This booklet has been based largely on my experiences with two groups of people: the missionaries connected with Europe Now (a part of Open Air Campaigners International), and those who have worked to promote missionary work through Westborough United Reformed Church, which has supported people in various ministries in different parts of the world for a number of years. I have drawn on the wisdom and experience of more people in those two organisations than I can hope to mention.
One of the first things I saw on going into the Westborough church building was the sign on the lectern - mentioned briefly in the appendix. The sign said "First give yourself to Christ, then all other giving is easy," and remained at the front of the church for many years. It is still with me today, and provides both a starting point and a context for all my subsequent exploration of giving, of which this booklet is a part.
If you want to say how helpful this has been, or you have any criticisms, complaints, corrections, or suggestions for improvement, please let me know. I can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I trust you will find this short booklet helpful, practical, relevant, and a source of blessing in your walk with the Lord.
Paul Hazelden, December 1997
This booklet is intended to provide a practical introduction to some of the issues relating to money which are particularly relevant to people engaged in or considering missionary or other unsalaried Christian work. Many of the issues are the same for salaried Christians such as Pastors and Youth Workers, but the context and application are somewhat different.
My theological position is that of a standard Evangelical, and I have assumed this understanding in everything which follows. I will not be talking about the need to pray, study the Bible, or seek the Lord's guidance for your life, as all these areas are well taught and relate to all Christians, whether engaged in Christian work or not.
The principles outlined below should be relevant to Christians wherever they are; the practical applications are as general as possible, but you should be aware that some aspects - particularly those relating to tax and covenants - are specifically relevant to workers whose support is mainly based in the United Kingdom.
Everything in this booklet should be understood in this context: the advice is given to help you understand the Bible and follow the Spirit's leading, not to replace them! This is why we will be looking at both the theology and also some practical areas, since to be faithful to the Bible involves both right doctrine ('orthodoxy') and right practice ('orthopraxy').
There are various useful books which address specific aspects such as fund raising and record keeping in more detail.(1) This booklet has not been written as a replacement for these more detailed works, but as an introduction to them, with the intention of putting their content into a broader context.
According to the song, 'money makes the world go round.' Of course, as Christians, we do not believe anything so unspiritual. But if you think about it, a great deal of human activity is tied up with raising, saving and spending money, and these practical concerns affect even Christians.
If you observe most full time Christian workers and note how they spend their time, you may be surprised. If you look at what they are actually doing, a great deal of it is related to practical issues relating to money. If you look at 'front line' workers, such as Bible Translators, then even more of their time is taken up with practical jobs such as finding, building, buying and maintaining the equipment and premises needed to do their work, dealing with paperwork, travel, supplying transport, meeting officials in order to keep living and working in the country, keeping the accounts straight, and trying to remain in touch with the head office and personal supporters.
All these workers are doing Christian work, but it is Christian work because their Christian faith motivates them to do it, and not because the things they spend much of their time doing are obviously Christian activities.
A great deal of time is generally spent doing things because there is not enough money to pay someone else to do them. The few Christian workers who do not fall into this pattern, generally manage to avoid it because there are enough support workers around them to free up their time. And, of course, money has to be raised to enable the support workers to live.
All of this practical (some call it 'unspiritual') activity is done with the aim of Christian work in mind, but even so, it results in a daily work log which is very different from the popular image of the full time Christian worker spending most of their time on activities such as Bible study, praying and preaching.
Many Christians mentally divide their activities into the 'spiritual' and 'unspiritual' ones, and think that to become a better Christian they need to spend more time on spiritual activity and less time on unspiritual activity. It is a completely false distinction. You cannot even justify it from the Old Testament: the effect of much of the Mosaic law was to teach people that God is interested in every part of their lives - in what they eat as much as what they pray, what they wear as well as what they sacrifice.
In order to function the way God wants you to, it is essential to get rid of this false distinction between 'spiritual' and 'unspiritual' activities. As a Christian worker, it is not the case that you have been called to do some spiritual activities and as a consequence you have to do some unspiritual support work. You are called, as is every Christian, to serve Jesus in everything you do.
It also helps if you remember that the major part of almost every Christian ministry is pure hard work, doing exactly the things you would be doing in normal secular employment. Publishing Christian books is just as hard work as publishing secular books, and proof reading them is just as tedious. True, the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens you in this activity - but then, if you are a Christian, He would do exactly the same if you were working on secular books.
The way you handle money is as vital a part of your ministry as the way you preach the gospel. If you are tempted to see it as less important, reject that temptation. In the middle of a high pressure schedule, 'less important' becomes 'unimportant' and this can have significant spiritual and practical consequences. Effective, Spirit-filled Christian ministries can be destroyed through lack of attention to 'minor' details concerning the way money is handled. It is essential for your future ministry that you get this area right.
Almost every Christian worker has to spend a significant part of their time raising the money needed to finance their ministry. Many people dislike this aspect of their activity. It feels like 'selling' their ministry, and they find it distasteful.
Selling - in the right sense of the word - is an honourable profession. It can be described as 'helping people understand a product and enabling them to benefit from it,' which is a valid description of evangelism. All selling can be done well or badly. It can be done for the benefit of the customer, or just to get a sale, and the consequences of each approach are clear whether it is the gospel or a car you are asking people to buy.
When we talk about 'selling' the gospel or a ministry, we are not implying you are trying to get rid of it. We are using the word in the same sense as when we say that advertising agencies try to sell political parties: they are trying to change peoples minds and emotions and hence their behaviour. Similarly, in evangelism we are aiming not just at a mental approval of some ethical principles, but at a personal commitment to Jesus and a willingness to live out that commitment in practical ways.
