Trevin Wax has written a thoughtful post on the witness of the church as community to the gospel and its power to help overcome barriers to belief. It’s not a easy read and the key conclusion I’ve quoted in full below but do check out the article here to understand his argument more fully.
The classical approach of apologetics is to present rational proofs for God’s existence, and then from this point to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Classical apologetics is beneficial in the effort to show that Christianity is true, but if Taylor is right, then one is already likely to accept or reject reasons for belief before they ever hear them because the greater story [their scientific materialist worldview] is already conditioning them to accept or reject “proofs” of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.
Perhaps this is why one of the best ways to engage an unbeliever is simply to invite them to church. Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the people of God as a “community apologetic.” It’s not that the church replaces other, rational strategies and arguments for belief in God. It’s that the church becomes the atmosphere, the teller of a better story, a story whose truth begins to work on the heart of a non-religious person, conditioning them for the moment when the classical apologetics “proofs” are then used by the Holy Spirit to confirm the belief He has already initiated in them.
Christians today should make use of the various tools we have at our disposal in order to persuade people to follow Jesus. But let’s not leave out the world where God’s good news comes alive – the people of God who corporately witness to a kingdom that has no end. It may be that the best apologetic for a secular age is a people who are in this world but not of it, who counter the rugged rationalist with the true story of new world which began on a Sunday morning outside Jerusalem.
Fascinating article in the Economist on growing numbers in the church, growing confidence of the church and growing persecution by the state of the church in China.
(HT: Chris Green)
So helpful for all new parents – mums and dads!
(HT: Hosanna Stokes)
A helpful guide to offering quick responses to the claims atheists make
(HT: Paul Rees)
An interesting and thoughtful answer to a tricky pastoral question from living out
A very well observed piece in the Week on what is going on in the gay marriage debate and why Christians won’t back down.
(HT: Yvonne Nickerson)
In this fourth of a five part series (part1, part 2, & part 3) on living with the financial pressures church-planting brings we move from considering the impact of financial stress on the planter and his family to its impact on the plant. How do you lead a church through the challenges of seemingly always needing more money to fund the ministries of a small but growing congregation? Essential to getting this right is seeing financial need as gospel opportunity. We grow up the church as we put the gospel to work in this area of church life.
It’s important to recognise that being in a church family with significant financial needs might be a whole new experience for members of a core-group or young plant. In fact some may never have had to live with financial uncertainty in church-life at all. Leading the church well involves recognising that some will be excited by the challenges ahead whilst others remain apprehensive. Over time if a plant remains in financial need, perhaps because growth means continually needing new resources, it could be that without good leadership some will grow weary of always needing to make up the money and others may even begin to resent it breeding disunity in the church.
Here are six principles to guide you in this area of leadership;
1. When will the plant be financially sustainable?
From the beginning be realistic and clear with the church as to when (if ever) financial sustainability is expected from the giving of the church alone. Some church plants get there in 1-2 years, most within 5, but others in more challenging circumstances or reaching more needy communities may always be reliant on outside support. Have a sense of how this might work out for your own plant.
2. Talk to the church about giving and do it regularly
Speaking as a British planter our culture makes us nervous, even apologetic, about talking money. But it is a big mistake to start a church where we do not regularly discuss giving.
It’s also a mistake to think we shouldn’t be talking about money in our public meetings simply because we expect and desire non-Christians to be present. It is not just believers who need to hear from the Scriptures how God, through the gospel, transforms his people into generous, joyful, sacrificial givers. What does need to be clear in our gatherings is that the plant does not ask or expect visitors to give financially to fund ministry.
3. Make vision the focus of giving
Vision is the place to keep your focus when it comes to financial planning. Don’t reduce any appeals to budgets and a list of what it might cost to meet your needs – rather envision people by painting a picture of what you hope to achieve through generous giving.
As a church this year we decided to highlight 12 things we wanted to do that would be possible through our Mission and Ministry Gift Day and we gave people good reasons as to why we needed them to give again on top of their regular giving. Some of the 12 things were new such as starting a youth program but other things were continuing ministries that God has chosen to bless that we wanted to continue. Asking for money for continuing ministries can be an important way of celebrating all that has been achieved through giving of previous years.
4. Turn giving into a sustainable financial plan
Whilst vision is crucial to raising funds it is also vital that you can demonstrate, if called upon, how you have arrived at your figures.
