Hey everyone! My name is Joe and I serve as one of the overseers here at Antioch Little Rock. One of my specific areas of oversight and responsibility is over the church’s finances and in this blog post I'm going to be sharing about two things:
To aid our discussion on our church's finances, I've created this graph to help illustrate where we are at:
There are a few things I want to point out on this graph:
Recently, we as a leadership team have felt prompted by the Lord that the time has come for the church to fully support Bobby and his family for the work they do in our church. Up until recently, the Eller family has been a two income household with Bobby working as a pastor in our church and Sara working in the physical therapy field. However, around the same time we were feeling this prompting from the Lord, He was also prompting Sara to exit the workforce for the time being to stay home and focus on being a mom. The Lord's timing couldn't be better!
While we have some money in the bank already to use to fund this pay increase, we don't have the regular, recurring income that human wisdom might dictate we secure first before making a decision like this. Despite this, we still feel like the Lord wants us to move forward with this change right now and trust that He’ll provide what we need as we go; this is very much in line with His character, as He loves to stoke and stimulate faith and trust in Himself.
We also realized that, as leadership, we’ve been operating under this assumption that what we have today is “all we’ve got” and that we need to be very careful with the church’s money. On one hand, that leads to some good stewardship principles and a spending culture that does indulge in bells & whistles. On the other hand, we’ve found ourselves not realizing or accepting God’s invitations sometimes to dream about the future. Realizing this, we started asking ourselves “What could be done if there was more money around to use?” Maybe we could offer monthly giving commitments to missionaries instead of one-time gifts, or perhaps we could fund more frequent local outreach events, or ramp up benevolence and acts of mercy giving, or make sure our other staff person Michael is getting paid appropriately. Or perhaps a hundred other things that different ones of you might be given a heart for by the Lord that we can get behind. Part of our growth in leadership is learning how to guard against stifling a dream or idea the Lord has to impart just because we can’t see how it’d logistically or financially work out ahead of time and repenting when we find ourselves doing that again.
Human wisdom wants to take those ideas and put them on the chart and start planning for them. What if we paid Michael better, or hired another part-time staff person? What if we outgrow our space and we have to pay market-rate rent in our new space? It's easy to start stacking things on the chart and feeling and focusing on the lack. Fortunately for us, we're not in charge of figuring all of that out. The head of our church is Jesus and He will guide us one step of the way at a time.
All we know is that for right now, we feel like God wants our church to fully support Bobby’s family from his work in the church as a pastor. We know, trust, and expect the Lord to lead us one step at a time when the time is right for everything and that’s the path we plan to take rather than trying to make our own ideas work ahead of time. Up until now, we haven't uttered a word about church-wide financial needs - mostly because we've had what we needed and been fine. We've seen individual financial needs come up here or there and watched as our community instantly flooded those people with generosity and relief - so we know there isn't a giving deficiency among us! We’re stepping into new territory where the Lord is asking us to step forward in faith on something that is good and biblical, before the money for it has materialized. And that’s okay. After communicating this need with you all, I fully trust that it will work out and we’ll get the money needed to fully pay and support Bobby’s work in our church as a pastor. I know that it might mean some of you start giving for the first time, or maybe some who already give will give more, and even that some of you won’t be prompted to give at all. That's okay! The Lord knows the best way to meet this need and who needs to rise to the occasion, and who doesn't. We trust that and know only He can do that effectively. (and to help keep it that way, we track our recurring giving via ID numbers rather than names so we're not exposed to the names of who is giving what)
In short, a lot. Way more than could be effectively covered in a single post like this. Instead, I'm going to take a “30,000-ft view” approach, pointing out some of the major landmarks as we look over scripture.
One of the first times we hear about giving is when God is giving the Law to the Israelites. Up until this point there have been singular instances of special types of giving, called “tithes” which means “a tenth”, given between people and groups, but this is the first instance of codified, regular giving we see. There were actually multiple tithes, not just one, instituted with different goals:
So if you were a Jewish farmer back in the day and added all this up, in addition with other offerings you were required to give, you’d end up giving away at least 22% of your annual agricultural produce. This didn’t apply to workers’ wages, and herdsmen had their own cattle tithe instead of these grain tithes.