As a Christian, you can only sell your ministry if you really believe in it. If you believe God is working in and through these activities, you want other people to come on board for two reasons:
If you believe in the power of prayer, you must want people to pray for the work you do, so you should encourage them to do it. Very few people will give you money without praying for you, so your financial supporters will generally be found from within your prayer supporters. The strategy is to get lots of people praying for you because (a) you need it, and (b) you are more likely to get a response to a request for money from people who are committed to you and praying for you regularly than from those who are not!
You are asking people to commit themselves - to a greater or lesser extent - to you and to your work. Of course, many people will 'only' pray for you. Be thankful for them: if you are anything like me, you need all the prayer you can get. Some of your supporters may be deeply committed to praying for you and unable to send any money for a variety of reasons. Whether they can give money or not, work on developing your relationship with your supporters: you are in partnership with them in the work of the gospel, and they are an important part of your ministry. And don't forget that they, like you, matter to God because of who they are, and not because of what they do.
When looked at from this perspective, most Christian workers need to spend some time working in each of the three following ways:
All three ways take you towards the same goal: building the Kingdom of God in the way He has shown you to do it - whenever, wherever and however you can.
Raising support - both prayer and money - is as essential a part of Christian ministry as eating and drinking are to your physical life. You would not get far if you trusted the Lord to supply your nutritional and liquid requirements and as a consequence did not make time to eat and drink. Ignoring the need to develop and promote your ministry is just as short sighted an approach.
In this booklet, we are looking at issues relating to money, but you should be aware that there are two areas which repeatedly lead to the downfall of successful Christian workers: sex and money. Both these areas offer real opportunity for abuse as we are trusted, and so we often operate under far looser supervision than people in equivalent secular positions. Both these areas give scope to many Christian workers to exercise power in contexts where they are essentially not accountable (interesting word!) to anyone.
For your own sake, you need to ensure that you are and remain accountable in both these areas. One reason for this booklet is to help you handle money correctly, and be seen to handle it correctly, and thus avoid damage to your ministry through scandal or suspicion.
For your own safety, the principles in this booklet should not just be applied to you personally: they should also be applied to the organisation you work for, and to all the people you work for and alongside. Christians tend to trust other Christians, and this opens the door for flexibility in the way money is handled, flexibility leads to justifying the use of money for purposes which don't appear in the accounts, and this leads to fraud. It happens, even in 'Christian' organisations, and even to people exercising an anointed and spirit-filled ministry.
Please understand that I am not saying you should not trust your fellow workers. You need to trust them, but you also need to be responsible in the way you work with them. The loving way to treat a fellow Christian is to protect them from such risks, and to protect them too from the danger of false accusations.
Before we start to look in detail at the Bible's teaching on money, we need to clear away some common misunderstanding. If you adopt one of these familiar positions, it will be difficult to respond to 'the whole counsel of God' in this area. We will therefore look at some common errors and see where they fall short.
God has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ, so I do not need to worry about money(2). To concern myself about where the money will come from is to display a lack of faith in His ability to provide for my needs.
God has called me to this task. He has promised to meet all my needs(3). Therefore I should not worry about money, and must not allow the question of money in the bank to affect my behaviour. If there is no money to do what God wants me to do, I need to go ahead and do it anyway in the faith that He will supply as and when the bills arrive.
We are called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us(4). If He has not provided the resources, He clearly does not want me to do the work. Or, at least, He does not want me to start it now.
Jesus does not want us to be like the man who started to build a tower but could not complete it,(5) so it is clearly His intention that we should only start to build our tower - whatever that may be - when we know the money to finish the work is all in the bank.
Will God always supply, whatever we do? Whatever our reasoning says God must do, the reality is that Christians who step out in faith and ignore the question of where the money is coming from do sometimes go bankrupt. There is no divine law which prevents this.
True, it does not happen very often. You can see this as an example of the Lord's providence in action (which I would not want to deny!) but what usually happens is that your fellow Christians see the financial crisis and bale you out, often at great personal cost and sacrifice, before the legal situation gets really nasty. Sometimes this happens more than once. The fellow Christians eventually call a halt, and another Christian worker retires wounded from the field. Sometimes people are so damaged by the experience that they retire from Christian activity - and even church life - altogether.
The alternative approach is clearly ruled out by the teaching and examples we find throughout the Bible. Peter had no guarantee that the water would hold him up(6). We cannot demand that God prove a course of action will be safe before we commit ourselves to it. Sometimes He takes us down paths that are not safe: ever since Stephen(7), Christians have been harmed, and even killed, while following His will for their lives.
We also need to remember there is no cast-iron certainty in this world. Do not say 'tomorrow I will go...(8)' You may have the money in the bank for that project, but the bank can go bust, you may need the money for something else, or the project may cost more than you anticipated. Our security is in the Lord, not in money in the bank.
The two simple approaches are clearly inadequate as the basis for a healthy Christian life - they require you to ignore either reality or faith. So what is left?
If you could answer this question by some set of rules, there would be no need for either faith or a personal relationship with Jesus. You have to listen to His voice in each set of circumstances.
Sometimes He will tell you to step out 'in faith' and take the risk even though you have no idea where the money is coming from; at other times He will tell you to stand firm and resist the temptation to go ahead with some exciting project until He has confirmed by supplying the money that He wants you to do it and now is the time. There is no substitute for developing a knowledge and understanding of scripture, sensitivity to the Spirit's guidance, a sense of God's timing, and honest relationships with mature Christians.
The only way to get your handling of money right is to be truly spiritual, which means amongst other things that you know how to apply your spirituality to the hard questions and decisions you face in real life. This is where we want to be. It may sound difficult, maybe even impossible, but the good news is that God is committed to bringing each one of us to this point - or as close as He can get in our lifetime. And we are not expected to discern God's will on our own: guidance operates in the context of the Body of Christ.
