Myth #2 “Since I am called to ministry, God will repeatedly provide for my basic needs in a specia... read more
Myth #2 “Since I am called to ministry, God will repeatedly provide for my basic needs in a special way that transcends the average Christian who is gainfully employed.”
1. A call to ministry does not always guarantee employment in ministry. Every philosophy has its own rebuttal or explanation. For those whose lifestyle of full-time ministry means choosing not to earn any living, their reason is simple: “I am depending on God” (act of faith) or “Since God has called me, he will provide for all of my needs” (ministry means greater favor for provision). Despite its form of expression, it is sometimes assumed that if one is doing the work of ministry, that this means that God is bound to provide for them in a special way that transcends his other children. Though they find it difficult to explain financial challenges (sometimes pointing to Satan), it is a theology of faith that is sometimes used to justify their inactivity and irresponsibility by diverting it to someone else (i.e. God’s provision). Though God gave food to Elijah by feeding him with ravens (1 Kings 19:5-8), there is no precedent in scripture outside of the Israelite priesthood that indicates that the call to ministry means that he will provide economic remuneration directly connected to ministerial work. Though a reward can be expected for faithful workers in the next life (1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 22:12), it is not promised to be realized in this life. As Archbishop Everett Caldwell has repeatedly expressed, “A call to ministry does not guarantee gainful employment.” Most importantly, the concept of God’s provision does not exclude the provision of employment itself. God intervenes in this world in many ways to help his children, and this does not exclude the provision of jobs for those who are in need. Provision and resources cannot be viewed to always come in supernatural ways.
2. The Apostle Paul sometimes lacked the basic needs of food, water, clothes and shelter (2 Cor. 11:26-27), even though he worked outside his ministry (Acts 18:3; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8). Simply believing, “Where there is vision, there is provision” or “Since I am working in ministry, God will provide for all of my needs,” finds its tension within scripture itself. For if this philosophy of ministry is true, we must ask: Why did the ministry of the Apostle Paul sometimes fail to reap the economic benefits we would typically associate with God’s blessing? Unless the blessing on his ministry is defined in non-economic terms, is it not difficult to explain why it is that even with his high calling he indulged himself in the mundane work of tent-making (Acts 18:3)? There are no examples to suggest he received supernatural encounters of ravens sending him food, oil jars flooding over, or fish being multiplied. Instead, he testified that at times in ministry he lacked the basic needs of food, water, clothes and shelter (2 Cor. 11:26-27). Though the provision of God is thought to encompass these basic needs, he has known what it means to be hungry, cold and in great need (Phil. 4:12). Since Paul’s “vision” had its origin in God, where was the “provision”? Though we would like to assume that the provision of God automatically follows the vision, the critical missing link involves our own obedience to the vision. Just as our obedience to the call requires concrete steps to match our faith, another aspect of this obedience may also require concrete steps of working. The example of the Apostle Paul demonstrates that the blessing of God on one’s ministry is not always synonymous with an economic abundance.
Myth #3 “My work is of such importance that I should be the exception to the rule of earning a living, and simply live off of the generosity of others who are working full-time jobs.”
3. It is inconsistent to identify receiving money from people who are earning a living to be the provision of God and to simultaneously claim that the provision of God is not connected to earning a living. Though having a good self-esteem is healthy for productivity, some ministers can place themselves in another category of not needing to have regular employment because of their ministry work. Their choice not to work may be viewed from the standpoint that they are making a sacrifice that deserves the blessing of generosity. The abstract statement of “I am depending on God” can too easily translate into the praxis of “I am going to depend on the generosity of others.” Furthermore, what seems to take place in their mindset is a reinterpretation of events as it relates to the giving of resources. Instead of recognizing the concrete gifts people are giving to be the result of long hours of hard work, it evaporates into “the provision of God.”
For example, one minister proudly shared how after traveling to a location for ministry, he had no money to sustain him once he arrived. After arriving and preaching to a crowd, a group responded to his preaching by taking up an offering for him to be able to spend the night in a hotel. This was an example of God’s provision. Similarly, two days before an important event this same gentleman said that he would not be able to pay for his travel expenses. Though the event had been planned for many months and this same person routinely travels around the world, he evidently made no plans. We felt burdened under the circumstances and had to find a way to pay for his travel expenses. From our perspective, his lack of good stewardship became a burden for us. Yet, his theology and perspective enables him to conclude this was the provision of God. The provision of God in this case, meant a loss of provision for us! Note how there is a reinterpretation of what took place. Instead of responsibly paying the people back who had been burdened, the behavior was reinforced as being acceptable because it was reinterpreted as God supplying their needs.
