giving money to missions work

Recently we came to another twist of this topic of giving money to others – what to do about giving to people who are involved with “missions” work. We’ve been assisting some people we know, and highly respect, who have chosen to live in other countries to work out the purposes and roles they believe God has given them for spreading the gospel. But something about supporting them financially was bothering me and felt inconsistent with the things God is teaching us.

A quick review: I believe that applying ourselves to work, ie. “a job”, is an important and godly part of life. It started in the garden (Adam), it’s been called one of God’s gifts in the book of Ecclesiastes (ch 5), and Paul warns that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat (2 Thess), and that Jesus’ followers should be “doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus).

Now, when I came to see church businesses as a creation of man, soon to follow was reconsidering this whole idea that following Jesus can be a career path. Of course, it certainly is for many today, but it’s a concept that for many is getting unpacked, unraveled, and critically examined under the microscope of new testament simplicity and a passion for living by the Spirit of God. There are times in my life where I was supported by church businesses in either a full- or part-time capacity, and many other times when it was like a second job but without pay.

But there came a time when I found myself thrust by God out of hiding in professional church businesses to discover life as a participant in the mainstream of what most people in our communities are living, which includes working for a living.  This started about 20 years ago, though I’ve had a few dabblings back in the pursuit of so-called “full-time Christian work” along the way. God has been my Counselor and Guide, which is really good, because I’m not very clever when it comes to careers. We have a Father that remembers we’re made of dust. I love to tell the details of this story, and will do so in another blog entry soon. It’s amazing to see what kindness God has shown me and my family in regards to work and career.

So, about missions work: My thought is that when we’re a follower of Jesus, wherever we are, we’re a “missionary” – meaning we have a mission to be fully alive in who Jesus is making us to be, and to be about the work of advancing his kingdom in our domain. I’ve come to believe that our highest aim is to find productive work, that is, to learn the way of faith and personal growth in providing for ourselves through creative work outlets according to the common understanding of “work” in the community where we live. By this we engage in our community such that our faith is essentially “on the line” and real, for all to see. And by this, Jesus gets to reveal himself through us to others (Eph 2, Jesus shows “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us…”)

In my study of what people did with money in the new testament, I come away with the sense that people mostly gave financial help to others who were in temporary times of need, not in the way of “full-time” support. To be consistent, this is what my wife and I have decided to do henceforth.

beware the yeast of church growth ambitions

A friend and I went to a conference last weekend called “Organic Church Movements” in Long Beach, CA. We had a great time, we made new friends, and even connected with some old ones, which was a blast. It was great fun meeting people from all places on the journey of getting stripped down to the simplicity of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, each other, and being the church. People seemed to be there for many different reasons: some looking for the next trick to church growth, or feeling undone by God and seeking answers to big questions, or perhaps just curious. Everyone was finding acceptance. I wonder if one of the primary works of the Spirit at these events is to gather the most diverse group of Jesus followers I’ve ever seen under one roof and reveal his love and grace to them, and through them to one another.

I want to describe a primary impression I came away with, and to frame it up, bear in mind that I felt propelled to go around meeting lots of new people to seek out what God was doing in them. Every meal, every break time, every session, I’d be striking up conversations with someone new (or circling back to a few to see what clarity God may be giving them to their questions) and we’d ask each other a bunch of questions. One question I was asked several times was “how many groups meet in your area?” I found it interesting how convoluted my answer was:

“Well, there’s this group we gather with 2 or 3 times a month, and we’ve met another group north of us that has met regularly for awhile too. Some friends on Bainbridge Island did a couple gatherings, and that’s where we met a family from back on the Eastside, whom we see semi-regularly. Then they found out about the group up north, closer to their house, and this as worked out great for them. But we still see them now and then, along with one of the other families they meet with. The Bainbridge friends moved to Olympia, and we regularly hook up one way or another. They’ve met a couple other families in Olympia – we may see one of them next weekend – and they may begin gathering regularly with them and others in Olympia, but of course we’ll still see them, too. Let’s see, there’s a group of us guys that get together a couple times a month, and there’s a new friend who just recently came, and we think we’ll see him more often. He and his wife are part of a couple other families we know who are just beginning this detox journey, and they’ve started talking about some kind of regular gathering. But actually, they’ve been doing various meetings at one of their homes for some time, and in fact my wife has regularly met up with some of those ladies for years. And then there’s the web of friends that each of the other families in our regular gathering meet up with. A lot of them go back many years to one of the local churches, and then a small home gathering that was going for a few years after they left that church. This was all before we moved to the area 10 years ago. So while we’ve been meeting for about 6 years, many folks go back much farther than that…”

It’s a really messy answer! [In fact, a messy answer is now one of my first clues that there’s a problem with the question.] I shortened it up with each telling, but it made me realize how, as God is expanding his kingdom in our midst, it isn’t following nice, clean lines.