It is not easy to be a Christian. You are constantly pulled in different directions: church, family, personal devotions, service, and so on. One of the reasons which tempt people into full time Christian work is the hope and expectation that these conflicts will be removed or reduced when they are 'full time' for the Lord.
The reality is that the pressures are often greater, and the choices more difficult in Christian work. And you often have to work without a direct supervisor who can resolve the conflicting priorities for you.
In accountancy, you aim to develop and apply a consistent set of rules which tell you how to handle any situation. The accounts should look the same whoever prepared them, and be understood the same whoever reads them.
In business, there is a similar situation concerning the way people should behave. The rules are expressed as the 'corporate strategy' or something similar. They ensure that different parts of the business will not operate in conflict with each other. The corporate strategy for Christians starts off with 'You shall love the Lord your God...'
It seems to me that the purpose behind a Christian approach to finance is to enable people to do God's will in all circumstances. This is not to say that the principles of accountancy and corporate strategy should be ignored: they should be used, but they can never provide the whole picture. There is no set of rules or principles which tells you how to use your money as a Christian: the only 'rule' is to get to know your Heavenly Father better, and continue to seek to do His will.
Just to make sure we are getting this discussion in perspective: I am not talking about developing a relationship with our Heavenly Father in order to know how to spend our money. Rather, we need to learn how to spend our money because that is one aspect of deepening our relationship with Him.
Finance is essentially a spiritual and therefore a moral issue. We have to get rid of the idea that it is unspiritual to talk about money. Jesus talked more about money than He did about sin.
Money itself is neither good nor bad. What counts is how the money is used. The common misquote from Paul, 'money is the root of all evil' actually says 'the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil' - which is quite different(9).
We could spend a great deal of time looking at the links between money and spirituality which the Bible tells us about, and which we discover in everyday life: hopefully this is not necessary. This connection is expressed in Scripture in various ways, for example in Proverbs as a link between money and 'wisdom.'(10) Throughout the Bible, true spirituality is seen as dealing with that which is ultimately real and important, and money, while not important in itself, can be (and frequently is) used to affect the things which are important.
For many people (including, sadly, many Christians), you can talk about Heaven and Hell, grace, forgiveness and salvation, and they effectively ignore it because they think you are just voicing empty spiritual platitudes. But if you talk about money, it suddenly becomes clear that you are 'getting real' - dealing with things that matter in the real world.
What is the best practical indication that God has really touched someone's life? They go to Church? No. They say their prayers? No. They read their Bibles? No. People can do all those things and it can just be playacting, fitting in with the people around them, or a vain attempt to make God pleased with them. On the other hand, if God has taken hold of someone's wallet and chequebook, then you can be confident He has a significant place in their life.
These folk should not be confused with the people who try to buy Divine favour through their giving, along the lines of "Sorry God, you can't have my life, but here is some money instead." The key issue is control. One group are using their finances to achieve (or in the hope of achieving) a desired end; the other group have given control of their finances to the Almighty.
The World is God's. Everything belongs to Him. Nothing belongs to us, but He entrusts some things to our care for a little while.
The parable of the talents clearly shows how we are called to be good stewards of His belongings, responsibly using the resources He entrusts into our care(11). As we demonstrate responsibility, He entrusts more into our hands.
Unless we can handle money responsibly, the parable says God will not entrust things of real value into our hands. We may wonder what things of 'real value' we may receive beyond the riches we have already been given, but the teaching is clear however hard we may find it to imagine.
Money has always been a source of power. These days, as other sources of power decrease, it is increasingly important
Money should not be used to avoid moral duties and responsibilities. If you have money, you can hide behind it. The classic example is the person who gives money to missionaries as a way to avoid God's call to the mission field. But the danger also applies to Christian workers just as much.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that money should not be used to achieve immoral purposes. Our dealings with other people are to be godly in every aspect. The way we use money to affect other people should be characterised (as should all we do) by peace, justice and grace.
A good starting point here is to admit that the Bible does not actually condemn gambling as an activity. Like all the ways we use to relax and enjoy ourselves, it can become compulsive and an opportunity for sin, but there is nothing inherently wrong if you choose to enjoy this form of entertainment. The key point is that you do not sin in the process. It can therefore be treated in a very similar way to the subject of alcohol.
Some people have claimed that gambling is not condemned in the Bible because it had not been invented, but this is clearly not the case. The Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' robe at the crucifixion(12). Games of chance are almost as old as the human race, and betting on their outcome is an essential part of these activities.
The Bible records various instances where God's will is discerned through the casting of lots or some similar process(13). We believe this is how the Urim and Thumin were used in the Old Testament. Possibly the best known example is at the start of Acts where the replacement for Judas among the twelve is chosen this way.
In the same way that great sensitivity is required in the use of alcohol, so too with gambling. If your home Church, or your host culture, regards either as unacceptable in any degree, then you will need to respect the convictions of these people. Playing one arm bandits every evening is clearly not an example of responsible stewardship of either your money or your time. But buying the occasional raffle ticket in aid of a good cause is not necessarily the sell-out to Satan that some people would have you believe.
Most of the focus of this document is on how you get and spend money as a Christian worker. But the main focus in scripture seems to be not so much on getting and spending money as on giving it away. Giving is an aspect of sacrifice, and is therefore at the heart of the Bible's teaching on worship.
It is not the function of this booklet to teach about worship, but we need to remember that everything we do as Christians is - or should be - an act of worship(14), and therefore if the way we use the money He has placed in our hands does not glorify God, we are going wrong in a very fundamental way.
God is the source of everything we have, and from this understanding flows the principle of tithing. The essence of tithing is the belief that the first tenth of everything we get belongs to God, so He tells us what to do with it.(15) Everything else is an outworking of this basic concept.