Now I’m going to pause our overview briefly because you hear a lot about “tithing” today, sometimes used interchangeably with “giving to the church”. And I’m going to make what might sound like a shocking claim to some people, but if you stick with me, the “why” will actually make sense. Here is my claim: You are not required to tithe 10% of your annual income to the church. Why do I say that?
When it comes to us gentiles today, we’re not under the letter of the law anymore since Jesus died on the cross. Paul wrote to us about this in Romans 7:1-4 where he wrote:
“...you who are familiar with the law - don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?...you died to the power of the law when you died with Christ…Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”
However, lest we get too zealous and decide we can completely ignore the law given to the Israelites, Jesus also warned that the law would not pass away until its purpose is fulfilled and the end of time has come in Matthew 5:18. How to take both of these principles seriously is something the early Church had to really wrestle with. Peter, a Jew, continued obeying Jewish kosher laws until he had an open vision from God in Acts 10:11-16 where God showed him those unclean animals, called them “made clean”, and said he could eat them. One of the church’s first big councils, recorded in Acts 15:1-31, was in response to so called “Judaizers” who were teaching that believers still needed to be circumcised and follow the other laws of Moses. After meeting together, the Jerusalem church decided that they didn’t need to burden gentiles with following the law of Moses and gave them just a handful of important ones to focus on.
We can see in the church’s early wrestling with this concept, that the letter of the law wasn’t always followed but each issue was carefully looked at and discerned with the Spirit so as the heart of the matter and the values the law put in place could be preserved. So I think for us when it comes to whether giving to the church should be a tithe or not, and if it is required, etc, I = feel comfortable saying both these things in parallel:
I think we can all see in the tithes from the Mosaic Law that God was and is still interested in
So if your giving is in line with one of those purposes, the "form factor" that giving takes is really between you and God!
Moving on from tithing, in the New Testament we start to see a more full picture of how God wants us to treat the money in our care as Jesus himself teaches and later his apostles start teaching the early church. I’m going to breeze over these for the sake of summarizing and showing a larger picture but these individually have a lot to impart if you spend some time sitting with them:
There is one place in scripture in particular that I think synthesizes a lot of these lessons and values into one single appeal. It’s in 2 Corinthians 9:6-14 where Paul is actually writing to the church in Corinth about having them put together a financial gift for the church in Jerusalem. We'll see a lot of different weighty lessons and values about giving and money all synthesized together:
“Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,
‘They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’
For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.”
His appeal touches on:
You can start to see that when we talk about something as simple sounding as money, there actually are all of these numerous and weighty spiritual principles and realities associated with and wrapped up in money. I think it touches on so many of these issues because at the end of the day, money is the tool we human beings often turn to as our source of provision. Or our source of security. Or as a fulfillment of our desire for power or control. Money doesn’t cause those things on its own, but having it unlocks agency for our flesh to run after its own desires. But our new, redeemed life under Jesus needs to look different than us using money to run after the desires of our flesh. From the moment of our salvation until the end of our first life here on Earth, His Spirit is constantly at work renewing us from the inside out. That renewal looks like child-like faith in God our Father to take care of our needs, not us scrambling around knee-deep in anxiety trying to survive. It looks like a deep care for the wellbeing of the people around us, not hoarding things for ourselves. It looks like the body of Christ taking care of each other’s needs.
And when those things start to manifest and bear fruit, the way you see that renewed person relate to money changes as well. It doesn’t hold the weight and power over the renewed person that it used to! It can be given away freely and doesn’t need to be hoarded for security. So I want to invite you all, in the privacy of your own heart, to ask the Holy Spirit what He wants to tap on in this area. Ask Him if your relationship with money needs changing! Perhaps he might want to point out the tight grip you have on your money, believing it to be the thing that will keep you safe. Perhaps he wants to reassure your heart that He will actually provide for all your needs - that His kids don’t need to worry about the house’s finances. Maybe He’ll bring to mind someone that could use your help - perhaps something tangible or an encouragement or a shared Word from the Lord. Whatever it is, take some time and ask Him what He wants to do or say. Once you hear from him, the way you take this from “just a good thing I heard” to actual change in your life is asking Him a follow up question: is there any practical step or action you’d like me to take either as a step of repentance or a step of faith into what you have for me? You don’t need to plan out the entire strategy for getting yourself to step 10. You just need to obey step #1.