I live in an inner city neighborhood. In the back of my house is a fairly good-sized garage for the neighborhood I live in. Two or three nights ago, I walked past one of my motion sensitive lights and it turned on to reveal a giant spider web that stretched from the roof of my garage all the way down to the driveway. It was simply the largest spider web I had ever seen.
The spider that had built the web was large, but not large in comparison to the size of web he had created. He had just built a really large web! Being a perpetual 13-year-old boy, I found a wad of paper and intentionally stuck it in the web just to see if the spider would wrap the piece of paper and try and suck its “blood” or if it would recognize the paper. The spider quickly noticed the paper, determined that it was not prey, and quickly removed the paper from the web.
We went inside. I didn’t think about that spider for a few days. In my mind that spider was going to be a problem to deal with. It wasn’t until this morning when I was leaving the house before the sun rose that I realized the spider web, without my help, was completely gone. It was like it had never existed.
This was strange for me. That spider web was impressive. I can imagine in spider hours it took quite awhile to build. I thought about all the effort that spider had put into that web only to have it disappear and start completely from scratch. I put myself in the spider’s “shoes” and thought if I had pulled something off like that spider, I would get really frustrated that my great accomplishment was just torn down.
It was at that moment that I felt the Lord speaking to me in a way I can only describe as a “knowing.” I didn’t hear a voice. I saw no vision. I just had this sense that I felt like was from the Lord. It was in this moment of clarity that I realized that the spider didn’t mind that his web was torn down and that he would have to build a new one. He was a spider. He built webs to catch food. He didn’t need the web for his ego. He didn’t need the web to supply more than food. He just needed it to catch enough food to survive. Now that the web had been torn down, he would build another one, somewhere else and catch some more food.
It was also in this moment of clarity that I realized I have a lot to learn from that spider. And the ants. And the birds. And the flowers of the field.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a friend of mine from my time in Kansas City suffered a terrible tragedy. Jason Johns, an inner city leader of a church in Kansas City, was in a terrible car accident with his three children. All four were injured, but his daughters Hope and Elise need miraculous intervention. You can read more updates on their GoFundMe page. Please pray for Jason, his wife, their family and extended family with me and believe for God’s best for this young family.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
This may come as a shock, given what you’ve seen and what you heard from Christian ministries in the past, but the Kingdom of God is not dependent on dollar bills in order to keep expanding. Let me explain.
When you came to Christ, regardless of the context you heard the Gospel in, the critical element was the exchange of the message of Jesus from one human being to another. Now, there were probably multiple things involved in that moment that were paid for: a Bible, possibly a building, maybe a paid speaker or pastor, but at a basic level the Gospel was freely given to you.
In China and in many other countries around the world, the Gospel spreads not because the people are able to give exorbitant amounts of money–they can’t. The Gospel spreads there because people received the true Gospel and they are willing to give up every part of their life so that others can hear the same transforming Gospel. So without buildings, paid pastors, and often without Bibles, the true message of Jesus continues to spread.
But in the West, we’ve become so consumed with money and the place it plays in our lives, that to suggest that the Gospel could spread without it is met with charges of heresy. Who will shepherd us? Who will teach us? Who will share the Gospel with others if we don’t pay someone to do it? And what about the building? How does that work?
The reality is these things can and do work without money. House churches, for example, work regularly without paid staff, dedicated buildings, or a ministry budget. Small groups of believers meet in each others’ homes, teaching each other, caring for one another, and sharing the Gospel all without any cost. Missions? That can still happen, depending on how you define it. Locally is easy, non-locally is tougher but can be achieved through relationships, hospitality, and tent-making.
My point isn’t to glorify house churches in writing this, but to open our eyes that ministry can happen with little to no budget. If you are a traditional church with a building and staff, that’s not an evil thing. It’s just that often I’ve seen ministry stop when the money stops flowing, but it doesn’t need to be like this. We need to lower the power of the dollar in the minds of the church and lift up the ability of Jesus to not only to sustain the church, but extend the Kingdom, with or without money.
The same Jesus that told us to look to the birds and the flowers for our personal natural provision is the same Jesus that can bring ministry forth with very little (and even no) money. May God help us see that there’s no amount of money that can achieve God’s purposes, only hearts fully surrendered to Him.
