Churches That Support Themselves
David and John were happy as they made their report to Brother Eyo. “God has given us three more families and five more young people this month. We now have a church committee. We took committee members with us when we visited the homes. They are well respected by everyone, and actually they did more to witness and win new believers than we did. They visited the new converts during the week when we couldn’t be there.”
“Praise God.” said Brother Eyo. “Gane is becoming a well established church. Have you begun teaching the people about supporting their church?”
“No,” said David, “if we start talking about giving so soon I’m afraid it might scare the people away.”
“Not at all,” replied Brother Eyo, “they will be glad you taught them about giving to their church. It will open the way to greater growth and spiritual blessing.”
This next lesson will help you understand the concept of self-support and the blessing associated with giving to the work of the Lord.
The Principles of Self-Support
It may seem that church finances should be a matter of the business organization of the church, rather than part of the spiritual ministry. But as we read the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters to the churches, we see it was of spiritual importance then, and therefore it is important to the church today. As we study these Scriptures we learn that the manner in which finances are handled can have an important effect on church planting. It is not so important how the finances are arranged, but rather how the arrangement affects believers and whether it promotes the spread of the gospel. Paul’s writings on finances related to the ministry were never for any personal concern, rather the importance lay in how the subject might affect those to whom he preached.
Consider three principles that guided Paul’s practice:
- The preaching of the gospel is not for monetary gain. When Paul was preaching to unbelievers, or in his early contacts with the church, he was careful to avoid the appearance that he was preaching the gospel to make money. In his society at that time there were many traveling philosophers and magicians who made their living by collecting money for their exhibitions (Acts 8:9; 16:16). Paul did not want the gospel to be classed as a similar trade. While Paul did not take money from hearers for himself, he argued that those who made their living by preaching had a right to do so (1 Corinthians 9:7–12). The teachings of Jesus and the Jewish law made it clear that the minister had a right to receive support (Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7). But Paul wanted all to understand that his preaching of the gospel was not motivated by greed. He did not want to hinder the work of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12). He wanted to show fatherly concern for the new believers by not being a burden to them (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8). Paul wanted to set an example of orderly work and never give the appearance of covetousness (Acts 20:33–34; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8).
Paul did receive gifts, but it appears he allowed only the more mature believers in the churches to send offerings for his needs (Philippians 4:14–17). He told the Corinthians that he “robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you” (2 Corinthians 11:7–9). Paul set an example for those who minister.
- Each local church supported its own ministry. There is no indication in Scripture that one local church was financially dependent on another. The Galatians were advised to support their own teachers (Galatians 6:6). Paul gave Timothy instructions on teaching each church to care for its own poor and widows (1 Timothy 5:3–10). There is the exception of the churches sending offerings to the believers in Judea at the time of a famine (Acts 11:29). However, this was an exceptional need. It was the loving response of Christians to the need of others in the body of Christ, and it was not a matter of regular financial support of a local church. Providing for emergency needs of others is a ministry of the church. Such offerings demonstrate the unity and love that maintains the body of Christ.
- The local church administered its own funds. First Corinthians 16:1–4 indicates that each church was responsible for its own funds. In this context, Paul told the Corinthians that he would be there at a certain time to take the offering they collected as a gift to the church at Jerusalem. He had already done the same at the Galatian church. Each church received and set aside the amount it determined to give. Paul was merely the envoy, with other men whom the church designated, to carry the gift to Jerusalem. Paul was careful to make it clear that he was acting primarily as a messenger of the churches and took no responsibility for administering the gift. Moreover, he took precautions to be sure the churches were represented in taking the gift to Jerusalem (vv. 3–4).
These three principles demonstrated by Paul’s teaching are guidelines that can help us today. Of course, there are circumstances that cause exception, but the basic principle the New Testament teaches is that the local church, like the individual Christian, is meant to develop in spiritual maturity and responsibility. Holding either in a state of dependency does not promote the maturity necessary to fulfill the mission of the church.