Apparently, clear relational boundaries among people, that define how they will relate as the church, is not a priority to God.

This doesn’t make it very easy for us to work it in the ways of church/business growth principles. But then, it’s not our business to work, now, is it?! It’s God’s business to grow, and our part is being a follower of Jesus.  I am now realizing how I’ve missed so much of what God was trying to do in and through my life for so many years because I was focused on the standard “grow the business” concepts for growing whatever ministry I was involved in.  More and more, I’m finding myself saying “beware the yeast of church growth ambitions” – numbers focus, neat packages, entreprenurial business energy, etc.  After so long at it, our church life is such a mixture of kingdoms, and I’m convinced we are just going to have to let God separate it all out for us, and it’s going to take some time. My children’s children will be light years ahead of us, and these present struggles will be child’s play to them, yet they will have their own dragons to slay. I only hope to make our progress solid so they can stand upon it rather than re-hash it.

Language is one of the challenging parts of this journey. The words I’ve used for decades don’t work, but I don’t have all the new ones yet that communicate the essence of what God is revealing to us – which we don’t understand fully anyway. And we’re seeing how important it is that we don’t try too hard at that, until the Lord brings clarity. So we stumble along, trying out new words for things, and the articulation is getting better with time.

One of the phrases I heard last weekend was how we get “re-calibrated” to Jesus on this journey. I like it. In other words, Jesus is the cornerstone of this house called his Church, and he never moves. In the hands of men, the house has been remodelled so many times that the structure has gotten pretty shakey, some parts are sagging and even caving in, and sometimes it can even be hard to tell what it used to look like or where the foundations are anymore.  The solution seems to be letting him have the wheel so he can help us rediscover Cornerstone, get ourselves realigned to it, and let the Master Builder do his job. We, his servants, are rediscovering our job again, too.

We simply cannot do this without knowing God’s voice. One of the easy traps we fall into is glomping on to some other voice than the Lords – what we can see and touch – for our instructions. We look to our intellect, do our bible analysis, draw conclusions from our “vast knowledge,” and set our course.  I’ve screwed up in these ways and so many more. I’m tired now! I’ve birthed a lot of Ishmaels. All I want to do now is hear God’s voice and follow. I don’t care if it seems insignificant in human terms. Like Jesus said in John 17, I want to be able to say to my Father in heaven, “I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do.” And I hope to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Keep me there, Lord Jesus!

go ahead, detox!

I recently had an email exchange with someone who is in a gradual process of detoxing from the church business model to more organic church gatherings, and it reminded me of the pitfalls, dangers, and scary times that this process can bring. I have a lot of compassion for those who go down this road with us, though I still highly encourage it.

One of the temptations, especially if you’re someone who has been engaged with church planting, is to put the internal growth parts at arms length, and think of it as merely learning a new methodology. A methodology is something you can take a class to learn, or read a book, or go see it in action somewhere to get the idea, then off you go implementing it.

But the experience that my wife and I over the last 10 years has taught us that the difference is much more than on the level of methodology. I find nothing sacred about being in houses as opposed to commercial buildings. I’ve seen people simply reproduce in houses what’s traditionally done in commercial buidlings, and in my mind, they are missing the wave of radical cleansing and revitalizing that the Holy Spirit is doing among the church. There’s a lot of egypt that God has had to get out of us (and thankfully, still is!) long after we got out of egypt, if that makes sense.

I believe that allowing ourselves whatever time He allots for detoxing from all of the “business” mentality (entreprenurial energy) that is so prevalent in contemporary church planting/church growth is critical. It all needs to be surrendered to Jesus, so that when he’s got something for us to do, let his voice be the one we hear and obey. Having a history in church planting, church movements, parachurch movements, etc., will present some additional challenge in identifying what is really driving us. Paul seemed to have had about 17 years of detox (Galatians), which makes sense when you consider how steeped he was in the contemporary religious methods of his day (“a Pharisee of Pharisees”).

For those who find themselves on “the journey,” my hope is you let God be ruthless and thorough with the “un-learning” and “re-learning” processes. And then, I hope you tell your story! Those of us who want to be closer to God need to hear it.

