A simple/organic contribution to global mission

Passport
Photo credit: Gravitywave (Creative Commons)

Over the past few months, we have had several people from a more traditional church background and who are in the process of leaving for the mission field visit the church that meets in our home.

The exchange has been valuable. Our “Jesus family” has rubbed shoulders with people sold out for the Kingdom who are literally giving up everything they know in order to take the good news into cultures that may be hostile to the Gospel. And those visiting us have tasted a simpler, relational style of church that seeks to follow the Holy Spirit when they come together and that is reaching out using Luke 10 principles into the different spheres of influence that people represent.

Many churches and mission agencies are using simple/organic church patterns on the mission field. These days, mega-churches and denominations do not ususally plan to replicate traditional Western styles of church when they get into a cross-cultural context. Mission sending agencies recognize that the most effective evangelism uses a simple/organic model of church that multiplies along relational lines.

Current experience shows that simple/organic patterns of church are less likely to provoke persecution in environments hostile to the Gospel.

The problem for many of the people going abroad as missionaries is that they have no experience of simple/organic church, even though that is what they plan to do on the field. So when they arrive on the mission field, they not only have to cope with a totally new cultural environment–language, customs, lifestyle; they also expect to work within an unfamiliar style of both evangelism and gathering.

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. People who have been involved in simple/organic expressions of church in their home countries are well-suited to involve in cross-cultural mission. If they have been involved in a healthy expression of organic/simple church, they are already accustomed to Luke 10 principles of mission and an informal, home-based style of gathering. But a single simple church or even network of simple churches, even though they may be able to provide financially, may not have the resources or experience to provide the cross-cultural training and support on the field necessary for someone going out as a missionary.
  2. One of the contributions that the simple/organic movement can make towards global missions is to willingly work with mission-sending agencies, giving prospective missionaries a taste of what they are likely to experience on the field.

Are there ways we can partner together?

 

How are simple/organic churches financing mission?

Dollar bills
Our friend, Steve Lyzenga of www.House2Harvest.org did his doctoral dissertation on releasing resources (both financial and personnel) towards completing the Great Commission. He compared how resources are used within a traditional church set up and house/simple/organic churches. I had the honor of being on his doctoral board, and so was closely involved in the whole process. His results (not large enough to be statistically significant, but giving some idea of what is going on) were very revealing.

Here's a couple of the interesting results:

Of those surveyed, 51.6%  of those involved in organic/simple church gave 11%-25% of their income to charity, and 7.5% gave greater than 25%.  In other words, almost 60% of people are giving more than a tithe. (The typical American Christian gives less than 3%.)

The money spent on the internal administration of simple/organic churches is very low:  59.1% of the participant's house/simple church spent less than 1% of their total annual proceeds on internal needs, and 15.1%  spent 2%-5%. In other words, more than 70% say their simple church spends less than 5% on administration costs. (The typical institutional church spends 85% of all church activity and funds directly toward the internal operations of the congregation, such as staff salaries, building payments, utility and operating expenses.)

People in simple/organic churches are giving more, but their churches are spending less on internal needs, so more money is made available for Kingdom purposes. Their money goes towards benevolence and missions.

One of the verses that motivates Christians to mission is Matthew 24:14. Jesus tells his disciples, "And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come." They believe that Jesus will return when every nation or people group has heard the Gospel.

 The New Testament Greek word for “nations,” comes from the Greek word ethne. A "nation" or “people group” is a group of individuals who share common ethnic, linguistic, or cultural traits. It's the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding due to culture, language, or geography. When there is no representation of the body of Christ within that people group, they are known as "an unreached people group (UPG)."

According to the Joshua Project, of the 16,690 people groups in the world, 6,955 are still considered to be unreached, totalling approaching 3 billion people. The majority of these are in the 10/40 window.

So how are simple/organic churches doing when it comes to UPGs? Fifty percent of the participants surveyed by Steve give 5% of their total annual giving to UPGs. (Compare this to the typical annual giving of 0.07% to UPGs by the typical evangelical Christian.)

What are the best ways to use the money that is being given?

 

 

 

The financial cost of starting a church

Dollar sign
According to Dave Barrett and Todd Johnson in World Christian Trends, the average cost per new baptism in the United States tops $1.5 million! This figure reflects the cost of church buildings, seminary training etc.

What has happened to Jesus' instructions to the disciples in Luke 10. "Don't take any money with you…"?

There is a huge paradigm shift here. In traditional church planting, we raise the resources to start a church, and the cost is exorbitant. One figure I have come across suggests that the amount needed to plant a fast-growing church will be in the order of $200,000 to $300,000 over a two-year period.

In simple/organic church, we understand that God provides the resources and he does so through the harvest. The laborers, those we pray for in Luke 10:2, are in the harvest. These "people of peace" will be the new leaders including the future apostles and prophets. Right now, they may be doing drugs, sleeping around, involved in crime. They may be business people, students or housewives. But when Jesus grabs hold of them, their lives will be so radically transformed that others follow them into the Kingdom. They don't need years of seminary training to be effective. After all, Jesus disciples, those who turned the world upside down were described as "ordinary men with no special training" (Acts 4:13). 

We don't need special buildings. These are also in the harvest–people's homes, or cafe's, dorm rooms or office buildings. Those who are not-yet-believers often have no interest in church, which for them is represented by the building, but they have great interest in Jesus and willingly let us come to their homes or meet with them elsewhere. 

