Americans spend $700 billion on all Christian causes.
Of that number, $45 billion goes to any kind of work overseas.
That amounts to 6% of money that the church gives. Of that 6%, only a fraction of that money ($450 million) is sent to ministries working among those who are considered unreached. This is roughly the same amount Americans spent in 2015 on diet programs. It’s just over what we spend on Halloween costumes for our pets.
What these numbers reveal is that a staggering amount of the money we give to God ends up being spent on us. It stays within the church for the benefit of the church. It pays for pastors and buildings and programs for people who largely know and hear the Gospel. And very, very little goes towards people who have never heard of Jesus.
In fact, for every $100,000 that Christians give to the church, $1 goes to the unreached.*
Statistics, especially good ones, are our friends. They show us where our priorities are. They are like a mirror being held up to our faces so we can see what we look like. My point in sharing these statistics is not to be critical. It’s not to say that even some of the things we’ve spent money on aren’t good.
But friends, we can do better.
If we’re going to do better, it will require all of us to say no to some of the “good” things in order to say yes to better things. It will require we take a hard look at family budgets and church budgets and say “What does this line item in the budget say about our priorities?”
What good things are you committed to? Your building? Your pastoral staff? Your worship experience? Or are you committed bringing the good news of Jesus to the ends of the Earth? As it is written “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news.”
When Jesus came to the Earth, He didn’t ask for a tenth of what we had. He came and asked that we give our all to Him. This is not just a reality for individuals, but churches as well. And we have to decide if we are going to give everything to Him and let Him decide what we keep.
What would it take for giving to the unreached to move up higher in our spending priorities? What if instead of the money to the unreached being a fraction of 1% of our budget, it was 20%? What would that require you and your church to sacrifice? And would the rest of your church tolerate it? And what would everyone’s reactions say about their priorities?
We can do better. But we must change. Will you change with me?
*Most of these statistics can be found on http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats
It’s an old Mike Bickle quote that I’ve held onto for years:
“Lovers outwork workers.”
And what Mike means is that love motivates the heart. Love motivates better than money. Better than ego. Better than just about anything. People who fall in love, be it with people or causes or anything else, will think about the object they love more, do more, and tell more people about it simply because of their love.
People in love with Jesus don’t have to be motivated to spend time in prayer. People who love their church family don’t have to be begged to come to a meeting. People who love the gospel don’t have to be guilted into sharing it. They do it all out of love.
Maybe it’s time, instead of teaching people how to behave, we invite them into love.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
-Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Jesus said that if we wanted to follow him we would have to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Mark 8:34). But often we are content to settle for uncrucified Christianity–a kind of Christianity that requires little and caters to us.
Uncrucified Christianity is the source of a lot of pain and frustration in the body. It causes us to see everything that God is doing through the lens of how it benefits us. It paralyzes us in our spiritual growth. It makes us ingrown and not outward focused.
You see uncrucified Christianity all around you.
People who get excited about the prophetic promise of a spectacular ministry but never want to serve.
People who want community but never want to share someone else’s burden.
People who love Jesus but never share the gospel.
People who love Jesus but can’t be bothered to be part of a community of people who challenge them in love.
In short, uncrucified Christianity is a hot mess.
There is an answer, but it’s not fun. We all have to go back to Jesus and acknowledge that Christianity is not about us. Once we received the Kingdom of God, this became about Jesus and the Good News.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
Most of Christianity is trying to find their life. But every attempt, no matter how noble looking on the outside, that is not us denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Jesus will inevitably end up with us losing whatever sense of fulfillment we are looking for. Even if we are seeking for it in spiritual environments.
But friends, if we give our lives away for the sake of Jesus and spreading the gospel, we will find more life than we know what to do with. And it will transform everything we do from a selfish expression looking to boost ourselves into a spiritual expression backed by power from heaven.
That means we need to go back to the cross. Lay our pursuits there at its feet. And wait for God to tell us what to do next.
God, save us from uncrucified Christianity.
So here’s where I get controversial. If you don’t like controversy, don’t read any further.
Several years ago my wife and I listened to a podcast on “The Moth.” The tagline for The Moth is “true stories told live without notes” and it’s a fantastic experience of listening to everyone from common, everyday people to famous politicians tell their true life stories.*
The particular story that made the greatest impact on me was a story about a young lady who moved to Colorado. When she moved to Colorado she was looking for a place to belong so she joined two groups. She joined a new church that was just getting started and she joined a multi-level marketing group (like Am-Way, Mary Kay, etc.).
