If you would be so kind as to bear with me, and read these reflections, I feel led to offer a few pastoral thoughts at the close of 2007. Some relate to our future together, some to my past as a Christian, some to our personal and collective habits. Most include a little of each. This is reflection number one!
I wanted to talk a little in this message about giving, but not really for the reasons you might think. I realize that we have an elder reminder out there as to our year-end finances, and I do hope we can, together, heed those words, but that’s not what this message is about.
We are a giving body. This has shown itself over and over again in a multitude of ways. Christians are to be a giving people. There are so many people and ministries and needs that pique our giving interest. I give thanks for how giving you are.
People often ask me about tithing. I have expressed my views on that subject a multitude of times, and for clarification have attached the outline of a sermon I did on the subject June a year ago as I was finishing up the series on the Ten Commandments.
You know, whatever our view about tithing, the New Testament calls us to a much more radical kind of sacrificial giving. So, however we understand tithing and its application in the church today, it is pretty much a minimum in the New Testament approach to giving.
I cannot myself say with assurance, so as to bind the conscience, that specific Old Testament tithing laws carry over to the New Testament era. However, I do strongly believe that the idea behind the tithe, that of “first fruits giving” is timeless. I spoke much of that in the attached outline.
The common practice all over the world, supported by churches of all sorts, including para-church ministries and mission agencies, is that tithing 10% to the local church provides a good solid basis (and beginning) for how we may give, and also provides a foundation from which we may expand outward in giving to include giving to the poor, giving to missionaries, giving toward special congregational needs, etc. Tithing 10% as a basis for giving has been my life practice, and I commend it highly no matter where you live or go to church. The core spiritual benefit of giving away the first tenth (as a kind of “first fruits” giving) is that of relinquishing control, of giving a thing over to God, of “letting go” of the first and the best as a symbol of God’s ownership over the whole. Thus in the OT we see the tithe being taken into the temple storehouse. In the NT we see a similar thing as people laid their gifts at the feet of the apostles to distribute as the apostles discerned need. In terms of our first fruits giving, I don’t think it is in our spiritual interest to be over calculated or meticulous about it. Just give it up, let go of it, and let God have it. The general wisdom of the church for a very long time has been to do this “first fruits” giving via giving to the local church.
I see this level of giving as just the starting point. More and more in my life I want to see my “above and beyond” giving grow and grow. How often do we take extra income and just convert it to higher spending. I think God wants us to establish a humble basis point for our own needs, and to give generously and joyfully beyond that into the wealth of opportunities that are out there. For myself this means true sacrifice in the present as our family tries to cut back in order to be better stewards of what God has given to us. I know many are in the same boat.
A conversation recently caused me to reflect on what I would like to see in our collective future as a local church. I wrote some things out, and then realized that a good deal of it had to do with opportunities for ministry (and for giving more to others) that would be there for us if we were a little larger in people and in offerings. And no, I am not talking about a building fund or my own salary.
I think we need to do a better job communicating our official church vision, not only to people who have never visited, but also to our own congregation. Currently our church vision is being updated, and one goal of that will be to compose a summary statement that enables everyone to be able better to articulate what we’re about. I also refer to communicating better as to the things we as a church may really want to be able to do, any or all of which may require both more people and (gasp) more money.
But what I am talking about right now, though it may overlap with the official church vision, or what the church may need to better communicate on an ongoing basis, is a different sort of thing. It is more a personal mental picture of what I would like to see looking ahead.
I have written down my own “daydream” so as to give you a sense of what I have in mind. This is not official. It’s just stuff rattling around in my head. But these are some of the things I’d like to see or envision looking down the road a bit – things I would like to see in our church future – and things that I am personally inclined to pray for. Notice how “giving” connects with a lot of this stuff:
1. A church with an updated vision!
2. A church with maybe 10 to 20 more families than now, as many as can reasonably fit into our present meeting place, or one of similar size (in case we ever get the boot!).
3. A church with the financial ability not only to support a pastor but also with the ability to significantly help sponsor or support one or two missionaries, give more generously to the ARP general fund, fund short term mission trips, have an Erskine tuition fund, give generously to local ministries and needs, have the means to buy or develop material to better help equip our congregation biblically and theologically.
4. A church that still has the blessings that come with being a small church (such as being able to “do outreach” without regard to how it pays for the mortgage, and such as the relational advantages).
5. A church that is able to contribute significantly to the general cause of the historic orthodox Christian faith through books, writings, web sites, etc. of many of its members.
6. A church that publishes a CD of original worship songs as a gift to the general church at large.
7. A church that is more racially and ethnically mixed, with the various blessings that that brings.
8. A church that is a little less shy about being reformed (“reformed” in the broader covenantal and “Jesus as Lord over all of life” sense, and not just in the classic “five points” sense, though being less shy regarding a kindly JI Packer version of the latter would be cool too).
9. A church that makes a real difference and which offers real leadership in standing up for Christ and for Christian orthodoxy in a city whose evangelical church as a whole, quite frankly, and most sadly, a little theologically rotten. I am still trying to figure out the deal with Greensboro, and after 18 years here I am making some progress.
10. A church that can, through literature, consulting, and perhaps very direct aid and help advance the cause of small relational churches like ours.
11. A church where the pastor (and many others too) can more easily get away for teaching and equipping, such as going to L’Abri or Ligonier conferences, Regent or RTS or Erskine Summer Schools, etc.
12. A church that has the means financially to fulfill its vision in areas of worship (sometimes equipment is needed), evangelism (sometimes brochures and advertising are needed), teaching and equipping, (sometimes more books, videos, and access to online resources or software are needed), etc.
I am sure that 12 more things could come to mind. I imagine a bustling small church really, with the opportunities that having more people and more money bring, and yet also the blessings that being small and not having huge fixed facility costs bring, that is, the blessing of doing ministry in the community and world without care as to how it contributes to our bottom line.
So, that’s what I would like to see as I look ahead.
Thus ends year end refection number one.