Signing a Declaration? Really?

I followed a link today to sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and was shocked to find this thinly guised signup for the BGEA and mailing lists:

It’s sad, Franklin Graham, that you would be a part of this.

The verse on the “declaration” is that our LIGHT would shine, not our WORDS.  Indignantly declaring that we are Christian (with strong undertones of how we feel that makes us better than the ones “afraid to take a stand.”) will in no way cause the watching world to “glorify (our) Father in heaven.”

Yeah, I’m a Christian.  No, I’m not going to prove it to you by signing up for your mailing list.  And it’s precisely that type of underhandedness that makes “letting my light shine” more difficult.

If You have Nothing to Hide, Hide Nothing: a look at the financial transparency of Christian organizations.

Does transparency matter?  Not according to the likes of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and TD Jakes.

I spent some time recently on a the website of a ministry called (the  online database component of Wall Watchers) to see, among other things, how Campus Crusade for Christ (the ministry my wife and I work for) is doing when it comes to honesty, openness, and transparency regarding financial issues.  I was thrilled, though not surprised, to see that we rank among the elite in terms of “putting our money where our mouth is.”  That’s one big reason why I work for this organization, and will for as long as the Lord continues to provide.

Where I was shocked was as I perused other ministries, and specifically those ministries associated with what’s been called the “prosperity gospel.”  Teachers who say that God intends for us to be materially wealthy are not being honest about their material wealth, when asked.

TD Jakes, for example, according the the site, was noncompliant when asked about his ministry’s use of funds.  That means that if you have ever given money to TD Jakes and his ministry, you have no idea how that money was spent.  Legally they may not be required to tell you how they are spending your money, but you can bet I’m not giving a dollar until I know how they will use that dollar.  And you shouldn’t either.

Plus, when Joyce Meyer, who clearly correlates financial prosperity and God’s blessing, is asked about how much she is compensated for her ministry efforts, why wouldn’t she jump at the chance to be totally honest and share how God is blessing her?  But according to the site, she’s released info about her ministry, but nowhere in it does she mention how much money her family makes off of the donations of others.  That is shady, at best.  It’s like she’s ashamed of the income she makes.  Again, that’s not an accusation, so much as a point of fact.  She has not been transparent.  Christians should be transparent.  Especially ones with massive budgets.

That brings me to Creflo Dollar.  His ministry is literally worldwide, with offices in South Africa, the UK, Nigeria, America, and Australia.  He and his wife Taffi co-pastor a megachurch that has spawned multiple corporations and ministries.  Then, when being asked to be transparent and tell folks who give how that money is being used, (and even being asked to do so by the federal government) they still refuse to give any information out regarding their financials.  While I don’t think it is the government’s place to investigate churches and their financial records, I do feel like the folks who give money to his ministry have every right to know how that money is being used.

Dr. Dollar, in the response to the government posted on his website, justifies their financial secrecy with the verse from Matthew 6:1-4 that references individuals giving in secrecy, NOT corporations stewarding in secrecy.  Again, I think the federal government is overstepping its bounds (and please don’t get me started on that as a topic in general), but I think Dr. Dollar’s justifications for corporate and organizational secrecy are absurdly unbiblical.  Nobody is asking him to disclose what particular individuals gave, just that he disclose a dollar amount of total giving, and how those funds were used.  To use the very verse he quotes, he’s on the “openly” side of the equation.  The members and others gave in secret.  It’s time for God to bless openly.  So openly that anyone who wants to see it can see it.  His own (half-biblical) theology says that God will openly bless his church financially if they are faithful.

God doesn’t do back-alley accounting.  He honors integrity and honesty.  If you have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

The list doesn’t end with those.  Go see for yourself which ministries refuse to give account of how they use funds.

What do you think?  Should churches and other ministries strive for openness and transparency?  Why or why not?  Comment below.

Dear American Christianity: Part One.

If you’d* all give money to your church, pastors and others on staff there wouldn’t need to be bi-vocational to feed their family.

9% of North Americans who classify themselves as “born again” tithed in 2004.  We spend more as a culture on weight-loss programs or pet food than we give to the church. (source)

If the other 91% of you would give just 10%–imagine the amount of money that would be.  You could hire some more full time workers, send more missionaries fully-funded into the field, and fully support the needy in your community.  If American Christians would just give 10%, we could end world hunger next year.

By the way, 10% is probably a bare minimum by biblical standards for a Christian to give, since the tithe in the Old Testament was replaced by simple encouragements like “give generously” or “give hilariously” in the New Testament.  It is kind of expected that Christians would give, since they have been given so much, by Jesus.  We don’t give to earn God’s favor, but as a result of receiving it.

So give.  Your pastor deserves to be compensated for his work.  If he takes the “pastoral” name off of his counseling duties, they are worth $90 an hour in the marketplace.  And he’s willing to do it for free.  Don’t let him.  Pay your pastors well.

I heard a pastor recently say “If you don’t think this is the best church around here, by all means go to the other one.  But if you do, act like it, and invite a friend.”  I’d say that also carries over to the financial support of your church.  You aren’t acting like it is your church when you aren’t generously financially supporting it.