Paul the older brother, from Colossians

If we consider Paul of the new testament an older brother in the faith, and our coach or mentor, how would he guide us on our quest to carry out our calling as the church that follows Jesus today? I have a goal of looking over Paul’s writings with this question in mind and see what falls out as recurring themes. Below are my notes from reading his letter to the Colossians, with summary comments at the end.

Many of those who would read this letter of Paul’s were people he didn’t personally know that well – he hadn’t even met some – so he takes the time to give some orientation on what he’s all about, and what he feels is fundamentally important in the gospel message.

What Paul said are his purposes:

  • being a servant of Jesus’ gospel message, charged with presenting this message to others
  • proclaiming Christ – using all wisdom to admonish and teach everyone
  • The goal is that everyone would be “perfect in Christ”
  • he wants people’s hearts to be encouraged and united in love
  • he wants people to be have the full riches of complete understanding
  • he wants people to know God’s mystery – that is, Jesus Christ, who contains all treasures of wisdom and knowledge

What Paul desired for his readers:

  • be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding
  • live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him:
    • bearing fruit in good works
    • grow in knowledge of God
    • be strengthened in all power
    • have great endurance and patience
    • joyfully give thanks
  • be orderly and firm in faith in Christ
  • be rooted and built up in Jesus
  • be strengthened in the faith
  • be overflowing with thankfulness
  • Keep your heart and minds focused on Jesus, remembering that He is our very life now.
  • Be immersed in
    • compassion
    • kindness
    • humility
    • gentleness
    • patience
    • forgiving others
    • peace in your hearts
    • thankfulness
    • the word of Christ: teaching/admonishing one another with wisdom, singing, spiritual songs and gratitude in your hearts to God
    • and above all, love.
  • Wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters: be submissive, loving, obedient, fair, etc. – as if doing it unto the Lord himself
  • Work at things with all your heart, as if working for Jesus, and he’s got an inheritance waiting for you as a reward
  • Be ruthless about getting rid of behaviors that come from a sinful nature.
  • Be devoted to being watchful and thankful in prayer, praying for others – to the point of “wrestling in prayer” for others to stand firm in all the will of God, being mature and fully assured.
  • Let your actions and conversations with outsiders be wise and gracious, so you’ll always know how to respond to them in any situation.

What Paul wanted his readers to avoid:

  • don’t be deceived by “finesounding arguments”
  • don’t be captivated by deceptive, but hollow, philosophy that depends on human traditions and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ
  • don’t allow yourself to be trapped/condemned/judged by earthly principles and human teachings regarding rules about eating, drinking, religious events, special days, etc. They can be tricky and sound “wise”, but have no power for right living. People who get caught up in these have lost connection with Jesus, the Head.

What Paul indicates are the essentials of the Gospel message regarding Jesus Christ:

  • We are rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son, redeemed and forgiven from our sins
  • said another way, we were dead in sin, but God made us alive to Christ due to our faith in God’s power, that raised Jesus from the dead
  • Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities that were against us (making a public spectacle of them in plain view for all) by his death on the cross and then resurrection
  • Faith and love spring from the hope we have in heaven
  • It’s a message of God’s grace
  • Jesus is supreme over all other powers, rulers, authorities, and is the head over all the church
  • Through his death, Jesus made us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation —
  • this requires us to continue in our faith, staying established & firm, not departing from the hope
  • that’s in the gospel
  • It’s a message cloaked in mystery, which is that Christ lives in us, and is our “hope of glory”
  • All the fullness of God is in Christ, and we have get all the fullness in Christ

Summary of primary themes for our purposes:

  1. Paul’s overall goal is to admonish and teach everyone in all of God’s wisdom so that they grow to be “perfect in Christ.”
  2. The meaning of this clearly hinges on people having the character qualities of:

    • be strengthened to stand firm in faith and in God’s will (in the face of opposition)
    • being mature, that is fully assured and confident
    • being rooted and built up in full wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of God

    and living worthy lives, demonstrating love, compassion, gentleness, patience, thankfulness (mentioned many times), wrestling in prayer for others, and several other qualities listed.

    which all comes from investing ourselves purposefully, intently in Jesus – that gospel mystery where Christ is in us. It’s all about being very, very vested in knowing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the Supreme being over all of earth and all of heaven, and what he’s all about by making us his people on earth. Paul didn’t point people to any man that they should learn from. In fact, he said be wary of how people can philosophize about junk and lead others astray.

  3. I’m struck by Paul emphasis on the gospel message being a mystery-yet-now-revealed-by-Jesus, and his intent on proclaiming it clearly as such: Jesus will come and live inside people, and open to them treasures of all wisdom and knowledge, and he becomes our hope for glory in our personal existence. What an awesome and appealing message!

