One of the most common criticisms of the church is that it’s all about money and trying to extract as much cash from people as possible. I can happily attest to the fact that this does not describe any of the churches that I’ve pastored at. However, I suspect that in some instances, this is the case. In fact, I’ve had many people come to me over the years and they’ve shared that their churches have them feeling more like walking checkbooks to meet needs, than significant human beings who have needs.
It’s interesting that the Bible talks more about material wealth, monetary increase and giving than it does on heaven and hell combined. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, one out of every six verses alludes to money. Of the 29 parables Christ told, 16 deal with a person and his money. This isn’t because God is preoccupied with our resources, but He is concerned that we will be. This is why Jesus cautioned: “Your heart will always be where your treasure is” (Mathew 6:21).
A statement that I’ve made everywhere I’ve served is, (and one that has never failed to bring a response and occasionally a visit to my office) “I have never and will never preach on money. I will regularly teach on whole-life stewardship and Christian giving.”
I think the reason people respond to this statement is because they hear the first part and not the second. It isn’t that I am unconcerned with the meeting of the budget or the maintenance of the ministry. It is that giving does not begin with the wallet. It begins when we give our lives to God and this is a package deal; the wallet is simply part of the package. This results in willing contributions and gifts, rather than the painful, reluctant extraction of cash.
2 Corinthians 9:7 says that, “God loves a cheerful giver”. The word cheerful comes from the Greek “hilaros”, from which we obtain our English word hilarious. Literally, God loves a hilarious giver. One that finds giving a cheerful privilege, not an unpleasant duty.
A pastor once went to get his hair trimmed. He and the barber entered into casual, enjoyable conversation, until the topic of the church came up. The barber became agitated and stated that, “As far as I’m concerned, that whole church business is just about giving, giving, giving!” The pastor smiled and said, “Thank you for providing me with one of the best, most accurate definitions for the Christian faith.”
“They gave as much as they could afford and even more, simply because they wanted to. They gave themselves first to the Lord, just as God wanted them to do” (2 Corinthians 8:3ff).
— Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church