Christians commonly voice two objections to the principle of tithing.
The first objection is that the Old Testament law does not apply to me. We have to agree with that. In the Old Testament, the first tenth belonged to God. In the New Testament, it all belongs to God. We are not owners, but stewards of all the money and resources He has entrusted to our care.
So the suggestion is that because tithing is a part of the Old Testament law, it is not relevant to Christians today. That is partly true. It is 'only' Old Testament law, and as such does not directly apply to us, but we cannot simply ignore it. We believe that the Old Testament teaches us vital principles which are true and relevant to us today.
It is hard to see how, under the new covenant, the amount we give away under the Lord's direction could possible be less than the amount we would have given under the old covenant. For us, tithing is not a law, it is a privilege. You do not have to tithe, but there would seem to be something very wrong if you did not want to use this means to acknowledge God as having the first place in your life.
The second objection takes account of the answer to the first. The argument goes like this: one tenth sounds reasonable, but I already pay more than that in taxes, many of which go to good purposes such as healthcare and education.
Again, this is true, but irrelevant. In the Old Testament there were a number of tithes. Most people gave a greater proportion of their income than most of us today. They tithed everything, salary, gifts, the food they grew. As well as the various tithes, there were offerings, sacrifices and charity.(16) And there was no tithe free allowance below which you could avoid paying. So we actually get off very lightly in comparison to people in the Old Testament.
If the first tenth belongs to God, then giving it is not actually giving. Giving starts when you start to give from the nine tenths He leaves with you.
Tithing is very easy if you start when you have very little. We need to teach the principle to our young children and teenagers, so they can start the right way. If you are earning a good salary, it must be very difficult to start tithing. If you cannot do it all at once, start moving in the right direction. Increase your giving by one percent each year, and you will have reached the starting line within ten years. It is better to have an achievable plan than just good intentions to do something about it at some vague point in the future.
For many people, the most painless way to give is to set up a standing order with the bank, and have the money go out automatically a few days after you are paid. That way, you don't see it, so you don't miss it. Remember, you do not gain any spiritual brownie points by making the act of giving into something which is difficult or painful for you. God wants you to learn the joy of giving, He does not want to make you suffer without purpose.
In our society today, there is a great deal of variety in the amount people have to live on. If the poor can give one tenth, with each increase in salary, we should be able to afford to give more than one tenth. A progressive scale seems fair when we consider income tax, so why not when we consider the amount we return to God?
The Bible repeatedly demonstrates God's 'bias to the poor' - not that they are better or more spiritual than the rich, but they deserve to have more care taken of them because they need it more. This is very clear in the Old Testament, and also present to a lesser extent in the New Testament as well.
As Christians, we need to reflect that Godly bias. It is right to spend money to relieve poverty, hunger and sickness, and to do so as activities which are valid in and of themselves. We do not need to 'justify' supporting work to fight hunger and poverty across the world by regarding these activities as excuses for preaching the gospel.
Am I responsible for the way the money I have given away is used? What conditions, if any, should I place on the use of money I give to charities? If I am responsible to God for the way my money is used, surely I need to ensure it ends up in the right place? This makes a great deal of emotional sense, but we need to think clearly about it.
There are at least two good reasons why it is generally not a good idea to give money with strings. Firstly, it undermines the basic idea of giving it away if you want to retain control of how it is used. And, secondly, you can cause the recipient to spent a great deal of time and money in ensuring that every penny is spent as directed - while your money may be sent the 'right' way, someone else's money is going down the drain in administration and paperwork that are being done simply because you insisted on it.
There is nothing to stop you responding to specific requests, when people ask for money for a particular need: in this case, the systems are already in place to ensure the money goes in the right direction.
I suggest that you are responsible for the way you use your money - the money the Lord has made you a steward of - and other people are responsible for the way they use their money. When you give money to them, it becomes their money, and they become responsible for it. Choose to give your money to people and organisations you trust, and then trust them to use it the right way.
"You say that all Christians are called to live by faith. This is not so. I live by faith you walk by faith. Living by faith is a more specific call to depend on God for one's daily provisions. This destroys many Xtian workers. The problem is we live in a 'Christian' society that does not know or undrstand living by faith."
Maybe I need to expand this bit as well. I seem to recall a quote from something I read recently along the lines of 'the just shall live by faith.(17)' I agree that common Christian jargon equates living by faith with living without a salary, but it seems to me the common understanding is dreadfully inadequate. I'll think about this a bit further
Where does a responsible approach to providing for the future become a selfish hoarding of riches for my old age? How much should we put aside for a pension? Is 'living by faith' a lifelong commitment? Does it imply you should trust the Lord will keep you when you are old, and possibly sick and helpless?
To deal with the easiest, 'living by faith' - in the Biblical sense - is a lifelong commitment for all Christians, whether in a salaried position or not. God does not ask us to renounce a salary for life, only for the next step, so a Christian who is not receiving a salary can be called by God to earn money or gain employment, just as one who is in employment can be called out of it.
The Apostle Paul constantly moved between relying on gifts from fellow Christians and earning his own living by making tents. The call of God is always to the next step in our Christian walk, and He rarely reveals the step after. That is the way He worked in the Bible, the way He worked in the lives of Christians through the centuries, and the way He operates in our lives today. We need to understand His guidance in this context.
To put the original question into context: the issue is one all Christians face, not just those in full time Christian work. Bible verses can be thrown up to support each of the different positions.
In seeking God's will for you in this matter, you are (or should be!) better off than most Christians: you have the advantage of a board, a support group, or similar - a small group of people who know all about your financial situation, who can talk and pray through this question as it applies to you and your family.
How much should I trust in the Lord's protection as a Christian, and how much should I take out insurance against loss?