- Know where you stand as a church and what your financial needs are
- Budget well
What helps us in the task of budgeting for the future is that we ask every member as part of our annual Mission and Ministry Gift Day to indicate their level of giving for the year ahead. This is not a request that every member increase their giving in absolute terms, year on year, because we recognise every person’s circumstance will vary (eg some step out of paid employment to start families) but it is a request that we all prayerfully indicate what we expect to be able to give.
It is a much bigger conversation than this blog post permits to answer the question should church leaders know what members of the congregation give? Our practise over the 15 years we have existed as a church is that only one individual, our church treasurer, knows the giving of each member. The advantage of this for me as pastor has been to help me avoid comparing members and preferring members simply on the basis of finances. It also ensures that I don’t avoid hard but necessary conversations with members simply because of its impact on their giving!
Having said that, how do I pastor a church member as to how Jesus is working in their hearts in their use of money and resources if I have no idea whether or what they give? Isn’t their giving a key aspect of their godliness? Should we not know who gives in our congregation? We would see it as our place to speak to a church member who stopped attending, or told us they never read their people or that they had started dating a non-Christian. Why not counsel them over their giving?
There is no easy way to resolve this tension. For now, my approach has been to ask our church treasurer to inform me if a member is not giving at all but otherwise to make my appeal for generous giving through preaching and vision-casting. God has honoured this approach and he has ensured we’ve always had just what we’ve needed.
6. Celebrate generous giving
When God has moved the hearts of your members to give generously, joyfully and sacrificially that is the gospel at work. Make time and take time to celebrate what God has done and use his provision as further ground for teaching and training the church.
In the final post I want to consider how to grow a healthy church by deliberately staying in a place of financial need.
This is the third post on how to understand and respond to the financial pressures church-planting brings (part 1 & part 2 can be found here). In this post I want to briefly consider how planting impacts the home.
What is the impact of living in this way for you as a church-planting family?
- Don’t expect your wife to naturally share, to the same degree, your passion for the sacrificial commitment planting a church will make. Particularly if you have a family, her focus and drive will be with providing for the needs of a family.
- Don’t expect your wife to enjoy the same attitude to risk that you might be willing to bear. In my experience of working alongside planters their wives tend to me more risk-averse. It is certainly not sinful of them to struggle to adopt the same attitude.
- Don’t plan to plant a church on the basis of your wife’s income. Don’t presume that your wife wants to go on working to bank-roll the plant and don’t plan presuming that she will, especially beyond the first 12-18 months.
For a helpful introduction to the pressures of being a planter’s wife this interview with Christine Hoover is worth a look.
Financial stress and your relationship (& witness) to your children
- Do see planting as a family endeavour (on mission together!) and look for gospel-learning opportunities as you pray for God to provide and as you give thanks for meeting your needs. In planting you have an opportunity to experience in a more obvious and direct way how God graciously provides for his children –make good use of it.
- Mothers are inclined to feel guilty that their husband’s calling is damaging to their children. But don’t overestimate that damage. It can be good to have less stuff. Their lives will be enriched in other ways. And God is good. Many pastors’ wives testify to God’s provision through surprising and delightful means. Julia Jones
- Don’t ask your wife (and kids) to bear the sacrifice of living on less without seeking to compensate for it in other ways.
What might it mean for you to compensate for these financial pressures ?
- There is probably not much you can do to change your circumstances. Money pressures are likely to be tight and not just for the short-term (see below). But as we have already noted that brings gospel opportunities to grow in gospel confidence as the Lord provides.
- The one thing that must be avoided at all costs is asking wife and family to take the double-hit for a sustained period of time of being expected to sacrifice both time & money. That is something that breeds resentment. Dad not being around and then finances being tight is a danger to the spiritual well-being of our kids. So make time for family and make it a priority.
Financial stress and keeping going
- Financial stress is not limited to the challenges of raising an initial income. In the medium to longer term some form of financial pressure will stay with you. For example, a planter’s income is not likely to increase significantly over time. Your family may grow in number as your salary does not. Moving to a larger house may not be an option even as family grows. Whilst others in your church family will move on up the career ladder and enjoy a greater disposable income you will not. All that means that a widening gap between a planter’s income and the income of church contemporaries is likely to become more apparent (not less) over time. The family holidays enjoyed by others may simply not be available to you etc.
How to be keep going
- Learn to be content with what you have.
- If you are an elder or core-group member with financial resources to spare look for ways to bless the planter & spouse (even small gifts like vouchers for a meal out) are really appreciated.
- Teach your children what it means to rely on the Lord in all things as they see you relying on the Lord for finances.
- In the busyness of planting don’t neglect the ministry of fund-raising and by doing so bring an unhealthy level of stress into your church and family life.