The kicker was that, while she was looking for a place to belong, she was a natural saleswoman. This enabled her to quickly gain clients for her multi-level marketing business and it made her a great evangelist. She quickly moved up the ranks of both groups, finding herself in leadership and becoming very popular.
But there was a problem. She would use the same sales techniques to win people to Christ that she would use to sell people on whatever product her group was promoting. She’d constantly be in a conversation and in her mind be trying to determine whether this person needed Jesus or needed her product. She even told one story about how she was in Target talking to a woman who was in tears talking about her life and the storyteller forgot whether in the conversation she was selling Jesus or her product as the remedy for her situation.
The story takes an abrupt turn. At some point, burnt out from success and confusion, she distances herself from each group. Then, she and her husband move to New York City and she never sees either group (the church or the multi-level marketing firm) again. But as soon as she moves to New York City, someone tries to introduce her to a food co-op and get her to join. Her response: “No Thanks. I don’t believe in religions anymore.”
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story, but I want to focus on just two:
- The Gospel of Jesus is the only true gospel. But we often settle for lesser gospels. And in the last several years I’ve seen a slew of presentations for different products that promise to change your life, make you healthier, create a work-life balance, and make your dreams come true. Products meet a specific need. Gospels (true and false) promise ultimate fulfillment. Friends, if Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, glorious resurrection, and promised coming and restoration aren’t satisfying enough for you, you will never find the happiness you seek in anything else. Please don’t buy the promises that fulfillment will come through a product that you buy or sell. It only comes through Jesus.
- The church of Jesus and the Kingdom of God should never be built on the same foundation as any multi-level marketing campaign. I know we are taught to meet people’s felt needs and to point to the promises of the Gospel. But in the end if we are only selling people an answer to their needs and not a relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth, we are doing harm to them and we hurt ourselves. Somewhere along the way, someone should have made sure that the woman in this story was meeting Jesus. Someone should have challenged her about selling Jesus the same way she sold her product. Someone should have made sure that the people she was introducing to the church had truly met Christ. Growth for the sake of growth (especially at the expense of the Kingdom) is a terrible master.
I’ve had many well-meaning friends and family members who have sold and been a part of multi-level marketing companies. They are good people who believe in a product that has made a difference in their lives. And I’m not against selling. Many people sell.**
I am against confusing lesser gospels with the true Gospel. I’m against people believing more in the product that they sell than the Bible that they read. And I’m against the church being built on sales principles that are meant to get people in the door and participating through human means. The Gospel is the power of salvation to those that believe. It will change people if we believe it, preach it, and model it. We don’t need to sell it. We need to be witnesses.
*Warning: If you take this post as a recommendation, know that while The Moth is authentic and heart-wrenching, it is also not always clean or “family-friendly.” Listen with care and discernment.
**This is my olive branch to multi-level marketing folks. I do believe people can and do have good intentions, motivations, etc. But those who are part of one must work to keep these realities at bay in their hearts. There is a lot of seduction in the industry, the primary one being greed.
A year or so ago I had a minor revelation that changed how I understood much of the New Testament. It’s a small thing that dramatically shifts how we understand the priorities of Jesus and the apostles. Are you ready?
Somewhere along the way I began to replace every occurrence of the phrase “the word” with “the message.”
You see, every time I read the phrase “the word,” my mind always pictured the Bible. So when I read that Jesus was “the Word” (John 1:1) I would always think Jesus is the Bible. This was really confusing and I’ve seen it cause some folks to deify the Scriptures.
But if I replace “the word” with “the message” I get something entirely different. Now when I read that Jesus is the word I understand He is God’s Message. He is what God would say in any circumstance. And this message became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).
So when Luke writes in Acts 13:49 that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region,” I know that Luke is talking about the spread of the Gospel and not the knowledge of Bible verses. In the same way, when Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,” (2 Thessalonians 3:1), he’s asking them to pray that the message of the Gospel would be received powerfully.
All of this should shift the focus from accumulating Bible knowledge to actually being a part of knowing, embodying, and declaring God’s message that’s found so clearly in Jesus and the Gospel. This is why I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the minimum standards of discipleship is a functional knowledge of the Gospel.
What do you think? Would reading the Bible this way change how you understand what’s happening in the New Testament? And, is this approach dangerous in any way?
I’ve been musing over this question for a while. I’m hoping that you (my readers) have some insight. I think it has implications about how we lead someone to faith and about what happens afterwards. The question is this:
If the Gospel (the message we share to bring people to faith in Jesus) doesn’t include discipleship, why would we add it later? If the Gospel does include discipleship, why don’t we preach it in our message?
If you’ve got some thoughts about this question, please leave a comment in the comment section. I’ll post some of my thoughts after I give some folks a chance to interact and discuss.