is vital that they grow in an understanding of the economics of the Kingdom.
When Paul got to Corinth he had to, at first, lean on his tent-making trade (Acts 18:1-3). However, when Timothy and Silas returned from Macedonia bringing further financial support (including finances, this time, from the church in Thessalonica; see 1 Thessalonians 3:6-9), he was released from tent-making so that he could “devote himself exclusively to preaching” (Acts 18:5, NIV).
Thus, tent-making is a supplementary source of income and a part of the living by faith mix.
Paul’s confidence lay not in his tent-making trade but lay in two seed-spheres:
- His faithfulness in scattering the “word of the Kingdom” seed (Matthew 13:19); that is, being a blessing to all not just where he had a vested interest. His selflessness in this regard kept his vision higher and his motives purer; as a consequence, He continually reaffirmed where His Source was.
- His investment in the “sons of the Kingdom” seed (Matthew 13:38); that is, building into mutual relationships with spiritual sons (individuals and churches). These relationships led to an honouring and sharing of life in spiritual and material ways and herein lies the blessing of shared apostolic vision and life.
I hope this article stirs some thought around a much-needed area of discussion today. As many explore simple church and become increasingly aware of the gift and value of inviting in apostolic workers, grasping what it means to sow materially where we reap spiritually is vital.
Without intending to overstate this point; if we are going to see a radical advance of the Kingdom of God through fulfilling the Great Commission, this is one core issue we desperately need to recover in freedom and faith.