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
[This is part of an ongoing discussion on Financing a Kingdom Revolution.]
Discouraged. That’s one of the words that consistently describes my attitude toward Kingdom finances. The reason? I frequently see much of the money given in the name of Jesus used in ways that Jesus didn’t use money. And at the same time I see a number of legitimate people attempting to follow Jesus but lacking crucial funding that could amplify their substantial work. Somewhere there’s a disconnect when there are starving children in Africa America down the street* and we’re concerned because the carpet on the floor of a church building is wearing out.
It’s a startling fact, but some statistics say 97% of money given in churches is spent on people who gave the money. This means that no matter how much we say we desire the lost to be saved, the hungry to be fed, and the nations to be reached with the Gospel, our money is not where our mouth is. Now I could spend a lot of time debating on the legitimacy of pastors’ salaries and church building budgets, but the truth is that buildings and salaries only consume about 60% percent of most churches’ budgets. My question is where does the other 37% go?
My point in bringing all of this up is this: our giving tends to go right back to ourselves. We give and feel good about being sacrificial, but in reality we are consuming so much of what we give that no radical change takes place. Those who are strategically placed to significantly impact the world and extend the Kingdom of God often struggle with financing very real needs in spite of our overwhelming “generosity.” This is why no matter how much money we give, we fail to see significant Jesus movements take shape.
This is nothing new. Whenever the church has found herself disconnected from her apostolic purpose, she has used her resources poorly, most often for herself. But God has a financial system that is designed to meet legitimate needs and fuel the Kingdom of God. Our part in the process is to stop using our resources poorly, get connected with the purposes of God, and begin to channel money towards people and ministries who are actively pursuing those things that are on God’s agenda.
What if we put our money into the hands of people where God is powerfully manifesting His Kingdom right now? What would happen if we actually supported men and women who were raising up multiplying disciple-making movements in the earth? What would happen if we actually fully funded apostolic teams planting churches and reaching unreached people groups? What if those who were frequently engaged in caring for the poor or healing the sick through the workings of miracles never had to spend time writing another support letter? Would that be better than the new carpet?
*Editor’s Note: Africa (especially) and America in general both have significant needs. By striking them from the record my goal is to show that need is nearby, not that one form of need is greater than another.
For those who missed it, Andrew Jones of TallSkinnyKiwi fame wrote about the unseen financiers who supported the Protestant Reformation. Jones writes about different important “Kingdom Investors” who at various points gave significant amounts of money and resources to aid the spread of the Reformation. Reading the post, I was struck again by the need for a financial revolution that undergirds every genuine move of God.
Wolfgang Simson will be the first person to tell you that much of what you’ve heard about money in church is wrong. We often teach about money in a way that causes us to put all of our hopes in non-Kingdom financial principles. However one thing that remains true is that all Empires (including the Kingdom of God, which is the empire we belong to) have a financial system in place to fund their activities. Not all money given to a church is used well, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use our finances to further this Kingdom revolution.
The truth is that all of us have a part to play in financing the advancement of the Kingdom. I remember reading Brother Yun’s book Living Waters where he described offerings that the Chinese house churches would take for members being sent off as missionaries. Some of the members of the house churches were so broken because they didn’t have money to contribute that as they wept, they would place themselves in the offering sack as pledge to devote their whole selves to the cause global evangelism.
This is the kind of giving that moves forward the Kingdom: Financial giving that flows from a life fully given over to Jesus. That’s what makes the testimony of the early church so powerful. They were continually giving everything extra they had to the cause of Jesus and His Kingdom. This enabled the poor to be taken care of and the Gospel to continue to spread through the apostles and others. Today the Kingdom of God continues to spread, but it does so with little access to the funds that could so enable to spread quickly and without the financial sacrifice that is characteristic of an apostolic movement.
So how do we finance a Kingdom revolution? It begins with giving our very selves to God and letting our finances reflect that level of sacrifice. In our next post we’ll look at where those finances need to flow to. But today, let me ask you this question: What do you think holds us back from joining God in financing the advancement of the Kingdom?