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Money, money, money!

How should ministries be funded?

(EXCITING NEWS: Have you heard our radio programme on PREMIER RADIO yet? You can hear past episodes here.)

Secular charities don’t have these kinds of promises:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

Yet Christian ministries never seem to have enough money and are forced to follow the ways of the World – e-marketing, fund raising strategies, appeal campaigns – to procure sufficient funds to keep going. The implication is that, whereas all ministries feel able themselves to devise the plans and strategies that define their unique mission, when it comes to financing the vision, for some of them, it’s down to the usual secular marketing techniques. Why should this be? Has it always been so?

Here’s the usual reasoning. Ideally, if all was functioning as it is meant to be in the Body of Christ, financial resources would be flowing through the connecting arteries, governed supernaturally by the promptings of God. But for this to work, all within the Body would need to be supernaturally tuned, in order to hear these promptings, let alone react to them. But most don’t, so there are blockages, resulting in our need to replicate these promptings ourselves through letter, email, fundraising campaigns ...

Sadly, there is a measure of truth in this. Yet we need to believe that God is able to work despite the shortcomings of His people. So if He wishes to bless a particular endeavour, then He’s not short of a Plan B, C or D, if Plan A hits a brick wall! And, of course, if He wishes to cut off a few branches from the parachurch olive tree, one way of driving this home if all else fails is to cut off the nourishing sap!

When secular charities and businesses run out of money there are usually two reasons: it is either from lack of demand for their goods or services or through mismanagement. If Christian ministries run out of money, it may also be mismanagement (we usually call it bad stewardship) but we must accept that it may be God calling it a day on these specific activities. Perhaps the ministry has already fulfilled its commission and it’s now just running on memories of past triumphs - though He never gives up on us as people, He simply redeploys us.

Anyway, why do we need so many ministries? Are they all divine commissions or, as I have been guilty of myself in the past, honest expressions of personal enthusiasm – here I am God, use me, and here’s how we’re going to do it ...

What ministries do we see in operation in the Book of Acts? Well, there are the individual churches, house churches dotted around Jerusalem, Samaria and the rest of the known World. All the financial needs of these ministries were nothing to do with infrastructure, but all about the needs of the people, whether in the congregation or elsewhere, with administrators assigned to organise the wealth redistribution, starting with the first seven deacons.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

So it seems that the financial needs of the early Church were met through the redistribution of wealth, so that no-one in the Body of Christ was needy. And that was it. No funds were used in the creation of hierarchies, with attendant salaries, accommodation and travelling expenses. No funds were used for any other purpose than the material needs of the Christian family, whether local, national or international.

Since then, as already noted, the Christian Church has become very much a collection of multinational corporations, national structures, as well as a variety of local expressions. If we were truly One Body then the financial needs of all surely could be met. The Catholics with their $200 billion and the Anglicans with their £4.4 billion and all the other denominations could all pool their cash and redistribute it just like those deacons in the early Church. Mmm ...

But we are not really One Body as Paul envisaged it in Ephesians. We are multinational, national and local bodies, connected vertically but not horizontally, like a collection of individual puppets with a single puppet-master.

There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:4-7)

This speaks to me of a single body, the Body of Christ, not a collection of bodies. If we were truly a single body, think how effective we could be. There would be no competition between ministries over vision and resources, no wastage, no division, no conflict between believers. We would all individually be directly answerable to God, with a clear mandate of our position in the Body of Christ. The fact that this is not the case is mainly due to the Greek thinking that has inflicted the Church with structures and hierarchies and conflicting visions.

But again one must say, we can do nothing about the past and the present; how do we move on to the future? Do we throw everything out and start again? Does God still bless us, despite the mistakes of the past? What, then, should our attitude be to God’s provisions for us?

Dare we move out of our comfort zones and trust that God meets all our needs as He seems to promise us in the Gospels?

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

For the next article in this series, click here.

For the previous article in this series, click here.

You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.

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