Click on following for earlier articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16 and Part 17.
As with most walks with the Lord, my journey out of the traditional church system has not been a straight line. There have been a few left and right turns along the way.
One such detour happened in the fall of 2001.
Honey was selling furniture in Yorba Linda, California, and a Christian couple invited her to attend their church for a Sunday service. She wanted to please them and felt we both should go.
Now, the couple’s church was the mother church for a denomination which is famous for worship music, casual dress and laid-back style. The denomination’s founder had recently passed away and another had replaced him. And to be honest, the denomination was one which Honey and I usually searched out in the many cities we had lived in.
So, I was eager to visit the church.
The couple greeted us at the door and led us inside the sanctuary to where they were sitting. As we sat down, the husband leaned over and said, “The new pastor mentions finances a little more than our founder did. It’s probably because the church has dropped from 5,000 in membership to 3,500. ”
My antenna went up, as did the hairs on my neck.
The service began with worship music, followed by the taking of the offerings, a few prayers, and then, the pastor strolled to pulpit. He was forty-ish, dressed in Dockers and had a pleasant voice.
“I was going to speak on prayer today, but I felt a pressing need to speak on a different subject,” he said, looking around the sanctuary.
Now, what subject do you think had jumped over prayer to the top of his sermon docket? Was it salvation? Or healing? Or love? No, no, no!
It was finances!
The pastor explained how the church had just spent millions of dollars to purchase a parcel of land next to the church for planned expansions in the future. The additional expenditures increased the church’s total debt to $13 million. $13,000,000.
“As always,” said the pastor, “our goal is to help the poor, but until we pay off our debts, the poor will have to be put on the back burner. Then, when the debt is retired in twelve years or so, we will be in a strong position to help the poor and others.”
Yipes! Yuck! Yowie!
Now, you might be thinking this left turn experience is the exception for the traditional church system, right? Sadly, not so!
The Barna Group which is known for their extensive surveys on Christianity and churches has conducted yearly surveys on church finances. Their findings for all of the Protestant churches in America are that 85% of the tithes and offerings are spent on mortgages, construction, salaries, building upkeep, special programs and miscellaneous. Less than 10% is given to the poor or foreign missionaries.
For me, this last church experience was the dot at the bottom of the exclamation mark after the words, “Pull the plug!“
(Starting Monday a new series will begin on the callings. Stop back if you’re interested.)
9 responses to ““My Journey Out” (Conclusion)”
that leaves a bad taste in my mouth as well. I am so sorry you had to experience that… I too get angry about the abuse of money in the church.
It is important that when looking at church homes, financial prudence and abundant benevolence are symbiotic.
It is also important to look within at these same values. We can’t hold a church accountable for something we can’t master personally. Take a look around. America is not doing so hot. well, no one is.
Perhaps the abuses of this medium exchange throughout history is more a reflection of the society we live in, and ourselves and not a conspiracy by the few to get rich. Are these bad apples not a product of their own times?
Are WE not a product of our times? Tithing is one of the most talked about themes of the Bible… TIME and money…. even Jesus talked about money A LOT. It isn’t about who you’re giving it to and what they do with it… although we all would rather it went to good use… but, it’s about connecting with God and giving Him our best.
The first fruits, not the scraps left on the table. God doesn’t need your money. But he does need you to have a givers heart, and you need to have one. By you, I mean me. just some thoughts…
What was the reason Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg? The money practices of the church. This was the initial salvo which led to reformation.
What is one of the main complaints of today’s traditional churches? Same problem – money practices of the church.
It’s reformation time.
Donald Miller as Luther, trying to find where in the Bible that bricks were sold as indulgences, he looked like a deer caught in headlights…. “Where’s the brick???”
agreed. but what vision should this take and how do we protect ourselves from doing it again? Luther never wanted a new religion in his name and I think he’d be annoyed to see the amount of divisions there are!
one body, one spirit…
The biggest problem with the traditional church system is that it is a “one size fits all” type of system. You can visit a church in Southern California and it will be basically the same as one in Fargo or Chicago or Boston. No real differences as far as the format goes.
To counteract this, believers in each city and each neighborhood needs to seek the Lord and find out what the church needs to look like for their unique situation. Some may be in Starbucks. Some in businesses. Some in homes. Some in parks.???? I don’t know.
But we need to be like the child in Matthew 18:4, and humble ourselves and follow the Lord’s directions. And we need to rid ourselves of the idea that we can ever come to the place of thinking we know what we’re doing because the Holy Spirit will always lead us in new directions.
i had 2 reactions when i read your headline:
1. ohhh :o( the series is finishing (its been great reading your story and what God is doing)
2. ooooh :o) i wonder what new topic he will talk about now!
i always live on the edge of anticipation and expectation – in a good way – hope you hear my heart there!
eagerly looking forward to reading your next series!
Did Jesus march up to the offering plate, pull out the widow’s mite and give it back to her? Did he say “This institution is robbing you blind. Feed your child instead”?
I have a lot to say to churches who don’t preach sin and blood, who go into debt as ours did (but we know there’s a once a year debt drive, the rest of the year is ministering), who invest in costume alternatives on Halloween so the kids don’t feel deprived, and egg rolls on Easter instead of telling them Jesus was the Lamb on Passover. A lot to say.
But until I get an angel appearance, I’m not willing, nor do I think it’s right, for me to abandon my church family to wrong teaching within the church, but rather to speak up until they throw me out. Trust me, one of my talents is my inability to shut up.
I would tell everyone who believes they should attend a church because the Lord wants them to stay there, obey the Lord. Walk in liberty, God bless you.
But as far as the widow and her mite, Jesus had not fulfilled the Law on the cross as yet, so of course He did not do that. In fact, when He healed a man of leprosy, He told the man to go to the temple, show the priest and give an offering. Why? This was a requirement of the Law.
Might I restore a little faith in ministry finances. Might be seen as boasting, but that is not my intent. We just received AUD 30,000 for flood relief work on the edge of Manila. We managed to keep our various admin’ fees down to less than .5% of the entire budget.
Not everyone is shady with finances.
We need to “SOW” not “THROW” our finances. If you give to something, keep the people/organisation that you give to accountable, ask the hard questions. When you “SOW” you get the right to monitor the crop. It’s always right to give. Let’s not let the bad blind us to the good.
Thanks for adding balance to my article.
Sadly, my writings on my blog tend to be one directional because I want to make a point in 500 words or less. This does not allow much room for adding balance within an article.
There are lots of great ministries, such as yours and others which I list on the sidebar of my blog.