- Don’t feel guilty in inviting people to partner with you. Remember, raising funds is ministry. The Lord is expanding your ministry to include people who will pray for and support your cause. Raising funds is ministry. William P. Dillon
This piece in the Independent highlights both the extent of Christian persecution in the world today (did you know that 80 per cent of acts of religious discrimination occur against Christians and that 11 Christians die each hour for their faith) and addresses some of the reasons why the global persecution of Christians receives so little attention in our media and from our politicians.
(HT: Ted Turnau)
This is the second of a series for planters and gospel workers on keeping going through the financial stresses that often accompany ministry. If there is one mind-set change that I’m encouraging its this – support raising is not a precursor to gospel ministry but a necessary and valuable expression of gospel ministry. In other words financial stress is an opportunity to learn and live the gospel.
Few planters see support raising as gospel ministry (don’t we all just want to get on with preaching and evangelism?) and because we don’t see the opportunity for growth that comes to us through it we simply wish our financial pressures away. But what if God wants to keep us humbly dependent on him as individuals and churches? What if financial need is one of the ways God wants to grow us up in the gospel? That’s the shift in thinking I want to encourage.
One of the biggest challenges in embracing support-raising is a fear factor that comes from asking for money. Perhaps, like me, you have always found seeking support for ministry a little awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate. What would it take to persuade you that rather than an embarrassing request what you are offering is an open-door to gospel growth in the life of the person you are seeking support from?
Here is where we need to see what it means that the gospel transforms our understanding of what we are inviting people to do when asking them to partner with us financially. Through the lens of the gospel what we begin to see is that our attitude can and should be different because what we are inviting people to do is transformed by the gospel.
To help us understand how this works we will look at Philippians 4v15-20 and Paul’s words of thanks to the church in Philippi in light of the gifts that they have given to him. Here we will learn why we have unique gospel reasons in asking for support and in taking those reasons to heart enables us to ask boldly.
1. Support-raising is an invitation to share in giving and receiving
In v.15 (NIV) Paul writes that ‘not one church shared [ESV partnered] with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.’ The key idea for us to grasp here is that support raising is an invitation to partner in ministry rather than simply give to ministry. We naturally think asking for money is one-way traffic. That we are asking for something at the expense of someone i.e. our gain is their loss but if they have enough Christian love they might just be prepared to sacrifice what they have for us. But Paul says it is not all one way traffic. The blessing flows both ways. It is a two-way street in which the giver actually receives and the receiver gives.
Now doesn’t that change the very nature of the request? No longer do we need to think that we are merely asking for something from a donor rather in our invitation we are asking for an opportunity to give something the person we are writing too. In essence Paul is saying that giving to gospel ministry is a way of receiving and receiving money for gospel ministry is a way of giving.
How does that work?
2. Support-raising is an invitation to receive eternal reward.
Only a Christian with an eternal perspective can say what Paul says in v.17. He desires not what might be credited to his account (the money he receives from them) but Paul can say to the Philippians ‘what I desire is that more be credited to your account.’In other words when the Philippians gave to him their own eternal bank-account was being credited. Fee writes ‘their gift to him has the effect of accumulating ‘interest’ toward their eschatological reward.’
Now it’s crucial that we grasp this because it means that Christian motives in fund-raising are altogether different from those used by the world. Only the Christian can appeal to eternity as a motive for generous giving. Only Christians can genuinely say that a decision to give is a two-way street because only the Christian can appeal to a motivation of reward in the light of the gospel for those who give generously of the resources God has given them now.
The result is that in support-raising we are offering people an investment opportunity rather than seeking to deprive them of their resourses. We are actually seeking to bless them! Many Christians have received a great deal from God and an invitation to support a gospel-work is an opportunity to put more of their money to eternal use.
Paul is affirming the words of Christ that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Support raising is an opportunity, through pointing people to the gospel as their reason to give, to turn reluctant, occasional givers into joyful, generous, sacrificial givers who will share in a greater reward.
3. Support-raising is an invitation to experience God’s blessing now
Finally, Paul points out that those who give experience God’s blessing now as well as in the future. Paul writes in v.19-20 that ‘the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’ When we ask people to support our ministry we are giving people an opportunity to experience God’s blessing in his provision both now and in the future.
So don’t be embarrassed to use gospel-reasons to promote gospel-giving. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to bless people through prayer so why be embarrassed to bless people through an opportunity to give. Givers who give because of the gospel grow through the gospel – let’s make our motives and our method an opportunity for them to do just that.
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