Putting the above points together, he’s all about getting people connected with Jesus, the Supreme Head, so they embrace the gospel mystery (get saved), which joins people into this band of Jesus-followers called the church, and together we all continue living our whole lives from that connectedness to Jesus to fulfill his intentions (get perfected). There’s no escaping these high-level directives, which
must happen so that the Head, Jesus, fulfills his purposes in and through us.

So much of today’s church is patterned after modern business, which is all about having specific objectives, strategies for accomplishing them, which translate to specific objectives and actions at each level, which all roll up to the stated corporate objectives. At each level you have people acting as “heads” over their piece of the bigger picture, knowing what the need to accomplish, how it fits into the bigger picture, and planning/strategizing how to accomplish it. But my understanding from Paul here is that the Kingdom of Heaven is different in that there is only one Head, and the rest of us comprise the body. I see Paul trying to get everyone to fulfill their role in the body in “perfection in Christ”, and having the perspective that “we’re in this together as a single overall body”, but I don’t see him trying to help people be good “heads”, nor does he attempt this either. Jesus, the Head, has the master strategy for accomplishing his objectives, and we don’t need to go about trying to make up any new ones, or even require ourselves to know what his are, beyond what he’s clearly given us for fulfilling our parts. And our strategy for fulfilling our part in perfection is to live out of that connectedness to the Head. The way on is the same as the way in – come to Jesus and follow after him. This needs to be central to all we do.

money, power, and fear of man

Recently, I was awake late in the night thinking over the topic about how paying for spiritual services (ie, church business) corrupts the beauty of God’s church and reminds me why it’s so important that better models be thoroughly explored and widely adopted.

My wife and I have come to see leaving the church business way of spiritual life as a kind of “detox.” So one of my detox thoughts was that paying money to church leadership gives them a power that is not of God and leads to the “lording it over” evil and the resulting man-pleasing machinery that exists among those aspiring to be church leaders, which of course is directly opposing the call of believers to be God pleasers only.

Here’s a summary thought:

“Paying someone for ongoing spiritual leadership in your life must result in fear of that person and the desire to please them, which puts this activity in direct opposition of the gospel of Christ.”

Here’s a simple pragmatic view of business in support of this statement:

  1. when you pay someone for products or services, now you have “business” – especially if there’s a commitment of ongoing payments for ongoing products & services.
  2. for business to be sustaining it must survive and thrive – or customers will go somewhere else and the business will die. A complementing force is the natural drive God put in man to be successful in the work we do on earth (several scriptures – eg, Eccl 5, somewhere Paul says “if a slave can better his condition, he should do so…”).
  3. those who hold the key to a business thriving – by gifting & influence, or strategic position, or both – have the power to direct the actions of the business and staff. This is all as it should be and no one would question it for normal business.
  4. the power these leaders have naturally produces various flavors of “fear” and “man-pleasing” machinery among those dependent on the success of the busines. These “dependents” are those who rely on the business for their own livelihood (“staff”), but also those relying on the goods & services, depending on how much they value them. If the business is a monopoly, the dependence of the latter is absolute.

Again, this is all fine in the context of normal business, but the whole activity gets twisted and becomes a nightmare of sin in the context of the church.

  • the services we’re paying for is spiritual leadership in our lives (a wrong idea, but for the moment, picture the level of dependency we feel here), the spiritual/social environment we need as spiritual & human beings, and much of the relational context in which we fulfill God’s commands (loving & serving one another).
  • whether or not we’re “staff” at a church business, our dependence is high, especially if we’re serious about our spiritual life. If we do happen to be “staff” and dependent on the money for our livelihood, tack on financial/career dependence as well.
  • this means the key people for the church’s success now hold huge amounts of power in the lives of both staff and church “customers.” This is where it really gets twisted. The power and resulting fear and man-pleasing energy is much greater than what you’d typically find at a normal business because the dependencies are so vast – not just fincancially/career-identify wise, but spiritually and socially as well – nearly every aspect of life.

I have an entirely new understanding of why we have so many flavors or denominations of church businesses when I think of how important innovation is for business to thrive. When church is a business, then it avails itself to all the creative, innovative energy we find in business where new ones are constantly formed by human, entrepreneurial energy.

It’s tough to imagine how anyone really serious about following Christ would not see the serious problems in the church business concept of church life, especially once you’ve been presented with other, viable alternatives. While so many are in church business with good motives (it was mostly true for me), there is serious sin happening here, and something like scales are falling – and need to fall – from our collective eyes.