The Practicality of Self-Support
The plans and methods that God’s Word gives for building His church are practical and logical. The biblical method for supporting the church and the work of spreading the gospel is that the expense is to be shared by all members of the body of Christ. Here are two practical reasons for the local church to become self-supporting:
- It develops a sense of responsibility. Each group of believers should feel responsible to each other and to the work of God. In Lessons 1 and 3 we referred to Ephesians 4:12, as telling us the purpose of the church. Let us continue on to verse 13 and read an expected result of that purpose: “until we all reach unity in the faith and . . . become mature.” Assuming responsibility is a means of attaining maturity. What do you think might happen if the money to support the local church came from an outside organization or another church? How would the believers’ lives be affected? It is possible for believers who are dependent on others for their support to become resentful of their benefactors. Believers may resent having to wait for someone else to recognize and provide their needs. Such dependency can also cause the loss of dignity and self-worth. A local church in this position may feel that it is incapable of fulfilling the purpose of the church. Also, the people of the church may be inclined to wait for direction from the source that is providing the church support.
What may happen if the pastor is supported by money coming from outside the local church? He may feel less responsibility to the local believers than to those who provide his salary. When the people of the church are supporting their own church and pastor, they have a sense of belonging and responsibility to the church and pastor. They will have a greater interest in the pastor’s ministry and feel a greater responsibility to be involved in the ministries of the church. In the same way the pastor who is being supported by those close to him each day will feel the responsibility of being well disciplined and prepared in his ministry to the church. There will be a better sense of being co-laborers with Christ in the ministry of the church.
- Self-support builds maturity. The sense of responsibility that grows in a self-supporting church creates spiritual maturity in believers. Joyous giving in gratitude to God not only helps the work of God, but also brings blessing and increased faith to the giver (2 Corinthians 9:7–13). If the people sacrifice to prepare a place for worship, they will cherish it as their house of God.
Self-support teaches the believers to trust God for meeting financial needs. As a result, they will learn to trust Him for other needs, such as the salvation of others, healing for the sick, and for increased ministry in other areas.
Church leaders must be careful not to rob the believers in a new church of the chance to learn the blessings of giving to the work of God. This is illustrated by the story of a preacher who saw a butterfly struggling to free itself from its cocoon. He watched impatiently as the butterfly struggled. Finally the preacher could not bear it any longer. With his knife, he cut the remaining threads of the cocoon. The struggling stopped, and the insect burst out—weak, helpless, and able to live only a moment. A rule of life had been broken! If the butterfly had been left to itself, after much struggling, a well-formed, strong, and beautifully colored creature would have come forth.
Sometimes it is hard for church leaders to watch a new group of believers struggle to become established. But each new church should have the opportunity to mature in its own faith and follow God’s plan of support for the church. By being able to manage their own financial support, the believers will be more likely to have faith and confidence to step out in more efforts to expand the ministries of the church.
The Necessity to Teach Self-Support
Teach Systematic Giving
Sometimes church planters or the pastors of a new group of believers are reluctant to teach about financial responsibility to God’s work. They may fear that the people will become discouraged, or they may think the pastor is greedy. This is a mistake. Church planters should be students of God’s Word in order to understand the biblical aspects of financial responsibility. Then they are prepared to ask the Holy Spirit to give them wisdom to apply the scriptural principles in their teaching of the new believers.
If self-support is to be attained, the foundation must be right from the beginning. New believers should be taught the responsibilities of stewardship as it applies to their obligations for membership in the local church. The apostle Paul taught the churches to give regularly in proportion to their income (1 Corinthians 16:1–2). Many Christians operate on the principle of giving at least ten percent of their income—a principle that was taught in the Old Testament and is perhaps the best systematic plan for giving to God’s work.
Many new Christians need guidance on knowing how to give because they never had the experience of giving to God’s work. Scriptural teaching is that giving is to be in proportion to one’s income; therefore, most Christians accept the tithe as a minimum standard. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul points out several principles concerning giving that can help us understand what the believer’s attitude should be. First, the Macedonian churches did not give because they had plenty. They gave out of extreme poverty. Second, in spite of the most severe trial, they experienced overflowing joy which welled up in rich generosity (vv. 1–2). Third, on their own initiative, they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the other saints (v. 4). Paul says they were able to do this because they gave themselves first to the Lord (v. 5). Following are other Scriptures that teach the principles of giving:
- Giving is to be done cheerfully. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly . . . for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). “Their overflowing joy . . . welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
- God promises blessings to those who give. “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and see if I will not . . . pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” (Malachi 3:10). “‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure . . . For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’” (Luke 6:38). “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). These promises contain the condition that giving is to be done cheerfully and generously, never greedily or with the hope of getting something in return.
