Simplicity is appealing….
Maybe you’ve seen this scene from an old NASCAR movie where the young and inexperienced driver is arguing with the veteran—and very experienced—crew chief even though the owner is standing right there.
The young driver is super gifted, but he keeps burning up the tires and wrecking the car. The argument gets heated, and finally the owner asks with a little Southern lilt, “What’s the one thing you have to do to win a race?”
The crew chief says that the answer is pretty obvious and simple: Finish the race. You can’t win if you can’t finish. Simple as that.
And you may be surprised that such simplicity—not complexity—is the hallmark of greatness:
- Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (that masterpiece is built around only four notes)
- Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (King’s most famous speech can be remembered in four simple words)
- Einstein’s theory of relativity (his remarkable discovery requires only five simple keystrokes: E = mc2)
- Jesus’ Matthew 22:37-39 summary of the Law (the commands to love God and to love our neighbor).
Complexity does not automatically make something profound or significant. Simplicity rules!
So, in the name of simplicity, I felt it wise to attempt to synthesize these twenty-two teaching modules—these twenty-two Bible passages—into some simple yet essential principles.
When I first developed these lessons, I was aware of both some recurring themes and a thread of common teaching woven through the biblical passages I’d studied.
What follows is my attempt to give you some fundamental takeaways if you’re willing to start—or continue—your journey on the less traveled road.
God at the Center
God stands at the center of our giving and our receiving; He is the reason we give. We therefore need to maintain our focus on God when we fundraise, preach, and teach about money and all matters related to giving.
Here are some specific ways we can keep looking to God:
- Because God owns everything, we should be asking Him what He wants us to do with what He Himself owns but has entrusted to our care. This principle applies to everything in our life and certainly to our use of material resources. We can find God’s guidance in His Word. If we have a personal relationship with Christ, He will guide us in personal ways. When we seek and then follow God’s guidance, our giving becomes an integral aspect of our growing spiritual life. Pastors and Christian leaders can help Christians consult with God, recognize His leading, and obey His instructions. Besides, the truth that everything belongs to God makes Him the actual fundraiser in every church and ministry.
- When we give, let’s do so primarily as an expression of our gratitude to God and our love for Him. Our gifts please God, and our church and the ministries we support regard the gift as coming from Him. God Almighty—Father God—is therefore to be the primary focus in our giving and our receiving. Being poor doesn’t disqualify us from worshipping God with a financial gift. Giving is simply our response to God’s love that He lavishly pours out, as He did most significantly on the cross at Calvary. There we see Jesus making the ultimate material sacrifice, and may that sight of His crucified, dying body be a profound motivator for every Christian to give. Jesus’ generosity has freed us from sin and given us a new life, and our generous, cheerful giving is our grateful response to His outlandish and amazing agape love.
- God has a vision for the future, and He graciously allows us to be part of that future as we give to His work locally and around the world. In fact, an important part of God’s work is done as God’s people support God’s people. And all of us—whether poor or rich—are welcome to give from what we have.
Ministry, Not Money
Churches and ministries should be focused primarily on ministering to people, not on securing funding. Of course ministry work requires financial resources, but our primary concern should be the spiritual growth of God’s people.
- We should be encouraging Christians to seek God and His guidance regarding what they give and to whom; to give God their best; and to follow through on commitments to give that they make to God.
- Our giving is an expression of our heart and our love for God, and this truth should be a major focus when the church teaches about giving.
- God invites us to join Him as well as those He has called to vocational ministry service through our material giving. This opportunity to give is itself a gift.
- God gives pastors and ministry leaders a vision for the work He wants them to do, a picture of the church or the ministry in the future. Ministry leaders need to declare that vision, teach the biblical principles of giving, and live according to those same principles themselves not merely to raise money, but for the primary purpose of growing the spiritual life of those we lead and shepherd.
- We should steward monies with complete integrity and transparency. Such excellence is required if we are to one day have a greater ministry, specifically, the stewardship of people and of spiritual truth.
Hardly Beethoven’s Fifth, but I hope this simple summary of The Almighty’s Dollar is helpful.
The question is, how do we live out these principles?
Practicality and the Heart
For the sake of full disclosure, I would like to say that I have either done the following or am in favor of doing the following:
- Sharing the church’s or the ministry’s financial needs
- Building/capital campaigns
- Year-end appeals
- Grant proposals (letters of intent, etc.)
- Fund development using social media (Crowd Rise, for instance)
- Personal meetings to share the church’s or the ministry’s financial needs and make the ask—as long as the ask is asking individuals to talk to God and then do as He directs!
- Fund development plans
- Case statements
- Publicity and marketing materials
The road less traveled isn’t about new methods and techniques. It’s about motives, heart, ministry, and a different way of approaching the practical need to fundraise.
That said, know that I am fully aware that leaders feel pressure to meet the financial needs of their ministry. Often among those needs are salaries, benefits, and people’s very livelihood—and some of those people have families and children.
I also know the pressure you feel when you have colleagues and team members relying on God’s provision. In a small ministry like EGM, that pressure fell on me.
Unfortunately, these pressures and the well-traveled-road approach to fundraising obscure many of the biblical principles articulated in this book. That well-traveled road puts a premium on fundraising and securing the financial resources necessary for the church or ministry.
Don’t get me wrong. Individuals traveling this road are committed to following Jesus, to putting God first, and to living according to biblical principles.
Yet—as I’ve attempted to gently suggest in this book—people walking on that road have adopted several important cultural practices that are problematic.
These practices have, for instance, led to a results-oriented approach to fundraising: practicality has pushed biblical commitments off the road and onto the shoulder.
Nowhere is this sidelining of God’s principles more evident than in our understanding that giving is worship. In much of the current literature on giving and fundraising, worship is hardly mentioned. Somehow, we’ve lost this foundational biblical concept.
It’s not unusual, for instance, to hear pastors urge their congregation to keep supporting the church during a time of crisis. While it’s true that our giving supports the church, some missionaries, and perhaps Bible translation work, the primary intent of the offering is to worship God. The transactional nature of giving/receiving has unintentionally moved God to the shoulder of the road.
Reducing our offerings to mere economic transactions has also created an awkwardness between the giver and the receiver. Consider, for instance, the awkwardness with which many pastors talk about money.
I’ve also seen the awkwardness in the sales/marketing approaches that some Christian ministries and some churches use. These approaches may have been effective in releasing funds, but these methods have not been spiritually fruitful. More funding is not always a sign of God’s blessing.
The twenty-two Bible passages we have studied serve as is an invitation to walk on a different road, on the road less traveled, where we give back to God some of what we have received from His hand.
In so doing, we will experience the meaningful life He desires for us at the same time that we help people in our fallen world come to life-changing faith in Jesus Christ.