19 December 2018
Since last night’s board meeting, I have been thinking more about an important issue that was raised near the end of our meeting. I finally decided to sit down and construct this letter to you because it is not the first time the issue was raised. In fact, it seems to somehow rear its ugly head in too many meetings since my arrival and always from the same voices.
I am talking about the issue of the pastor (yours truly) not preaching about giving. Last night, there was an implicit – if not direct – accusation that I do not preach the whole counsel of God. This charge was leveled because I do not satisfactorily preach either qualitatively or quantitatively on giving enough for some. I was persuaded to write this letter because such an accusation is one of the most serious charges that a fellow church leader (or anyone else) can level against a pastor. It is one which deserves a theological response and defense.
Nested within the accusation have been some comments from Sam as to why this may be the case. One suggestion is that I am a coward (my word, not yours): I am simply afraid to preach about giving. I am afraid of upsetting people. This seems to have been the most frequent and forceful suggestion. The other frequent comment, as was mentioned last night, is that the lack of preaching about giving on my part is somehow the cause of our downturn in giving (though there are many other factors to consider, such as the recent bankruptcy of a longtime member and church leader). These comments, among others, deserve a theological response.
There is a theological lens through which I view preaching that deserves explanation. Preaching the Word of God is one of the weightiest and most consistent charges to ministers throughout Scripture. We see it most clearly in Paul’s charge to the Ephesians in Acts 20 and to Timothy in I Timothy 4, but we also hear it directly from Jesus in Matthew 28:20 (teach them to obey everything I have commanded you). This charge, I believe, is repeatedly emphasized because of our human tendency to address those issues which are a “bigger deal” to us than others.
For example, I would love it every Sunday I could address the woeful condition of many marriages in our church. I would love it if every Sunday I could address our lack of evangelism in the community. I would love it if every Sunday I could address the palpable unforgiveness from supposed Christians from pettiness that happened thirty years ago. I would love it every Sunday I could address the terrible legalism that is rampant in our congregation and community – and point fingers and name names!
But, I don’t. Why? Because my theological view of preaching is to walk through Scripture one chapter and one verse at a time. You have experienced this from sitting under my preaching for the past 5+ years. I started in Matthew (which serves as a bridge from the Old Testament to the Jewish Messiah), and went from there through Acts, Romans, and now I Corinthians. Why this mechanical approach to preaching? It is simply because it is the best way to ensure that I am, in fact, preaching the entire counsel of God to His people. It also ensures that I cannot focus in on my own “pet” doctrines to preach “at people” or (of equal importance) yours or anyone else’s.
I have learned one important lesson from preaching this way: there are certain issues which I seem to care much more about than Jesus! I believe this to be one of the main issues connected with those who would level such charges against me: you care much more about the subject of giving money to the church than Jesus. If I haven’t talked about it as much as you would like, it is because Scripture hasn’t talked about it as much as you would like.
This, to me, is clearly an issue of a dearly held pet doctrine which some would love to hear their young preacher address from the pulpit with fire and brimstone. Furthermore, until this happens to a subjectively satisfactory degree, the accusations of spiritual cowardice and professional negligence continue. However, the only thing we are guilty of here is not surrendering our own opinions to Jesus.
Like I said, I have my own issues which I would love to address ad nauseum from the pulpit, but from which I am restrained by my theological framework of preaching through Scripture, as well as what we see in Scripture as the purpose for the public proclamation of the Gospel. I’ll address in greater detail shortly.
If you will take the time and spiritual consideration to think and pray over these four questions below, I believe they will help you discern whether you care about an issue to a greater degree than Christ and His Word.
Why am I not complaining about all the other topics “not preached about”?
Some are quick to address this one issue which they do not feel is preached about enough. However, I would challenge you to consider the plethora of other issues which are also not preached about. For example:
Why are there no complaints that I have never referenced the Song of Solomon? Why are there no complaints about the lack of teaching on Old Testament prophecy? We have had no series on leadership, the dangers of liberalism, the life of David, the book of Revelation, or the practical wisdom of Proverbs. And yet, not a whisper of complaint has been uttered about these topics and others. If there is consistently one issue we want preached above all others in Scripture, then our guilt is not cowardice or neglect, but of wanting our spiritual opinions preached above all others, and that we must surrender to Jesus.
Would I would feel as strongly about this issue if my present circumstances were different?
This financial issue long preceded my arrival. When I arrived in 2013, I walked into a situation where the church already carried an exorbitant debt load. In fact, the present debt problem goes back at least to the building of our Alliance Drive facility in 2006.
