Last week, I began to discuss pastors and their relationship to “church business.” Some of you told me you have similar concerns. Let’s press a bit further…
Whenever the church begins handling money internally — rather than giving it away — we get into sticky matters. How does the church properly use charitably given money?
Let me show you a few examples from my own tradition. I think they’re universally applicable.
When the Methodist movement was growing rapidly, people began to ask whether John Wesley was getting rich off the whole endeavor. That would be a serious accusation against the man who wrote, “If I leave behind me ten pounds (above my debts, and the little arrears of my fellowship) you and all mankind bear witness against me, that I lived and died a thief and a robber.” Look at his brilliant response:
I look upon all this revenue, be it what it may, as sacred to God and the poor; out of which, if I want any thing, I am relieved, even as another poor man. So were originally all ecclesiastical revenues, as every man of learning knows: and the bishops and priests used them only as such. If any use them otherwise now, God help them! (from “A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists,” XV, 6)
- How did they view the collection of the church? As sacred to God and the poor.
- How did they pay their workers? They took care of their basic needs even as another poor man.
- How long had the church’s collection been used this way? The bishops and priests originally used all ecclesiastical revenues this way.
- Who should know that? Every man of learning.
- What of anyone who uses the church’s collection differently now? God help them!
What if we still followed Wesley’s understanding of church leaders’ pay and the sanctity of the church’s collection? What current practices would change or go away entirely?
A personal test for church leaders: Are you in it for the money?
Buildings and Debt
Look at this requirement of early Methodist pastors regarding their buildings:
It shall be the duty of every preacher belonging to this conference to use his influence against constructing expensive meeting houses. (1816 New England Conference of the Methodist Church)
What if this were still every preacher’s duty?
It might be worth noting that the American Methodist Church experienced its greatest growth while the above was the rule. It has experienced its greatest decline during the period where bigger sanctuaries, gyms, and fellowship halls has been the standard.
Why were those early Methodists so against expensive meeting houses? A great explanation from the first Discipline of the American Methodist Church (the Methodist book on how we function), 1784:
Let all our chapels be built plain and decent; but not more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable: otherwise the necessity of raising money will make rich men necessary to us. But if so, we must be dependent upon them, yea; and governed by them. And then farewell to the Methodist discipline, if not doctrine too.
How much better off I believe the Methodists would have been if we had never removed this from our Discipline!