Put Your Money Where Your Mission Statement Is

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They say if you want to know what a person values, just take a look at his or her checkbook. (I’ve also heard a variation that says “if you want to know where a person’s heart is, look at their checkbook” – which is pretty darn close to Matthew 6:21). I guess the updated version of that would include taking a look at their bank statement, but the point is that if you want to know what matters to a person, look at how they spend their money.

The same holds true of the church. In 2000, a study by John LaRue (no relation, though that IS pretty cool… lol) showed that the average church spends about 75% of their tithes and offering on compensation, facilities, organizational fees, and administration and supplies. That leaves about 25% to do hands-on ministry.

The churches who responded to his survey had an average annual budget of nearly $300k. Since I mostly work with small and mid-sized churches, I’m more familiar with churches whose budgets average under $100,000. I would guess that the average small church spends almost half their budget on facilities and almost half on compensation and conferences, leaving about 1 or 2% for outreach and evangelism.

I’ll be the one to say it: if I’m even close to accurate, that’s a crying shame. If we value “having church” more than we value ministering to people outside our four walls, hitting the streets with tracts, going door-to-door to invite people to Christ, feeding the hungry, helping the elderly, giving clothes to those in need, then we’ve lost sight of our mission. Too many churches have mission statements that they don’t carry out. If a person just reads the mission, it sounds like you’re doing great things, but do we actually DO anything more than come to church every Sunday (or Sabbath) and sing and shout and cry for 2 hours (or 3)? I know we enjoy that. It makes us feel good. It’s what we’re accustomed to, so it feels right.Rehearsals, meetings, trainings, classes, usher board, children’s ministry… that’s all great, and God knows it has its place. But there is MORE to ministry than just what takes place in the four walls of your church building.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not minimizing the benefits of a good worship service. I can cry and shout with the best of ’em. But we cannot – we simply cannot forget about the ones who need food, or clothes, or love, or help; the ones we don’t see on Sundays at 11. That’s what ministry is. Anybody can do church. Shucks, these days, EVERYBODY is doing church. It used to be a running joke that in Brooklyn, New York, there are churches on every corner. Nowadays, that can be said of nearly ever major metropolitan city in the US – and even in the small towns. New churches are opening every week… and few of them are doing more than just running through an order of service for a few hours, going home and coming back to do it again the next week. That’s lame. SOOOO LAME.

I challenge you pastors, leaders, and lay members to encourage YOUR local assembly to do more. Show the love of Jesus Christ by serving the people around you. Have your youth ministry rake leaves for the neighbors – for free. Instead of soliciting financial support from the community, give back to the community: wash some cars for free, this time. Adopt a widow or two. Teach people how to write resumes. Start a mentoring program for young men. Collect and distribute winter coats. Offer a free aerobics/exercise class (or if you don’t have the space, organize some walking/jogging teams).  Do a food drive AFTER Thanksgiving is over… visit the sick and hospitalized – even if they’re not members of your church. Go downtown and pass out bottles of water on a hot, summer day. Or go to the local park and give out hot dogs and soft drinks. Offer a parents’ night out to the neighbors. Host a weeknight dinner for all the families who live on the block where your church is located. It’s great to give scholarships to your HS grads, but maybe this year you can give one to some other kid who’s not a member of your church (Philippians 2:4). Instead of trying to think of new ways to get more people in the church, try to think of new ways to show more people the love of Christ, thus winning them into the KINGDOM. I Corinthians 9:19 says, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.You want to win souls? SERVE THEM!

I encourage all my readers, especially the pastors, to go back to the book of Acts and reflect on how church used to be… how church was designed to be. Go back to the blueprint. And while you have that Good Book open, check out Matthew 25:31-46 (a must read). Flip over to the disciples’ argument about who is the greatest, and re-read what Jesus told them about servanthood (Luke 22:25-27). Let’s reclaim the church for ministry and do what we’re assigned to do.

