Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Busy For Jesus (Values & Practices concluded--Part 15)

Some churches schedule so many events throughout the week to talk about being Christians that their members don't have much time leftover to apply those ideas. This is especially true for families with children. After they go to work, church events (for both adults and kids), try to spend quality time together as a family, care for the house and car and yard…there's hardly any time left to sleep, let alone be salt & light in the world.

It's like the mission of those churches degenerated into "more and better meetings for Christ". Being busy for Jesus isn’t necessarily good. God doesn’t always want us to do more for Him.

So we try to keep a Simple Schedule—the last defining practice listed in the values & practices of a member-driven church.

We meet on Sunday afternoons for three hours.  The first hour is the meal, followed by two hours of ministry (either bible study or open ministry). The rest of the week, members have the time to invest in their own families, be in community with each other, spend time seeking God's voice, find a way to be salt & light in the world, and just rest and enjoy God's presence.

Members aren't prohibited from getting together or from using our church building to do so. We have had bible studies and food distribution ministries and prayer groups during the week. But they're all member-driven gatherings, not staff-mandated. If some of members are called to do that for a season, they can. But there’s no expectation or pressure from the leaders of the church to attend those meetings. We don’t even make regular announcements about them on Sunday (though we don’t mind talking about them if necessary).

Think about Mary and Martha, sisters and disciples of Jesus. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus rebuked Martha (not Mary) for being too busy working on tasks for God. So many churches are pushing their people to become Martha-style disciples: busy, busy , busy for the kingdom of God.

Are you more like Martha or Mary? 

In the end, we don't measure spiritual maturity by the number of meetings our members attend. How is your church measuring spiritual maturity? How are you evaluating your own maturity?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

No Tithe-No Offering Plate (Value & Practices: Part 14)

You may need to sit down before you read about our next defining practice, Member-Driven Funding. We don't collect a tithe. We don't pass an offering plate/bag/bucket around. We don't even collect money for a general fund.

Instead, we post a list of the basic needs of the church, including building rent, children's supplies, staff salaries, etc.  That list also includes all the needs our church members and also some needs from outside our church body. (The elders coordinate what goes on that list.)

Our members then choose how much to give to whom, as the Lord leads them. And they don' t need to give it to the leaders first. In fact, I discourage people from just giving me undesignated money. Yes, there have been times when the Lord leads people to give to the church, and I'll accept it. There's no command in the Bible against giving undesignated funds.

So, if there's no rule against it, why aren't we handling our giving like everyone else? Why not the 10% tithe and why not the general fund?

First, why not promote the number 10%. I mean, that's in the Bible, right?

It is. But only in the Old Testament. It's clearly a part of the Levitical system God established with Moses. The tribe of priests were not giving a plot of land to farm or ranch. They were to focus on being priests for the nation. The other tribes were asked to bring a tenth of their supplies to them as sacrifices to God (that the Levites got to keep and eat). And God promised to bless them for faithful giving. But it's not mentioned after Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament).

We don't require any other element of the sacrificial system, today. Why this number?

The New Testament does call us to give. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying giving is only for Old Testament times. There are many verses urging us to give in the New Testament. But the 10% standard isn't in any of those verses. Instead, as usual, the New Testament ups the ante.

In the Old Testament, you just had to follow specific behaviors: don't eat pork, don't commit adultery, give 10%, etc. But the New Testament moves beyond behavior only and makes it about the heart. You can eat any meat--but you have to pay attention to the weakness of your brother and decide meal by meal what you should or shouldn't eat. Adultery isn't limited to physical behavior, but happens in your heart even when you lust. And we should give how much the Lord leads us to give. It may be less than or much more than 10%.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NASB
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Second, how about the general fund? Isn't that in the New Testament stories?

Actually, there's plenty of examples of church leaders collecting money from many believers--but not for an undesignated cause. Some early churches gave money to Paul to help the church in Jerusalem, for example. But it was a response to a specific request for Jerusalem. Paul does urge people to put some money aside each week so they're able to give when the need arises. But that's a general savings plan, not a general fund giving plan. In fact, that's much more like what we do. We urge our members to save up their own money and spend their month in prayer thinking about how God wants them to use their money. They can even use their own tithe to fund their own ministry efforts. I don't make them give it to me and then ask for it right back to do the ministry project God has laid on their heart.

I want to be clear--the general fund issue isn't required one way or the other in the Bible. They didn't have 501(c)3 bank accounts in the days of the early church. So I do accept checks from members who say God told them to give the money to our church's general fund (we do have a bank account).

But I found that our decentralized process, where money often doesn't even pass through my hands, produces better growth than the general fund plan.

In the typical model, members give a fixed amount to a general fund and they're done. Aside from once or twice a year when a special offering request is made, they don't need to think much or pray much about it. The message is simply: obey. Obedience isn't wrong (and sometimes requires prayer and thought). But our approach requires them to hear from God on how much to give to whom.

It inspires a closer walk with God and a more personal connection with the ministry efforts of their church. And isn't what we're trying to design church to do?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mindless Overstatement--I Apologize

I need to apologize. It's been weeks since I posted--getting back in to the routine after vacation has been tough. But that's not what I'm apologizing for.

I spoke with a blog reader yesterday (thanks for your comments, Mike) and he shared that he was a bit frustrated with the way I talked about mindless giving, how I made it sound like anyone giving to a general fund was necessarily mindless when they did it. He had a good point and I'm sorry for my overstatements on this an maybe other topics.

I've been thinking about how I went wrong, and it's reminded me of go-karts. I do love go-kart racing and I think there's a good analogy here.

Go-kart racing is great fun--but it's really a smaller, tamer version of real racing. Yes, you get to press the gas pedal all the way down and you don't have to stay in a lane. But the go-kart does have governor on the engine, limiting your max speed. And the go-kart track is like one big lane you have to stay in.

Compared to actually being in a high-speed race on real roads, go-kart racing looks very restricted.

No, I haven't had the chance to do a real high-speed car chase (except for that one time chasing my friends' car at 2am when I was 18 and almost rolled the family conversion van…yeah, that's another story of poor judgment for another post).

But, to return to the metaphor, if I was used to real life chases on the road, go-karting would feel trite and tame and mindless. I would probably find myself discussing all go-kart tracks as lame.

But I'd be wrong. Not all go-kart courses are the same.

I have had the opportunity to drive on several tracks. Disney's track in the Magic Kingdom is probably the worst (it is for little kids). Your engine's governor is so strict that 10 miles an hour is a good guess on the top speed and a metal rail under your car limits your steering to 3 feet to the right or left. My six year old thought it was amazing. I only did it for her sake.

But I've also done Mario Andretti's Go-Kart course in the Atlanta area. Those karts got up to probably 45 miles an hour and you could literally spin out (I did, at least). That experience was far from tame!

And lumping Andretti's karts in with Disney's as the same experience is downright wrong.

So I need to apologize. In my excitement over the live street racing I'm doing these days (unfortunately, only metaphorically), I have come across as dismissive of many in typical churches who exceed the minimum requirement of their church model and are very thoughtful, prayerful, and Spirit-led in their giving, serving, teaching, etc.

Not all churches are the same and there are some fully engaged members in typical churches. And for implying that all typical churches are full of only mindless members, I apologize.