If your church struggles with finances, how should you fund your church? As I contemplate this I thought I would write my thoughts down. And why not here? I’m also hoping to gain some insight from any who may read this. I’ll add my email address to the about page (there’s also twitter @joshuacottrell or facebook.com/joshua.e.cottrell).
Although this is the first time I’m writing about it, I’ve thought about these questions before. My previous church, before I moved away to go to seminary, had a large stake in fund raising for the church. I’ve heard of some churches using government funding to keep their doors open or fund their own activities. Others use private funding from a corporation to start ministries. Initially I can only think of areas where I disagree.
Here are my initial disagreements: 1) the money was not given in order to glorify God; 2) God does not receive all the glory; 3) unbelievers are supporting the church; 4) organizations outside the church try to restrict and conform the way the money is spent.
First, the money does not come from donations given for the glory of God. When a corporation or group or even para-church ministry receives money, they receive it because they are selling a product or people agree with their particular topic/interest. They do not receive the money so it can glorify God in the same way the church does. On top of that the money comes from a group which has not been established as a church. They have another purpose than going into all nations, preaching the gospel, baptizing, and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
Second, even if the church prospers from the money given, the company or organization or group can claim some of the credit because it financed, or helped finance the venture. God does not receive all* the glory, which He normally would when church members give gifts, tithes, and offerings to the work of God the church is doing. God is the reason believers gave their money and God is the one they desire to see glorified with their money all because they know God, through Jesus Christ, is building the church.
Third, although this is the case for only some donations/gifts, those who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ of the Bible are supporting the work of the church. When any money is gathered from those who do not believe in Christ, it diminishes the statement of our confidence in Jesus to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If Christ is building His church it is not through the “obedience” of unbelievers to give to His work but the obedience of believers to give not only their money freely but their whole lives to Him.
Fourth, when doing a fund-raiser God is not the sole object of satisfaction. This point is especially true when considering fund-raising via the sale of items or raffles. The people, no matter who they are, do not freely donate the money. They receive something in exchange for it, which diminishes the worthiness of God to be given gifts freely, out of gratitude not persuasion.
Fifth, when outside money comes into the church from the government or other state-sponsored entity it often comes with restrictions to what environment or message or interactions can be presented by those receiving the money.
Lastly, I think we have a great example of this in the New Testament. Third John 7 reads, “For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.” The task of these traveling preachers is to glorify “the name,” God’s name. They are not acting as individuals but have been sent by John’s church. And they have not accepted anything from the Gentiles (unbelievers). This must mean that they were actually offered support from the unbelievers. They did not accept it. You cannot refuse something you were never offered. But they do not accept the offer of the unbelievers. And John uses this to encourage us. He longs for us to support the work of the church, us the members of the church. Whether it is through hospitality, as with Gaius in 3 John, or with our gifts, fruits, service, and money. All belongs to God and He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Praise God for He is worthy to receive more and more from us and faithful to be entrusted with our future even if we give up everything!
*In the end, of course, God receives glory for everything but our interest is to glorify Him now through our proclamation of His faithfulness to save and His worthiness to be obeyed.