Therefore, the major flaw in this praxis of ministry is that it is incongruent with its own philosophical foundation (i.e. the provision of God) for choosing not to earn a living. For if the provision of God is more ethereal or supernatural, then the natural means of monetary income cannot be identified as the provision of God. Since the offering given by others from their income is a natural means of gaining money, this cannot fall into the category of the supernatural provision of God. Rather, it must be viewed to be the generosity of others whose hearts God may have touched. If on the other hand, the provision of God can come through natural sources such as monetary earnings (as they portray in their actions by receiving them), then why is it that the provision of God cannot also be received through their own monetary earnings? The praxis of receiving the earnings of others is inconsistent with their insistence that God will provide for them without them earning a living. If God can provide for their ministry through the earnings of others (naturally supplied by their employers), then surely he can also provide for their ministry through their own earnings (naturally supplied by their own employers).
Myth #4 “If I only step out on faith, God will provide for my ministry.”
4. Though God does intervene to provide for ministries, the organizational system in which it is housed using a ministry budget cannot become financially self-sustaining if it remains dependent on a personal budget. In some cases, the statement of this myth is true in isolation. God’s provision is sometimes radical and only requires one to place your staff of faith in the water. However, on a daily basis ministries are susceptible to not necessarily spiritual death, but organizational death if there is poor management. This is because if the ministry budget is completely dependent upon one’s personal budget, then a personal financial crisis will also put the entire ministry in crisis mode. One affects the other. As a result of this very thing, I have watched an impacting ministry tragically disappear. The loss of personal finance directly resulted in the loss of one’s ministry, which in turn, impacted the lives of many other people. If the personal household finance would have only carried the ministry budget temporarily, the ministry may have survived. Yet, the ordering of stewardship had its foundation in a philosophy of ministry which valued “full-time ministry” above gainful employment.
Funding a big vision with a small budget can end up being what burdens a ministry into organizational debt. Having a vision that is temporarily contained within its budget is what enables it to grow larger economically. However, sometimes the excitement of seeking to pursue a big vision can override the self-control and patience that is needed to be able to slowly build within one’s budget. Large purchases may be justified as “taking a step of faith” or “God will provide.” Underlying reasons for a lack of good management could also be connected to the personal needs of the minister such as: 1) needing to feel important by presenting an image of success to others, or 2) needing to maintain an unhealthy “savior complex,” in which one upholds the image of the endless caregiver. If one’s primary pursuit in ministry has been distorted to uphold an image or to pursue a sense of significance, then a misplacement of priorities (affecting stewardship) may occur.
Lastly, scripture seems to assume the ordering of the personal household above the church household as ideal stewardship. Instead of placing the stewardship of a church budget (large household) as the priority, the first order of prioritization for those overseeing the church is one’s own personal budget (small household). It is according to this ordering, that this lifestyle of stewardship is also evaluated for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:5). In fact, one could argue that the qualification of overseers was household economic management because according to their paradigm, a household involved the operation of an economic system of hired workers (e.g. Cornelius and Lydia Acts chs. 10, 16). This makes sense considering the people of God (i.e. individual churches/ ministries), are often “housed” in these organizational shells that require economic stewardship. The prioritization of having good personal stewardship before taking on the larger responsibility of the organizational stewardship of ministry is critical if ministers are to be good stewards in managing what has been entrusted to them (1 Tim. 6:20). Having faith that God can provide does not exempt ministers from readjusting priorities and managing responsibly.
Conclusion: Guarding what God has Entrusted
Monetary funds and the survival of the church does not have its complete dependence on each another because ultimately the vitality and growth of the Body of Christ derives its life through its Head (Col. 2:19) and our Author who is perfecting our faith, Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:2). The organism of the Body of Christ can even grow and reproduce outside of organizations (John 15:5). However, since various ministries and local churches are often operated by an organizational budget, this means that the people of God are affected by the wise or unwise stewardship conducted by its stewards (ministers, pastors, overseers, etc.). Paul even uses the monetary word “deposit’ in his directive to Timothy, saying: “Timothy, guard (literally: guard the “deposit” παραθήκην) what has been entrusted to your care” (1Tim. 6:20; cf. 1 Tim. 3:5). Since the four myths discussed in this article have been used to justify bad stewardship, the purpose of this article has been to change this thinking and praxis in various stewards who are unnecessarily placing their ministries in precarious positions. Let us do our best to protect and guard what God has entrusted to us so that one day we will hear him say, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25:21).
 Torjesen, Karen Jo, When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church & the Scandal of their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1995), 15. See also meaning of oikonomia to refer to the management and administration of people/departments In Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 403.