Clearly, if I drive a car, UK law requires me to have RTA ('Road Traffic Act') cover. This is usually sold as part of a package called 'Third Party, Fire and Theft.' So I keep the law and ensure that I am covered by this insurance whenever I drive. But should I keep the cover at that level and trust His Hand to protect me, giving the money I save to missionary work? Or should I ensure that I have enough cover to get back on the road in the event of an accident?
You can argue from first principles either way: if God wants me to drive He will keep me safe from accidents; if I have an accident and cannot afford a new car, He clearly does not want me to drive any more. Or, alternatively, the way He expects to protect me from the financial effect of accidents is by the mechanism of insurance, just as He usually protects me from the accidents themselves by natural methods - proper maintenance of the vehicle, keeping to the speed limit, not driving after drinking alcohol, and so on.
How much am I allowed to use money to enjoy myself, when it could be put to much better use, either feeding the starving or spreading the gospel(18)? How can I use money for pleasure when it comes from people who have made serious sacrifices in order to give it to me?
On the other hand, am I expected to live without ever spending anything on pleasure? How far can this position be taken? As a married man, do I expect my wife and children to live without spending any money on pleasure so we can give as much as possible to build the Kingdom? Do I insist my Church never spends any money on non-essentials, like pictures and banners on the walls? It seems like a logical approach, but one which has no justification in scripture. While gluttony is a sin, God commands His people in the Old Testament to feast and enjoy themselves sometimes.
The difficulty here is partly in discerning just what is 'necessary' in any situation. The old saying that "God provides sufficient for each one's need, but not sufficient for each one's greed" seems like it must be true, but does not help us much as no two people can agree on what their 'needs' consist of.
Morality has several aspects and dimensions, including both the personal and the social. Here are a few fairly obvious areas of application.
Using money as we promise. When we say we will do something, we need to keep our word, and this applies as much to our use of money as it does to attending meetings. The difference is that, on the whole, people will notice if we fail to attend a meeting we promised to be at, but they will not notice if we spend the money differently. But morality is about doing the right thing whether anyone else will notice or not.
It should not be necessary to make this point, but some Christians adopt a double standard in this area: while they would never lie, cheat or steal, they will deceive people about how money is obtained or used because 'it is only money' and therefore - they think - unimportant.
Using the money as the givers intended. This is the other side of the 'second-hand stewardship' problem discussed above. If you cannot use the money as the donor intended, give it back. If you cannot give it back, then pass it on to an organisation which does have an appropriate ministry. Giving money may hurt, but not as much as using it wrongly will do.
Allowing others to see how the money is used. A balance is needed here: while being secretive about your finances is unhealthy, most people do not want to have every minute detail of how the money is used rammed down their throats at every opportunity.
Just as the gospel is freely offered, but you do not force it on people against their will, so too with financial information: make it available, but don't give it to people who are not interested.
Paying for what you receive. As Christians, we are very weak in this area, especially when it comes to paying for people's time. We somehow expect Christian bricklayers to work on 'Christian' building projects for nothing, but the family still have to be fed and the bills still have to be paid whether the bricklayer is working on a chapel or a pub.
Similarly, if we ask someone to visit, we tend to offer to pay for their transport costs ('second class only, of course!') but not for the cost of the materials they brought or used in their own preparation, and especially not for the cost of their support for the time they spent with you, travelling, and preparing the message and the materials they bring. Even if they 'only' preach a sermon they have used before, you can expect them to have spent time with the material to ensure it is fresh when they deliver it to you.(19)
This section looks briefly at the application of some basic principles in a few common practical areas.
We must be not only moral, but also able to demonstrate our morality. Good records - that is, records which are both accurate and complete - are an essential part of any Christian ministry. Apart from any other reason, Satan wants to undermine Christian activity of all sorts, and if he can do so by false accusations, you are handing him the battle on a plate.
For your own sake, ensure that you not only behave correctly with all the money you handle, but can prove that you have done so. Get receipts, and store your records in an organised fashion so they do not get lost and can be used when you need them.
Even if you pay an accountant to keep your financial affairs in order (which can be a very cost-effective thing to do) it still makes sense to keep your records as clear and ordered as possible. Handing over a year's worth of receipts in a shoe box may be adequate, but you will be paying someone quite a lot of money to sort out the mess and file it in an orderly fashion, when you could have done it yourself very easily as you went along.
Covenants and Gift Aid increase the value of giving to proper charities for people who pay income tax. It seems immoral not to make use of this when we can. For those of you who are confused, here in round terms is how it operates.
A 'covenant' is simply a legal commitment to do something. In this context, it is a commitment to give to a charity for a minimum of four years. When you covenant a gift or give through Gift Aid, the government returns to the charity the tax already paid on the amount given. Clearly, this only operates on your taxed income, but for most people who pay tax this is not a limiting factor. In practice, if your circumstances change, the Inland Revenue do not mind if the covenant is ended early, although in theory they could claw back the tax they have returned for that covenant.
At present, whatever rate you pay tax at, the tax recovery is calculated on the base rate, which is too low for some people and too high for others, but the general principle is simple enough to understand.
For the sake of simplicity, let us assume you pay tax at 25%. If you earn an additional £100, this will result in you receiving £75 after the 25% tax has been deducted. If you give this £75 to a charity under a covenant or through Gift Aid, the government returns to the charity the £25 tax you have already paid.
Give As You Earn operates slightly differently - the gift is taken from your salary before the tax is calculated - but provides the same benefit of tax recovery. Some employers add to the value of gifts made this way. You should encourage supporters to check whether this applies to them.
The process of fund raising is very simple in outline. One pattern which most people feel comfortable with goes like this.