- Giving is an expression of love. “In your love . . . see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7).
- Giving now assures eternal treasures in heaven. “‘Give to the poor . . . provide . . . for yourselves . . . a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted’” (Luke 12:33).
Teaching by example is always a good method. Wise and effective teachers are those who conscientiously realize their obligation before God. They realize their personal need to follow the Scripture, and in doing so set an example to others. Those who do not live by their teachings are poor examples. They will not be able to train strong converts because people will see the inconsistencies in their lives.
A steward is a person who has the job of taking care of the possessions of an owner. He is the manager of his employer’s property. The stewardship of a Christian is two-fold: 1) the Christian is responsible to God for the use of all that God allows him to use, and 2) Christians are responsible to each other for offerings given to God’s work.
Jesus taught several parables concerning the work of a manager. In Luke 16:1–2, the manager was called to give an account of his management and found unworthy to continue his position. The teaching in Matthew 25:14–30 implies that we own nothing at all. All that we have is given by God, and we are accountable to Him for its use. What the manager earns and gives back to the owner is not a gift but a requirement. All we can really offer back to God is the proper use of the blessings He has given us and the assurance they are of profitable use to God’s kingdom. Our responsibility to God includes not only material things but also other blessings He has given us. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
Our concern in this lesson is primarily the correct use of funds given for God’s work. The pastor must be careful to establish confidence in the church through the handling of church money. The new church should be taught to manage its funds faithfully from the first day it begins to receive gifts for the work of God. In some parts of the world people bring part of their harvest to God. In other places people bring part of the money they have earned. It is all an offering to God.
Here is a suggested plan to follow for the good management of church offerings.
- All offerings should be received and accounted for by at least two members of the church.
- Accurate records should be kept, detailing the amounts of all the offerings received.
- All persons counting the offerings should sign their names indicating that they verify the amount received and recorded.
- A finance committee of at least three members should be responsible for overseeing the disbursements of the offerings. In addition to the members, the church planter or pastor should be part of this committee and act as the chairperson.
- A treasurer should be appointed from the membership to keep careful record of all church funds.
- The treasurer should keep the church money in a safe place for future use.
- Offerings that are given for a specific purpose should be used for only that purpose.
- Annual financial reports should be made available to all members.
If the outlined procedures above are followed, the church will have a basis for demonstrating its accountability for the offerings received. This will enable believers to avoid any suspicion of how the funds have been used. This accountability is further enhanced by developing a committee of members to oversee the financial ministry of the church. This group may be called the financial committee and would include church officers, especially the church leaders such as the pastor or the church planter.
The finance committee should make a list of the financial needs that are important. As money becomes available, it should be spent according to the priorities on this list. Each financial committee will have to determine the priorities for its particular church. Depending on the location and circumstances of the church, the priorities may vary.
Some of the needs that may have to be considered first are:
- Pastor’s support
- Rent for a meeting place
- Lights, heat, and water
- Building maintenance
- Educational materials
In most cases the first priority the church should try to meet is to provide support for a pastor. Church members need the leadership of a full-time pastor who is responsible to work with them, teach them, and lead them. Having an adequate place to gather for worship is also a priority. If the church must rent a place to meet, that would probably be the next priority. However, in many places the church can meet in a believer’s home or on property provided by a believer. The priority for each need should be determined by the committee on the basis of what is most urgently needed to accomplish the task of evangelism and discipleship
When a major use of funds is being discussed, the whole group of believers should be invited to discuss it with the committee. This faithfulness in managing the church money will create confidence in the church. The annual financial report that is given to all the members must be understood by everyone so the people know how the money is being used for the work of God. As they learn to give, they will give joyfully, knowing that all the gifts are being used to help further the work of the Lord.
