HEARTLAND | Nate Adams
Recently a bivocational pastor shared with me a difficult decision he needed to make, whether or not to stay as pastor of the church he was serving. He had already accepted the reality that the small church could not afford both his insurance and a full-time wage, and that he needed employment outside the church to support his family. What seemed to have him questioning whether he could stay were recent remarks by a couple of his church members.
“We had to cancel Sunday services one week because of a snowstorm,” he explained, “and a couple of the members raised the question of whether or not they should still pay me that week, since I hadn’t actually preached.”
I could hear the hurt in his voice, and read the disappointment in his face. He was still a few years away from retirement, and had recently lost his job outside the church. At a time when being valued by the church was very important to him, a couple of unthinking church members had made him feel less valued than ever.
But the pastor went on to explain that, in his view, the problem probably ran deeper than a careless statement or two. “I really think some of them think that way. They aren’t giving generously to the Lord, or even to support me as their pastor. They feel they are merely purchasing a service from me, and that if that service is not delivered, the church shouldn’t have to pay.”
After a few minutes of talking it through, it seemed clear to me that the pastor was going to stick it out. He loved his congregation, and I suspect that even the ones who made the hurtful statements loved him. But he and I agreed that if he was going to feel appreciated, and perhaps even more importantly, if his people were to have their hearts matured and transformed into generous, godly givers, that he needed to provide some candid teaching, and loving but direct conversation, on tithing and giving.
I think one of the reasons I was able to understand this pastor’s hurt and encourage him to press on is that this same dynamic of consumerism can also affect our cooperative missions work as churches. Not often, but occasionally, I will hear someone ask, “Why should we give to that? What do they do for us?”
They could be referring to a mission offering, or the Cooperative Program, or the local association, or any ministry where the investment is largely in people that are doing ministry among and on behalf of the churches. If there’s not some direct, tangible benefit back to the church, the value is questioned. “If they aren’t here, helping us, maybe they don’t deserve our support.” If the sermon isn’t preached, the ongoing, continual ministry of the pastor isn’t valued.
The next Sunday after that conversation, a snowstorm hit here in Springfield. Several area churches cancelled services, but our church did not.
With that pastor’s pain still in the back of my mind, I got up early to clear the snow from our driveway, and make sure we could get to church. As we headed out the door, I asked my wife to make sure we had our offering envelope with us. I remembered in a fresh way that our tithe was the Lord’s, and that our church’s staff and ministries count on our support, whether we’re there benefitting from them or not.
I also remembered that the portion of my weekly offering that goes through the Cooperative Program supports thousands of missionaries and other ministries that operate literally around the clock and around the world. The Lord and they are at the heart of my giving, not the benefits I receive. And I’m grateful for each one of you that feels and gives from that heart too.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.