Of course, there are other ways to do it. You can simply ask your new contacts to give you money, and sometimes this will be appropriate. You can organise fund raising events. You can approach individuals and churches and ask them directly on a one to one basis to support you.
Fund raising is one of the areas of ministry which vary greatly from culture to culture. What you can say, what you can ask for, and what information you can provide (and when) are all determined by the culture you are speaking into. In the UK, you give details of your bank account only to people who ask about how they can give you money. In the USA, you are expected to put your bank details on every prayer letter and communication you send out. Neither approach is right or wrong, simple appropriate or inappropriate in any given context.
Once you have understood what is appropriate in the culture, the details of what you say and what you can ask for are then determined by the context. What is your contact with these people? What are they expecting? What do they know before you start? How many people are present? How formal is the setting? And so on.
In an informal setting with a few people, you can say more about your problems, fears and financial difficulties than you can in a large formal gathering. Or, to be more precise, you have greater opportunity to build a relationship of trust with the smaller group, which gives you the right to share the more personal areas. So try to set up lots of meetings with individual Housegroups.
While it is nice to find people who will give you lots of money, you need to be aware of some pitfalls which can follow.
The answer is to encourage lots of people to give a small amount to you on a regular basis. Many people will hardly notice £5 per month, but when put together with several others it can make a big difference. Apart from anything else, ten people who give £5 a month will probably end up praying for you a great deal more than one person who gives £50. So, the motto is 'Think Small!' and ask for small donations, to get the following benefits:
It is vital that you provide your supporters with feedback. They must know that their money and prayers are being used to build the Kingdom as effectively as possible - and the only way for them to know is if you tell them.
Some people object that 'they ought to trust me' - but why? Why should they trust you? And, more to the point, why should they choose to trust you when they can support many other Christians who will make it very clear to them that their money is being used well? See the section on Prayer Letters below for more about this area.
I need to insert a whole extra section here about "friend raising," that is, building real long-term relationships with your partners/supporters, which means developing care and concern for them and their families, and understanding the issues that effect their lives.
People engaged in 'full time' Christian work are often asked to preach at Church Services and speak at other events. What should you say? How should you use these opportunities?
Firstly, consider what have you been asked to do, and where and when you have been asked to do it. If it is an evangelistic address, a blunt request for money is probably not appropriate. If it is part of a series on 'Practical Support for Missionaries' then asking for money could be exactly what you need to do. The key point is, you have to be sensitive to the context.
Secondly, remember that you have been asked by people who know what you do, so they are expecting you to say something about it. People do not invite a speaker from Christian Aid and expect them to say nothing about the work of Christian Aid - or at least, if they do, they make it very clear in the invitation. Similarly, you can safely assume that one part of the reason why you have been invited is so you can represent your organisation and present something of its work.
Thirdly, remember that you are called to use the event as an opportunity to bless the people you are speaking to. If you go into the event with the primary aim of getting money, you may be successful in financial terms, but spiritually you will be heading up a backwater.
Fourthly, you can use the opportunity to look backwards and forwards, to give testimony to the Lord's faithfulness in the past, and to share something of the opportunities and difficulties you are facing in the future. If you can get people enthused about the opportunities, you can ask them to pray that the difficulties be overcome. One of the difficulties will often be a lack of money, but try not to present that as the only one.
You do not have to do what you were asked - although it is friendly to tell the host if you plan to do something different! Perhaps you have been 'volunteered' to do a children's talk as well as the sermon, and you are hopeless at working with children. If you have problems or doubts about what they are asking for, talk about it. Remember, the people who have invited you want the visit to be a success - maybe even more than you do. On the whole, they will be pleased if you get in contact to talk about what they are asking you to do.
If you have difficulty presenting the work you do in the context of the subject you have been given - or even if you don't - you could ask for two slots: one to tell people about your work, and the other to preach on the given subject. You may get to do the first slot while all the children - and their helpers - are together with you in the Church, and so reach more people. A short, pithy presentation gets remembered, so make sure you can do it with the children present.
There are a few golden rules:
The news letter is intended for people who are interested in and want to support your ministry. They are interested in the work being done and the fruit being produced.
You do not want to pack the news letter with numbers, but as well as your excitement ('God has been really blessing us!') you have to give people the facts and figures they need to be sure this is not all hot air. You may know that you are making a significant contribution to the building of God's Kingdom, but the people who read your news letter have the right to understand how your activities achieve this goal.
The prayer letter is intended for people who are interested in and want to support you personally. You can sometimes give details of the ministry which you do not want to make fully public - if a fellow worker is experiencing personal difficulties and is in need of special prayer, for example. The main focus is not on the work, but on how you are coping with the work.
Always thank people for their prayers. Tell them how the prayer requests from previous letters have been answered - or tell them they need to keep on praying for it. One of the things which really discourages people from praying is to pray faithfully for something, and then never be told whether God answered those prayers. If you do not provide this feedback, you are effectively telling your prayer supporters: 'Okay, I asked you to pray about that event, but really it wasn't important. I just couldn't think of anything important to ask you to pray for at the time.'
Always be specific about what you are asking people to pray for. It may be obvious to you, but you would be amazed at the number of different interpretations people will place on your words if you give them the opportunity. If you just say that Uncle Jim is very ill and in a lot of pain, what will people understand you want them to do? Pray for the pain to be taken away? Pray that he receive miraculous healing? Pray for Aunt Sarah to have patience in caring for him? Or pray for a speedy and peaceful death? If you do not know which you think is the right prayer, say you are not clear and ask for people's prayers for the situation and that the Lord's will to become clear.
Always list what you know of future events, up to a month after the next prayer letter is due. As a general rule, if something is important enough for you to put in your diary, it is important enough to ask people to pray for.