If we are being completely honest, we recognize that our present circumstances make finances a pressing issue. We have ONE MILLION DOLLARS of debt hanging around our neck. That is a ton of debt for a congregation even ten times our size! If we owned everything free and clear, would we be as emphatic and urgent about this issue as we are now? If we had not financially obligated ourselves to the payment and upkeep of a building which this year cost us almost $18,000 every month, would be as concerned with preaching on giving? I don’t believe so.
I am simply suggesting that our present financial crisis (which is of our own doing) is unduly influencing our spiritual emphasis on finances. The truth is that whatever our present circumstances are (financial hardship, relational stress, physical sickness, persecution, etc.), they do not impact who Christ is and who His bride proclaims Him to be. What I mean by that is that we preach Christ: His Word, His character, His holiness, His work of sanctification, and His mission.
It is the temptation of every person to make my needs, my desires, my circumstances, and my struggles the center of our Christian walk. However, like Paul (II Corinthians 12:9), we find that God’s grace is sufficient for everything. Therefore, we proclaim His grace and not our present needs.
This question, to me, is the most difficult to answer because it forces you to lay aside what you see as your biggest and most pressing need and just focus on Christ. When you do that, you discover that what you thought was your need (finances, in this case) is not actually your need at all. Your need is only to focus on Jesus.
The calling of the church and her leaders (and the unwavering purpose of the public proclamation of the Gospel) is to preach Christ (I Corinthians 1:17), not the specific application of biblical principles to a present struggle. When we see public preaching in Scripture (Matthew 3; Acts 2; Acts 17), we see the preaching of Christ and His Kingdom. The specific application of biblical principles to a present struggle is the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s heart (John 16:8) and is modeled in personal relationships (Nathan confronting David in 2 Samuel 12; Jesus confronting Judas and Peter in John 13; Paul confronting His Corinthians brothers in personal letters). So, we preach Christ and trust the work of conviction and application to the Holy Spirit and those believers who walk closely with the individual.
Am I applying this principle equally to all issues, or just this one?
We are certainly guilty of over-emphasizing a pet doctrine if we are not applying that principle equally to all issues. For example, this issue of preaching about giving surfaces specifically regarding giving financially to the General Fund of this local church. If our actual concern is preaching about giving, then why are we not as vocal about how much energy is spent preaching on giving to the Great Commission Fund? Why have there been no chastisements given because our GCF giving is also down?
Personally, I would rather someone give to the GCF than the General Fund because there is literally no present, tangible return on that investment. You are giving nothing toward comfortable chairs that you enjoy, heating and air, a sound system, or those amazing meals we enjoy from time to time. If our concern is that someone is spiritually surrendered to Christ and committed to His mission, then their giving to the GCF is a far greater example of this surrender than their giving to the General Fund of Missionary Alliance Church.
If we are only applying this biblical to one specific application and not to others, then we are guilty of holding too dearly to a pet doctrine.
Am I superimposing this issue into Scripture in areas where it does not apply?
What comes to mind in our context is the screening criteria we apply to leaders in the church. Every year when we begin to discuss names of people to nominate, there is one criterion that surfaces from these same few: do they give financially to the church? Is that a bad criterion? No. But, we must recognize that it is not a biblical criteria for serving in leadership.
When we read through the qualifications given for elders in Titus 1 and I Timothy 3, there is simply nothing there which addresses whether or not they financially contribute to the church. Do I think they should? Yes. But, I recognize that my opinion in that regard adds to the Bible something that is not there, and I therefore have to submit that opinion to God.
When we are more concerned with enforcing what the Bible doesn’t say than what it does say about issues (for example, elders must not be quarrelsome or inhospitable, but no one has pitched a fit about those), then we are very guilty of holding too dearly to something and being a subjective legalist. We must lay those opinions down at Jesus’ feet as part of our own surrender to Him. We cannot be more concerned about others and their level of surrender to Him in certain areas when we ourselves have not surrendered to Him in different and sometimes more important areas (if that sounds a little biblical, it’s because Jesus said it in Matthew 7:5).
As I mentioned earlier, I felt compelled to write this letter due to the severity of implicit and/or direct accusations leveled against me last night by fellow church leaders. I felt they needed to be addressed theologically, and this letter is my attempt at that. I would be happy to discuss this in greater detail, and anything else, with you privately. I believe that God is working in our midst and I don’t want to see internal turmoil and strife get in the way of what God is doing in the lives of our people. As you lead, please continue to offer yourself to Jesus. We bear a greater burden than those who do not lead (James 3), and potentially a greater condemnation if we lead without going before Jesus and offering our opinions, preferences, voices, and lives to Him. I do appreciate your friendship and willingness to consider these words.
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence