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