You need to be clear about your financial situation and needs. Many people adopt a policy of mentioning this specific area once a year. Why once a year? There is no particular justification: it is simply one possible compromise between the two extremes: most British people think that talking about money every time gives a wrong impression, and never talking about money effectively tells people you have no needs in that area. Which is fine if that is really the case, but somewhat unhelpful otherwise.
Tell people what you are doing with their gifts. Help them to understand both the cost of living and the cost of exercising your ministry. Help them to see how their gifts enable God's work to be done.
And finally, remember to thank people for their gifts. Acknowledge the fact that their gifts cost them something - that they sacrifice something in order to support you. If you can add a hand-written note to the prayer letter, you can ensure that personal thanks go to the right people, and you are saying that their contribution, however small, is both noted and appreciated. People need to feel appreciated! In the long run, if you cannot be bothered to express your gratitude to your supporters, many of them will discover other ministries which both need their money and are grateful for it.
The way you raise and spend money says more about your spiritual life than the way you pray in church, or most of the other ways we mistakenly attempt to judge spirituality. Your attitude to money will affect the effectiveness of your ministry: if you are responsible and generous, God will reward you. The Bible promises that. I don't need to spell out the alternative!
Finally, once you really grasp that the handling of money, far from being a distraction to the Christian worker, is a significant part of the ministry you are called to, you will be free to treat it as both a practical challenge and an opportunity to grow in faith, deepen your relationship with Jesus, and so become far more effective in building His Kingdom.
The following is a set of extracts from a sermon I preached at Westborough in the Spring of 1997, at the start of a fund raising campaign for a major building project. They have been slightly modified to be more generally relevant.
...I don't want to disappoint you entirely, so we will be looking at money later. But I do not want to send you out on a big guilt trip. Firstly, because I don't like doing that sort of thing; secondly, because I don't think it works in the long run; and thirdly, because I really do not believe it is appropriate.
...So the first point is taken from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4 verse 9. Paul was writing about brotherly love, but the same principle applies here: now about giving, I have no need to speak to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God. So I urge you to keep on the way you are going, giving more and more.
I don't need to tell you it is important to give - you already know that. What we need to do this morning is quite different: it is to understand a little more clearly why it is important to give, and why the seemingly practical and unspiritual subject of money is so important to our spiritual health.
Jesus was constantly dividing people into two groups: the sheep and the goats, the wise and the foolish. There are, fundamentally, just two ways to live: you can live by giving, or you can live by getting. When you meet someone new, you can do one of two things: you can ask yourself how can I benefit from this meeting? What can I get out of this person? Or you can ask what can I give this person? How can I bless them?
You can use every situation as an opportunity to improve your own lot, or as an opportunity to extend God's Kingdom. In the end, that is the only choice we have.
We must not allow ourselves to be confused by people who say they believe in adopting a 'win-win' strategy. In any situation, your fundamental purpose will either be that of giving or of getting. You can adopt the 'win-win' strategy because you believe it is best for you, or because you believe it is best for the other person.
It is easy to agree with this point and go on to criticise other people. It is essential that each one of us is honest about our own motives. It is always dangerous to judge other people's motives and it is especially difficult in this area.
Someone who appears to be constantly getting may be doing it so they can give to a more worthy cause. As Margaret Thatcher pointed out, the Good Samaritan presumably worked for the money he used to bless the traveller. And someone who appears generous may be trying to impress other people or to win God's favour.
So the choice we have is between giving and getting. This choice can be expressed in various ways. It can be seen as the choice between love and selfishness. Very often, it can be seen as the difference between offering people freedom, and tying them down with contracts and agreements.
We sometimes confuse giving with selling. I'm not talking about what you do for a job - there is nothing unspiritual about selling things for a living. Paul sold tents. The selling I am talking about is not done in your job, but in your life.
Most people live by doing deals, by establishing networks of informal and unwritten contracts. The essence of this frame of mind is: never give anything away. You never give without ensuring that you get something of at least equal value in return, either goods in hand, or maybe good will to be cashed in at a later date.
We soon learn to be suspicious about people who seem to give things away for nothing - like the school child who gives an apple to teacher just before the difficult test, or the business man who gives a few hundred thousand to a political party. We know that what is presented as simple giving, is often in reality an underhand way of selling something.
But who is entirely free from wrongful motives? In a sense, that does not matter. I am not saying don't give unless your motives are pure, just let us be honest about where we are. Honesty is the one essential requirement for spiritual growth.
So, to summarise, 'giving' means 'giving without strings', and we have to choose between a life of giving and a life devoted to getting.
It is the nature of God to give. We all know John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only beloved son" - but we need to spend a little time looking at the essential connection between giving and grace. To remind you of the differences between the three options:
Before we were Christians, we had nothing. We could not bargain with God, we had nothing to offer him. Salvation is an act of God's grace. He freely chooses to give us what we cannot get for ourselves, what we do not deserve.
You may remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The grace which freely gives us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life costs Him His life. In order for Him to give us life, He had to give up His life. Grace is all about giving, free giving. Note that there was no contract involved with his Father that if He died then the following things would happen. Jesus did not sell His life, He gave it up. He suffered and died in faith that His death would be worthwhile. Jesus is our ultimate example. He shows us what true giving is all about.
We can pause in awe and wonder at the love which inspired such grace, such giving. But only for a moment. Because, remember, that when you and I signed up to follow Jesus, we signed up to follow Him. We signed up to become like Him. Remember Matthew 10:25 - it is enough for the disciple to become like his master.
We sometimes think that Jesus is our role model in His character, but not His mission. He died on the cross to save us from our sins, and nobody else is called to do that, are they? Well, not exactly, but Jesus Himself said "If any man would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross." Similarly, Paul talks in Colossians 1:24 about making up in his body what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.
