Church Planter, Where’s Your Trust?
This is part one of a two-part series. This article deals with the dangers of trusting money more than God. In the next installment, we’ll look at the blessings of trusting God more than money.
Which Master Rules Your Vision?
One of the most prominent considerations for prospective church planters is fundraising. How much money needs to be raised to fund this start-up discipleship movement until the church can sustain itself financially? How much money will my family need to survive?
These can be wise considerations, but they can also turn idolatrous if we’re not careful. Every planter or potential planter knows the temptation to put hope in vision casting and gathering enough people to ensure their families and the work of God survive.
It seems that these days, church planters and their teams not only need to be biblically qualified (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), but they are also expected to know how to build budgets and run financial projections so they can know how many tithing people they’ll need to ‘make it’. The easiest way around those details is to build a large core team at the outset and ‘launch large’ (hang with me – I’m not saying that achieving budget is the sole underlying motive of that strategy, though it may be a bigger factor than many would like to admit).
This has become the working model in church planting for decades, and ‘numbers of people attracted to the church gathering’ often becomes the highest metric of success for church plants. Of course, seeing a large number of people won to Christ should be our goal and is a wonderful gift from the Spirit of God – we should pray for and seek a real move of God wherever he sends us! But every planter should be wary of the danger of the insidious mingling of motives that can reside in the same heart.
These are ministry’s greatest dangers: serving God without really loving and trusting him alone and doing spiritual-looking things in the name of Jesus apart from his power
We should beware of seeking to plant and grow a church for the glory of God and for our own glory – of striving with vain ambition to feel a greater sense of worth and purpose from ‘ministry success’ while calling it zeal for the kingdom of Christ. And we have to be mindful of our tendency to trust in ‘money raised’ and ‘tithes given’ rather than trust in God – of trusting in generally accepted models and timeframes established by church planting culture rather than looking to God for his timing and his provision.
Jesus said, “You cannot love God and money” (Matthew 6:24), and by the same token, we cannot trust God and money. Said another way, if we are putting our hope in money or looking to money for the security of the church, we are not trusting God. The stakes are high.
Here are just seven potential dangers of putting our hope in money in the forefront of church planting:
#1 We won’t tell the truth about Jesus.
I think many pastors don’t step back and realize how much they talk about money in the name of their people being obedient to Jesus. Do people need to be called to obedience to Jesus and to give generously? YES. But we need to make sure we do so in a way that points to Jesus as the greatest treasure. He is the one we have left everything for (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:8) and the reason why we give generously (2 Corinthians 8:9).
God forbid we convince people to give in his name to attain a sense of security! If we do that, we tell people Jesus is the treasure with our lips, while with our hearts we look to other so-called treasures to sustain us.
#2 We will deceive our own hearts.
By the same token, we get a false sense of security when there’s money in the bank account or if the church meets a giving budget. Every planter and pastor would benefit from a fresh reading of Ecclesiastes and Jesus’ parable of the rich fool and from reminding themselves “God is in absolute control, and I’ve never been more or less secure because of money.” We need the reminder!
#3 We will dehumanize disciples.
It’s hard to love and care for people that double as a means to an end. Jesus called us to feed his sheep. When we focus on his sheep feeding us or feeding the mission, we will compromise the mission and our calling and will miss out on the joys of shepherding Jesus’ people with him.
#4 We will undermine our message.
The gospel proclaims that Jesus is the resurrected King over all and that we come to him in repentance to trust him with all of our hearts. It’s a message of absolute surrender and humble trust. And when we trust in money more than God to do something for God, it’s easy to convince ourselves we’re trusting God even as we undermine the gospel and our mission.
If we (even subconsciously) call people to give out of a desire for our own security, it will only reinforce their innate tendency toward self-orientation and self-reliance. If we call them to trust God while we ourselves are living in unbelief, they will learn from us that it’s okay to proclaim biblical truth that you don’t fully embrace or yield to at the ground level of life. In the end, they will have learned from us to trust in money, not Jesus, for security.
#5 We will reproduce a culture antithetical to the gospel.
God commands his people to cease from laboring to amass wealth with hearts that look to money for our security, and Jesus clearly told us to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Proverbs 23:4-5; Matthew 6:19-21). If desiring to be rich can plunge people into ruin and destruction, what can hoping in money do to our churches? In seeking their security in a way that dishonors God, we may well be working against their spiritual vitality. Regardless, loving money and leading a church will result in all kinds of evils in the church.
Tragically, we know how to preach against making money an idol and asking our churches to give generously while putting our hope in the size of the offering for the sustainability of the church’s ministry. We need to learn Paul’s contentment in Jesus so that we can say with him “Not that I seek the gift itself, but the profit that it increases to your credit” (Phil. 4:17, emphasis mine).
#6 We will likely see more redistribution than regeneration.
God is so merciful in how he uses us. We are all so flawed along with our methods. But there is a grievous cycle among churches that trust in money to attract people into their church. While it’s true that some churches put their big budgets to work with pure motives, and praise God for how he’s using them, I’m speaking to a kind of pragmatic ministry that relies on luring people into church by using money to create the most comfortable and entertaining experience. The focus is on the ‘experience’ that appeals to the consumerism that we are all so prone to. Disciples of Jesus and church-attenders move from one church to another church down the road that’s more convenient or more appealing.
Most church planters don’t want that. We want to see new converts, not transfer growth. But will our methods undermine that intention?
#7 We will grieve and quench the Spirit of God.
Brothers, consider the heart of God when we look to money for security instead of him. When we pray and ask him for provision more than we ask for anything else, including for his name to be magnified and his kingdom to come.
“Is there not a God in Israel?” (2 Kings 1:3) Where is the power of God? Where is our undiluted trust in him? Will we trust him to move in Pentecost-like power to build a church that only he can take credit for? Will our zeal for souls wane once the budget is met?
A Final Word
I’m mindful as I write this that we are but dust, brothers. What a miracle that we’ve been invited by Jesus to do anything in his name, much less shepherd his flock or take his gospel where he has not been named. We will mess this up – our motives will be mixed at times. My heart is not to condemn you, but to point you to our all-sufficient Savior for every need along this journey. May God keep us from trusting money or considering it more than the much weightier matters of the Kingdom.
Let’s plant from our knees with a fresh dependence on our Good Shepherd. His supply is greater than our need and he wants us to trust him for far more than financial provision. He will provide for his work, and then some. He is good and loves you and his people he’s called you to reach and shepherd. May we plant in a way that makes it plain that we are looking to a better kingdom whose maker and builder is God. He will make and build every church between here and there better than we can. Let’s trust in him alone.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).