*after encouragement from my wife, who is nicer than me, I’d like to add that if you give, then the above “you” is not referring to you, and I don’t mean to offend you.  The only people that should be offended by this post are the ones not giving.  I meant to offend them.  For their own good.

Dear American Christianity: Part Two.

(to the pastors)

If the congregation is not generous, it may be because you* aren’t sharing the gospel with them.

A biblical way to motivate people to give is to repeatedly show them how much they’ve been given, and how great the needs are elsewhere.  A person who understands the gospel, that Jesus Paid it All, is far more likely to give, out of a sense of gratitude.  A gospel-perspective on money shows you that Jesus is the treasure of the Christian life, and having HIM melts away a need for more money, more possessions, and more power.  Jesus is the blessing of the gospel, not (necessarily) financial well-being.  The gospel makes generous people out of selfish people.

But as pastors, when you moan about not having enough money, it looks to the watching world like you are en route to becoming Creflo Dollar, with his Rolls Royce and penthouse apartments.  It looks like you care more about the money than the mission.  Yes, money is important, and many churches don’t talk about it enough. Money is a mega-theme running throughout the Bible.  But the gospel is THE theme of the Bible.

You should talk about the gospel more than you talk about the dollars.  Every time I bring someone to church they should hear about the costly death of Jesus.  If the sermon is from Nehemiah, I should hear about the costly death of Jesus, and Him resurrected.  If the song is about how good it is to praise the name of Jesus, the worship leader should point out that apart from his death and resurrection, all of our praises would be filthy rags.  The gospel, that we are wretched sinners saved by an unmatched, righteous, perfect King of kings ought to be the first thing people think about when they leave the service.  It ought to be tied into every component of the service, from the children’s choir to the handbells to the baptisms.  All of it needs to be tied back to the cross, where Jesus was as generous as humanly possible (and more).

Every time you ask for money (which you should), it ought to be an appeal that is drenched in the gospel.  Pastors, you should not want the 10% of someone who you know thinks they are earning God’s favor, or unleashing blessings from God, because that means they’ve missed the blessing of the cross.

*I’ve used the term “you” throughout because this is specifically a note to pastors, as opposed to those of us in non-pastoral ministry.  The same principles apply to us, and by God’s grace, I’ve begun to see how unbiblical even my own heart has been in the (recent) past toward fund-raising.  It’s my prayer that, going forward, all of those of us who make our living from sharing the gospel would keep in mind that we need not panic and manipulate.  God will provide.  The gospel is the power of God.

Dear American Christianity: Part Three

It’s not up to your pastor for you to grow spiritually.

In our church-hopping, nobody’s-the-boss-of-me American culture, it can be easy to fall for this.  You go to a church because you like the teaching, or the music, or the approximate average age of the folks in attendance.  And you treat it like you would a rock concert.  You show up, take your seat, and prepare to be entertained, or challenged, or offended.  If you aren’t entertained, or challenged, or offended, that offends you.

It’s time to take personal responsibility for your life.  First of all, when you join a church, you should treat it like a marriage on a smaller scale.  Membership vows are serious, and you should take them seriously.  And you should join the church, not just “attend.”  Then, once you join, you should be proactive to find ways to grow.  It’s up to you.  Obama’s not going to pay your mortgage, and your pastor shouldn’t have to spoon feed you spiritual truth, chopped up into bite-size pieces.

I am constantly shocked at how many folks are in the church for years and still haven’t read their Bible all the way through.  Yeah, there are some heavy parts.  I am in 1 Chronicles right now, and so few people have read it that Bruce Wilkinson made a killing by picking a verse nobody’s read about Jabez and writing an out-of-context book about it.

There are entire people groups that don’t even have a Bible in their language, and we can’t read all the way through the one in our language, that’s been around since the 1300’s?

It will take picking up the Bible, reading until you turn the page twice, and then repeating that process every day, to read through the Bible in a year. If you read slowly (150 words per minute) and read every chapter 2 times, it will take you 172 hours to read the entire Bible.  That’s not much. And the average adult reads faster than that.

Study your Bible, until you learn how amazingly Jesus earned all of God’s favor, how every story in the Bible points to Him, and how sinful and broken you are without him.  Then study it again, because you’ll forget.

There are hundreds of great Bible-reading plans out there.  Check out YouVersion and get started.  I lengthened my plan out to about a year and a half, and I’m 6 months deep.  One of my favorites (and one that took me about 3.5 years to get through from 2002-2006) is the shirkers and slackers plan (scroll to the bottom of that great article for a link to the actual plan).

It’s up to you.  I know you are busy.  Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.  The fact is, those folks that expect their pastor (or small group leader) to be Moses coming down the mountain with God’s new revelation to them are the ones that get taken by the latest fads, cults, and con-men.  If you can’t answer why the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up to your door, you might be fooled by their heresy.  If you don’t know that Jesus promises trouble while in the world, you might be tempted to believe it when the con-man tells you to pray for money and comfort.

The gospel compels us to admit our sin, repent of that sin, and run to Christ who has paid for that sin.  The primary way you ought to run to Christ is in His Word!  In Christ, you have direct access to God!

Be like the Bereans.  They heard Paul teach in Acts 17:11, and went home to check and see if he was legit.

After all, it wasn’t up to Paul for them to grow spiritually.