The mission of Jesus, to bring the blessings of God to sinful people, is the same mission that, in our own way, each one of us has been called to fulfil. When instead of doing something that we want, we give our time to be a blessing to someone else, we are allowing our own plans and ambitions to die in order that God's plans and ambitions may be brought to life in someone else.
Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 4:10-12. "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you."
This is the principle of the cross, the cross we have chosen to embrace, the way we have chosen to follow. We can only bring life to other people by embracing death ourselves. Jesus gave Himself that we may be blessed. We give ourselves to Him that others may be blessed. There is no other way.
In talking with people, at this point they often say something like this: I never intended to be a spiritual giant. I am happy just to be an ordinary Christian and leave that self-sacrifice and God's mission stuff to others.
I can identify with that desire, but unfortunately it completely misses the point. We cannot follow Jesus without following Him on the way of the cross. We cannot follow Him morally without following Him practically. We cannot accept His ethics without accepting His mission.
To put it another way: as a Christian, you are not saying you want to become a spiritual giant by committing yourself to a life of self sacrifice, characterised by giving and not by getting. You are simply saying that you are prepared to start following Jesus. Accepting a constant dying to self so that others may be blessed is just the beginning of the Christian road.
'Grace' is not just a way of describing God; it is an essential aspect of His nature, and an essential aspect of the nature He plans to form and grow in each one of us. We are called to become a gracious, giving people, who constantly draw on God's power, which is the power of self sacrifice, to bless people and transform the world around us.
There was a sign on the front of a church lectern: 'First give yourself to Christ, then all other giving is easy.' It is a reference to 2 Corinthians 8:5. Paul is talking about the collection being taken up by the Churches in Macedonia: "And they did not do this as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord."
The principle is that our money must be given as God directs. I am not suggesting that it must all go to the Church, or even to explicitly Christian work. But it is clear we have a responsibility to support God's work in this place, so a significant part of our giving should be to the Church here.
In addition to God's work in the local Church, we have responsibilities as individuals and as Churches to support our missionaries. They endure enough hardship for the Lord's sake, we should not make life even harder by failing to provide them with enough to live on.
There are many other ways you can give money to directly support and bless the work of God's Kingdom. You can support Bible translation through Wycliffe, and the distribution of Bibles to poor people across the world through the Bible Society. You can support Christian Aid expressing the gospel in practical caring.
I am not trying to tell you where your giving should be directed, simply trying to encourage you to be open to hearing the Lord's guidance about how He wants to use the money He has entrusted into your care. Remember the parable of the talents: we are responsible to God to use everything He has put into our hands in the most effective way possible.
Perhaps I don't need to say this, but I will anyway: we are responsible before God for everything He has entrusted into our care. We all have money, so we are responsible for the way we use money. We all have time, so we are responsible for the way we use time. We have energy and ambition, so we are responsible for how we use those.
The other side of the coin is that we are not responsible for the things He has not entrusted to us. There are members of this congregation on very low incomes: as students, as pensioners, or for some other reason. He has not given you much money, but that does not matter. Think about what He has given you, and how He wants you to use that.
Others here are married to people who are not yet fully committed to the Lord. When you talk about money together, you can say that you would like to give in a particular way or to a specific cause, but you have to work that out together. You need to help your partner understand that giving is important to you, but you don't have to push the subject to the point where you create a problem. The state of your marriage is more important than a few pounds in the collection. Remember, it is your heart's desire that counts, and the Lord will show you ways in which you can help build His Kingdom.
Giving, for Christians, is not a command, but a privilege. We are allowed to share in the building of God's Kingdom. We are allowed to discover for ourselves what it is to be an instrument of His grace, a channel of His blessing. By choosing the way of the cross, by embracing self sacrifice so that others may be blessed, the very character of God is formed in our lives, and we become, as He desires, more and more like Jesus.
References to Biblical texts in the main body are generally paraphrases. The quotes below are taken from the New International Version, © International Bible Society.
(1) It is not easy to know which books will still be available by the time you read this. Talking to the manager of a Christian bookshop is probably a good way to discover the current Christian books. Also look at some non-Christian books on the subject of bookkeeping: you probably should read at least one on bookkeeping for small businesses. While you may not need a full double entry system yourself, you will greatly benefit from a basic understanding of the language and principles involved. Among the books I have looked at are:
(4) The call to be obedient to God is often linked with the issue of good stewardship, such as in the parable of the talents, or the parable of the wise and faithful servant - Matthew 24:45-51. [Back...]
(5) Luke 14:28-30. 'Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish."' [Back...]
(8) James 4:13-15. 'Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."' [Back...]
(13) Among the obvious examples of casting of lots to discern God's will are Joshua 7:1-26 (the defeat at Ai), 1 Samuel 13:23-14:46 (Jonathan and the honey) and Acts 1:23-26 (the choice of Matthias to replace Judas). [Back...]
(16) The details are not totally clear, but it appears there were three tithes: a general tithe paid to the Levites, a tithe associated with the sacred meal, and the tithe paid every third year to the poor. The Levites gave away a tithe of the tithe they received, which should settle the minds of the few people who wonder if it is proper for supported Christian workers to tithe as the money has already all been given to the Lord! See for example Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24, 26-32; Deuteronomy 12:6-7, 17-19; 14:22-29; 26:12-15. [Back...]
(18) God commanded many feasts in the Old Testament, with the clear intention that His people should eat, drink and enjoy themselves. For one example of this command, see Deuteronomy 16:13-15. [Back...]
(19) Administry produce an excellent leaflet on the subject of calculating a realistic cost for the ministry we receive. Their address is: PO Box 57, St Albans, AL1 3DT; their telephone number is (01727) 856370. [Back...]