Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21).
Reading my journal from the 1990s, I am reminded of a lot of things–the grace of God and His sovereignty, the sweetness of many of God’s people, and also the sheer unabashed hypocrisy of a few.
Some months after I left one pastorate, the business manager of the church and I had lunch together one day. This is from my notes written that night. I’m eliminating the names, because identifying these people would serve no purpose. Many of them have gone on to their (ahem) just rewards and what’s done is done.
What the business administrator said was stunning.
You’re no longer the pastor, so I’m telling you this now. So many of the people who worked against you gave almost nothing to the church. If (the chairman of the personnel committee) tithes, then he’s on welfare. And (assistant pastor) gives zero to the church. Not a dime. And his wife a piddling.
(The chairman and the assistant pastor were only two of maybe a dozen such troublemakers in the church who were continually meeting in little groups to plan their attacks, undermine the pastor, and such.)
After recording the administrator’s words, I had added: That hurts. I almost wish I didn’t know this. In a way it confirms the low level of spirituality in some of these which I had suspected.
The funny thing, looking back, is that what these people faulted me for was the “spiritual malaise” in the church. (The dictionary defines “malaise” as a non-specific feeling of uneasiness in a body.)
The people who were undercutting the pastor and working to get him out were faulting him for the discomfort and lack of enthusiasm within the congregation.
One wonders if it ever occurred to them that they themselves might be at fault.
Where one’s treasure is, you will find his heart.
That statement from our Lord is the clue to the problem. (Matthew 6:21)
I invest in something and suddenly it matters a great deal to me and I’m following it to make sure the investment was sound. My child goes off to a university and immediately I’m interested in everything that takes place in that town. I give my offering to the Lord through His church and bingo, I love the Lord more and am more devoted to that church.
And the opposite is true. If I’m not giving to it, I have very little interest in its success. Each day when the newspaper comes, the only part of the financial page that interests me is the part where I own stock.
Therefore, you can write this down in big letters: The church member who gives nothing to the church cares nothing for the church.
Jesus said it; I didn’t.
What the non-giving troublemaker cares for is getting his own way. Perhaps it’s a power thing, an ego trip, I don’t know.
A pastor I know became fed up with the antics of a member who was constantly on his case about something, and so, violating all his principles, he decided to see just how much that man had given to the church in the last year. The next time the man began his attack, the pastor informed the church that the total of his contributions in the previous 12 months was just enough to buy the broom and the mop in the janitor’s closet. It shut him up but good. (I do not recall whether the man left the church, but would assume so. Such a hypocrite has no interest in accepting a humbling and repenting. I imagine he went out the door fuming.)
I do not have the solution to this dilemma–that is, other than repentance.
In each of the six churches I pastored, it was a matter of personal integrity that I would not look at the financial books and thus had no idea what a person gave or whether they gave. There would be no respect of persons from this pastor; I would serve each one as well as I could.
I’m uncertain whether this was the best policy.
My predecessor at one church–Dr. Samuel R. Woodson had led that congregation over a quarter of a century–told me confidentially, “I always made it a point to know what certain ones gave.” He was not a dictator, nor a manipulator of people, and not one to misuse this information. But I was not sure I could be trusted with that kind of information. In a heated discussion, I was fully capable of blurting out something I might regret later.
There needs to be a way, however. IMHO, as they say.
There should be some way for a responsible person or two to see what individuals give and make sure the pastor gets the information if it is pertinent. If nothing else, they could inform him, “Deacon Atlee is a generous giver, pastor.” That would be good to know.
I once did something with the deacons in a church I served. In the monthly deacons meeting, certain ones always made it a point to find something to criticize in the financial report. If we were running behind the budget, they made sure I knew that it was my fault. I was not riding herd on the spending, I was allowing the staff to overspend, I needed to preach on giving more.
One Monday, I asked the bookkeeper to do something for me.
“I want you to print out the record of each deacon’s giving this year so far. Put it in an envelope, write his name on it and seal it. There are 24 active deacons, so you should give me 24 envelopes.”
That night, when I rose in the meeting to talk about church matters, I passed out the envelopes. “A number of you in this room,” I said, “have been on my back about the low finances of the church. Now, perhaps you are justified in doing so. I’d like you to open the envelope and take a look, and then decide for yourself if you should be complaining about the money.”
I assured them I had not looked at the statements and had no idea what was on any of them. “You’re the only one seeing this.”
“If you are behind in your giving, then consider this a reminder. If you are up to date in your giving, then well done.” I added, “Those who are not giving faithfully should be very cautious about blaming someone else for the low finances around here.”
That’s all I said.
More than one never forgave me for that little confrontation, even though I did nothing but force them to connect their own stewardship faithfulness to their right to criticize.
Even if we cannot open the books and show what people are contributing–and I’m not suggesting we should–we should teach the principle of Matthew 6:21, that only those who put their treasure in the Lord’s work have their heart there.
A final note.
Our Southern Baptist Convention went through a similar debate a few years back as leaders tried to decide who was actually entitled to be a voting messenger at our annual gatherings. For many years, the constitution and bylaws had set a dollar figure as the criteria. A church that gave so much money–I forget the figure–was entitled to send so many representatives, called ‘messengers,’ to the meeting.
Critics harped on why would we make it a matter of dollars. They asked if there were not better ways of determining who is a bonafide and faithful Baptist than by looking at the giving records. It smacked of crass materialism, of judging people by their bank accounts, of using the world’s criteria for making decisions..
I thought of our Lord’s statement in Matthew 6:21. He seemed to think this was a pretty reliable measuring rod. In another place He said, “If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous money, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:11)
Show me where you are putting your money and I’ll show you what you treasure most.
It’s an infallible guide.