So the question to ponder or discuss is, does your church do church or do you do ministry?

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The Abusive Church – Exposing the Master Manipulators

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If you’ve missed parts 1 and 2 of The Abusive Church series, you can catch up here:

The Abusive Church – Introduction
The Abusive Church – The Control Factor (When the Pastor Becomes Their God)

In this third installment of The Abusive Church series, we will discuss manipulation. Manipulation is the skillful and deliberate use of external forces to get others to do what someone else wants them to do or to suit one’s purpose or advantage. In the church, it is often used by the powerless to get trusting people to submit to the leadership of the church, to bestow unearned honor on unscrupulous leaders, to increase their financial support of the ministry, to commit ungodly sexual acts or unlawful acts, or to isolate certain individuals or groups from others. Manipulative tactics can include the use of false promises, guilt, peer pressure, intimidation, and misuse of scripture to threaten divine judgment from God for disobedience. Manipulative pastors and church leaders tend to prey on those who are naive, depressed, have low self-esteem, are isolated from their families, or are brainwashed into believing false teachings that promote deifying men and women of God.

Manipulation in the Bible

In Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ron Enroth reminds us that church abuse isn’t new to our generation, or even to our century. He goes back to the early 1920s and tells the story of a controlling, manipulative leader and the people he abused. But a look at III John lets us know that manipulative leaders were present in the church since its beginning.

I have written briefly to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to take the lead among them and put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority and refuses to accept my suggestions or to listen to me.

So when I arrive, I will call attention to what he is doing, his boiling over and casting malicious reflections upon us with insinuating language. And not satisfied with that, he refuses to receive and welcome the [missionary] brethren himself, and also interferes with and forbids those who would welcome them, and tries to expel (excommunicate) them from the church.” (III John v9-10)

The King James version says that Diotrephes loved to have “preeminence,” which in the original Greek is philoproteuo, meaning that he loved to be first. People who share Diotrephes’ attitude want all the attention, power and authority for themselves; they don’t want to share the spotlight or yield control of their members by allowing them to fellowship with anyone outside of the local congregation. Not only would Diotrephes resist visits from key leaders in the body of Christ, he would try to excommunicate (or kick out) any members who showed these guests any hospitality. Dude was a master manipulator.

Today’s Masters of Manipulation

In the 1900+ years since Diotrephes’ day, manipulation in the church has flourished and gone far beyond just isolating members from the freedom that comes with hearing the truth.

In today’s church, members are more likely to be manipulated into giving more than they want to or can afford to, or into having extra-marital or pre-marital sexual relations. There are few active churchgoers who don’t know of a pastor who engaged in an ungodly relationship with another woman, man, or teen. The news is filled daily with reports of pastors who impregnated their members or face criminal charges for some other sexual indiscretions. They get caught with the joint in their mouths, the prostitute in the car, the stolen cash in their gym bags, coming out of hotels, etc. and will still lie bold-faced and say it wasn’t them. And the manipulated members will believe and defend them. Many have been manipulated into stealing money to pay overdue church bills or line the pastor’s pockets. Many have been manipulated into keeping secret something that should’ve been reported. And how many of us have never been taken on the Offering Guilt Trip? I’ve even been in services where they have locked the doors, declaring “nobody is moving until we meet this goal!

How to raise a good offering

Recently, a friend shared with me some of the tips he was taught for raising a “good offering.” Included in his list were:

  1. timing,
  2. association with a theme,
  3. prophetic encouragement, and
  4. aiming high.

He explained that the key is to have good timing, even if that means stopping in the middle of a sermon while emotions are high. Sometimes, you have to tune up even when the sermon didn’t call for it, just to “take them there” emotionally, so they’ll give. He went on to explain that you can associate the amount requested with a scripture number, a date, a number from the text, or even a current event. He said that if you prophesy to people, they will give, so start the line with a high amount and begin to prophesy and watch others join the line (especially if the people in front of them are falling out). *blank stare* He also said not to be afraid to ask for an outrageous amount because you never know who is there and what they have. If the congregation is sparse or appears to be poor, you can assign each pew to raise a certain amount. His last “tactic” was to use lines like “a desperate need calls for a desperate offering” and “sow a seed into your breakthrough;” and we all know the ever-popular “NAME YOUR SEED,” where the congregation is told to name their seed after the blessing they need from God. Often promises are added like “the more you give, the faster He’ll move for you,” or “you’ve got to give until it hurts so He can see that you’re serious about this seed.” Sometimes, my friend said, people will give just because they feel bad for you standing up there so long, or they want to hurry up and get this over with so they can leave. So, take your time and don’t rush.

Those are all manipulative, unBiblical tactics. I know I just lost a lot of pastors, but that’s okay. Wrong is wrong.

What are some of the signs you’re being manipulated?

1. You’re made to feel guilty or troublesome for asking questions about teachings, doctrine, rules, or decisions. If there is no clear scriptural reference, and the rules or decisions cost you, but benefit the church, it is possible you’re being manipulated.

2. If you are a tither and you’re encouraged to give money that you don’t have or money that is designated for a bill, or you’re made to feel guilty for not giving enough, you are being manipulated. First of all, in most states, it’s illegal to write a check for an amount that is not in your account. Secondly, if you owe anyone (mother, co-worker, credit card company, landlord, bank, or any other lender), that money belongs to the person you owe, not the church – you are giving the church stolen money.

3. If you are made to feel guilty about anything other than outright sin and/or wrongdoing, you are being manipulated.

4. If there are benefits associated with giving (prophetic word, better seat, position/title, public acknowledgement), you’re being manipulated.

5. If you are underage and you are sexually involved with any one who is over 21 and is not your spouse, you are probably being manipulated. If you are sexually involved with your pastor or any other leader who is not your spouse, you are probably being manipulated.

6. If you are told that you shouldn’t fellowship with a certain person, group of people or a certain church, denomination, or organization, it’s possible that you’re being isolated and controlled, which is a form of manipulation.

7. If your pastor uses scripture irresponsibly to threaten you (like the pastor who once threatened his congregation saying that “God will stroke your mouth!” from Proverbs 18:6 – yeah, I rolled my eyes on that one, too), it is possible that you’re being manipulated. In fact, any intentional misuse of scripture is manipulative.

8. If you are encouraged or asked to do anything unlawful or ungodly, you are probably being manipulated.

9. If your pastor knowingly lives a lifestyle of sin, and you aren’t sure whether you should leave, you are possibly being manipulated (unless you’re living in sin yourself so you take comfort in his sin).

10. If you are being mistreated, but you are afraid to leave due to reasonable or unreasonable fears, you are probably being manipulated.

11. If your pastor is telling you one thing and telling everyone else (or anyone else) something different, it is possible that you’re being manipulated.

12. If you receive “prophetic” words that contradict what (a) the Bible says, (b) God said to you, or (c) you know to be right, you are being manipulated. The same is true if you receive “prophetic words” that don’t come to pass or come with financial strings attached. And God takes this very seriously, too. Deuteronomy 18:20 says “but the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

13. If you are frequently leaving church feeling good but never convicted or urged to change or improve your ways; if the preached Word wasn’t actually Word at all, or if you have no idea what the message was, but you know it sounded good and felt good – it’s possible you’re being emotionally manipulated.

Get out

If you are in a manipulative church, I strongly urge you to get out. I don’t advise you to pause to pray about it, because it is not the will of God for you to be manipulated by someone claiming to be His servant. You don’t need confirmation on that one; it’s just not the will of God.

God WILL take care of those who abuse His sheep. Click here to read His warning to the shepherds who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, and His promise to the sheep.

The Dirty Word?

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Ask 10 random pastors and I bet you at least 6 or 7 of them will admit to having a disdain for raising the offering at some point in their pastoral career (okay, calm down – when I said “bet” I didn’t mean bet for real, ‘kay? It was just a figure of speech). As a result, some churches have tried to “hide” offering time in the service or rush through it. Some just put ushers by the door and “invite” parishioners to give on their way out. Some encourage first-time visitors not to give, and “just enjoy the worship service.”  Some have gone to opposite extremes and try to guilt, brow-beat, or threaten members and guests alike into giving.  Somehow, “giving” has become a dirty word in the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand what went down here. From what I can tell, a number of things contributed to the “g” word’s removal from the Mother Jenkins’ Clean Language Dictionary of Jesus Christ.

  • Somebody’s dishonest pastor and/or finance staff misappropriated or just flat-out STOLE funds.
  • Somebody else’s pastor and/or finance staff mismanaged funds, perhaps with good intentions.
  • Somebody’s pastor and/or finance staff didn’t see the importance of keeping their records current, accessible and accurate so that contributors would have a sense of confidence in their stewardship.
  • Somebody’s pastor just refused to be transparent, creating a shroud of “mystery” in the “back room” where all things financial take place.
  • Somebody’s pastor doesn’t work, is never seen giving, hasn’t written any books, won any lottery, or inherited any riches, yet always seems to buy new luxury cars, meanwhile the church hasn’t had running water in 3 months, all except ONE of the light fixtures are out, and the building fund hasn’t funded any buildings in 22 years.
  • And a whole buncha somebodies have pastors who engaged in unGodly and unBiblical “tactics, tricks, and gimmicks” to get money: offering false prophecies, employing guilt trips, manipulating them into giving their rent money (and then refusing to help when they get evicted), locking doors demanding that “nobody leaves until this money is raised…”

And the list goes on and on… I’m sure you are probably thinking now of one or two I missed.

So yeah, the picture is pretty grim. But, where does this leave the honest, well-meaning, Bible-abiding pastors who – like all others – rely primarily on tithes and offering to keep the doors of the church open (and the A/C running, thank ya Jesus)?

The bottom line is this: pastors who think of giving as a dirty word are impeding their members’  blessing and financial overflow. There are Biblical promises that ONLY apply to tithers (Malachi 3). The Word declares that God LOVES a cheerful giver (II Corinthians 9:7). In fact, the Bible says that our gifts aren’t really gifts anyway, they’re investments (give and it shall be given back to you – Investing 101… and Luke 6:38). So we’re not really giving to God, we’re loaning… your members are guaranteed in writing to get it back, maybe even multiplied. Pastors should never refrain from reminding their members and guests what the Word says about giving – just as they would freely remind them what the Word says about repentance, salvation, baptism, or anything else. Giving is a form of worship, and should be taught with great emphasis and without shame or reluctance. It is as essential a part of the worship service as praise & worship. Moreover, it is a Biblical mandate. There are countless scriptures that serve as direct examples of God instructing the people to give; you know them, and your members should too.

I believe that if we do it God’s way, we will have the same experience Moses had in Exodus 36 when the gifts were so abundant that he had to restrain them from giving. I bet you’d love to have that problem, wouldn’tcha?

So how do we get “giving” reinstated in Mother Jenkins’ Dictionary? Pastors should ensure that the principles of giving are adequately taught and that the income is properly managed. Members should give cheerfully, liberally, and deliberately.  Offering time should be simple and Biblical. The mood (or “atmosphere” for those of you who are churchy) should be celebratory and exciting. There should be an announcement that it’s offering time, followed by loud clapping, praise, and shouting music in B flat… (okay, well maybe that’s just how it goes in LaRue’s Perfect Church Land).  There should be some sort of brief scripture-based encouragement to give, perhaps a reminder of the benefits of tithing and giving offerings, and then the people should come running with their gifts, under the direction of the ushers. And then the stewards should pay the bills according to the budget (which was developed with prayer and prudence). And then everyone, including God, should be happy.

Your thoughts?

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