The Power of Self-Support
Churches that take the responsibility of supporting their own work for God tend to multiply faster than others. There are three main reasons for this. Faith is encouraged to grow in both the pastor and the believers. Faith is a gift of God (Romans 12:3; 2 Peter 1:1). But any gift, to be of value, must be taken from the giver and used. First Peter 1:6–7 tells us about faith: “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine.” When a new church is beginning, it may be a test of faith for a pastor to rely on God to take care of him and his family while he devotes to helping the new church develop. As the pastor studies the Word and claims God’s promises, his faith grows. The pastor can help the new believers learn to trust God and claim the promises from His Word. It may be a test of faith for new believers to take the responsibility of supporting the work of God while it is small and struggling. The testing can help to develop faith to attempt more work for God. It is evident from Scripture that faith must be active. “Faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). A church that is self-supporting may have its faith tested, but what can be a result of that testing? James 1:3–4 says, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature.” Churches which sacrifice and give generously to God’s work will experience growth in faith. This faith helps to give the church spiritual perseverance to reach out in ministry to other areas.
Self-supporting churches have a stronger influence on the unbelievers of the community. If the church planter is supported by funds from outside the church for a long period of time, nonbelievers in the local community may have reason to view the new church as something foreign to their area. This is especially true if the source of funds comes from outside the country. They may call the church a “foreign religion” and assume that believers are trying to gain worldly benefit, instead of spiritual help. They may think of the church planter as a hired agent of a foreign government. What will this do to the church? It will certainly hinder its growth. If the church is to grow, new believers must be won from among the people around the new church. The church that is supported by members of its own community can have a greater sense of belonging to that community, and is not divided in its loyalties to an outside source. A church that belongs to the people can have greater influence on those around it.
Self-supporting churches provide for unlimited growth. This is an important reason why a church should be self-supporting. Funds which come from an outside or foreign source are always limited, and there is the possibility that they may be cut off at any time. If the church does not support itself it will reach a certain stage of development where its limited funds can maintain only the present work. Since funds are limited, there is no way to start new works in the area or send out workers to evangelize. But in a church where people are taught to give, the funds will continue to grow as new believers are won to the Lord. There needs to be no limit on what the church can attempt to do for God’s work. Consider the experiences of two churches in Latin America.
Felipe and Carlos were church planters who started churches in towns near their homes. Both men were dedicated and worked hard. Felipe was supported by a church in another city. Carlos did not receive any outside help.
After Felipe had won about twenty people to the Lord, the house where they were meeting was too small. He wrote to his supporters and they sent money to build a church building. The people of the community opposed the new church. They did not want a “foreign church” in their town. The church was built, but after so much trouble few dared to come. Those who stayed in the church did not want to maintain it. They said, “the building is not ours. Let those who built it take care of it.” Felipe stayed on as pastor because he was still receiving his salary from the other church. The new church remained small and was able to do little for God.
This is an example of a church built on an attitude of dependency. Since the people depended on someone else to pay the expenses, they would probably depend on the outside source to make their decisions. They would never develop in their own abilities to fulfill the ministries that are intended for a church. When difficulties come, they would have the attitude that those who pay the bills should take care of the problems. The believers of such a church would not have the opportunity to develop self-worth as mature Christians. They would be afraid to attempt new projects in God’s work because they are dependent on an outside source to sustain the work.
Meanwhile, Carlos worked every day at his job. Most evenings and every Sunday he rode the bus to meet with a new group of believers he had won to the Lord. When the group grew to include several families, the people asked Carlos to accept their help to pay his bus fare. He began to teach them the blessing of giving to God. Soon there were enough believers to rent a room where they met for services. The people continued to give and Carlos was able to quit his job and give full time to the church. A few years later the congregation had built its own building. Hundreds of people attended this church. They have been able to start about a dozen new churches in the surrounding areas.
This self-supporting church was never limited by depending on money from someone else. The people knew that they themselves were the only source of income, and they learned early to worship the Lord by giving to His work. The believers in the church pastored by Carlos had the opportunity to develop spiritual maturity. They gained self-worth and recognized their responsibilities to the church. They never expected anyone else to do anything for them; consequently, they knew it was their task to evangelize in their area and accomplish the ministries of the church. Felipe may have been able eventually to help his church become self-supporting also. But because of a faulty beginning, it would have been a difficult task.
Although financial support is necessary, more importantly, it is the spiritual condition of the church that influences all else. The blessing of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit stir the church to attempt greater work for the Lord. If a church is at a low spiritual place, it is not the time to talk about finances, but rather pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual life of the church is the first concern; methods are secondary.