In Rosa's story, there was no financial cost to starting a church. 

 

 

 

 

 

An outstanding example of the impact of a network of house churches

Back in the early 90's, Jim Mellon was on the eldership team of a megachurch with a $1 million a year budget. One Christmas, their church didn't have the funds to help a member's family where both husband and wife had lost their jobs.  As he and his wife, Cathy, discussed it, they realized that church shouldn't be this way, that there should be resources available to help any members of the body in need (Acts 2:45, Acts 4:34-35).

As they searched the Scriptures, looking to see what the Bible had to say about church and finance, they came across the concept of church meeting in homes, and because of the financial implications, began a network of house churches.

From the start, finances played a big part in what they did. They now give to needs in their city, such as the local soup kitchen as well as to Christian ministries, and benevolence to people within the body has been a foundational principle too. They are known by their mayor and city council because of their faithfulness in giving. Their people not only give financially, they also involve on the ground in the places they help. They support church planting in India and Haiti and send mission teams out to these places.

After a while, they found that they were sometimes in the position of the megachurch–that in any given month they might run out of money before their financial obligations had been fulfilled, so they changed their pattern of giving. Instead of giving a set amount to a ministry, say $200, they now give a percentage, so they never run out of funds and there is always money available for benevolence.

They decided from the start that any leadership should be bi-vocational and to this day, only have very part time paid administrative help. 

This network of simple/organic churches is profoundly effective with their finances.

Since their inception, they have given more than $1.2 million away to missions and benevolence.

It’s time for the house church movement to grow up!

Father and son 

Photo by TMAB2003  (Creative Commons)

Many of us within the simple/organic church movement are so scared of organization and denominationalism that we have failed to work together to take financial responsibility for those from our midst who, according to Scripture, "deserve their wages." As a result, some of these people are either unable to put much of their time into Kingdom work, are being supported by outside organizations or their spouses, or are suffering through great financial  hardship. 

We need more full-time people in the Kingdom, not less. Those with an apostolic call of God on their lives will do the work of the Kingdom anyway, whether or not they receive financial reward, but how much more effective could they be if they weren't worried about money?  I'm not talking about local leaders here. I'm talking about those who travel to train and equip others around the nation or the world. 

  • Example: Neil Cole and the CMA team of Greenhouse trainers have trained more than 40,000 leaders around the world in the principles of organic church. This has been profoundly effective. We need more people like Neil released to equip the body.
  • Example: In the UK, Pete and Marsha Farmer are strategically reaching out to every region of the country, training and equipping people to make disciples and start churches. We need more people like Pete and Marsha.
  • Example: we had dinner last night with a man from Bhutan, thrown out of his country because he openly shared his faith, now traveling the Himalayas providing training schools for other refugees on how to multiply churches. We need more people like him.

We (as a movement) should be sending out people who have a call on their lives to work with unreached people groups around the world. Think of the effectiveness of movements like the Moravians. Together, we could do it.

It's time for us to grow up and take responsibility.

(If you would like some ideas of those who need financial support, let me know.)

 

Should a house/simple/organic church register as a 501c3?

Dollar bills
"I think that God wants my wife and I to start up a network of house churches in a small town in northern South Australia. I am keen that these groups don't become inward looking, but give money (and time, energy, and prayer) away to needs within the local community and further afield. I'm of Baptist and Anglican background, and am keen to continue to be part of the wider "legacy church" if possible…  I'd be very interested if you could write something about how small informal organic churches can organise their finances to be transparent and above reproach, available to outside audit if requested. Also, the measures that would be appropriate to ensure accountability of the people with authority to access the money"

This comment by John Bethell to one of my previous posts echoes a question we are often asked. What should a house church do in terms of the practical side of finances? Should they take on a charitable status?

The way this is handled varies from country to country. For example, the situation regarding tax benefits in the UK was very different from that here in the USA. I'm sure Australia would be different still.

As always, when the Bible doesn't have anything specific regarding our situation, the answer is to listen to Jesus and respond to what he says. But here are a few pointers, more specific to this country:

  • Some people say that a church doesn't have to have 501c3 (charitable) status in order to gain the tax benefits. This is something of a gray area legally.
  • If you give to a 501c3 charity, there are tax benefits.
  • Groups who do not wish to go this route can give through other churches. For example, our simple churches at one stage gave via another network of churches who did have 501c3 status, with a separate account under their financial structure. This might help in John's quest to continue an involvement with the legacy church.
  • Another option is to use the financial umbrella of an organization such as the American Evangelistic Association.
  • The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is an accreditation agency that sets standards of financial accountability.
  • Financial transparency is essential if we are to be above reproach.

Some groups do not want the government to have any kind of access to their finances. These groups choose not to take the tax benefits involved in having a charitable status.

As always, the Lord will lead us clearly. It might also be good to take professional accounting advice.

Any thoughts?

 

A remarkable story of God in the workplace

Frank posted this extraordinary story–a demonstration of how God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives, including the workplace–on an earlier post. It is all the more unusual because it happened in the UK.

"In the early 80s, whilst out working, God clearly gave me a revelation for a business. The idea was totally novel; we found that there was no one else doing such a business model in the UK. 

The idea was to offer a particular household product and its installation at a fixed advertised price. The product was widely available as a DIY article, and indeed I had installed several recently, which is when God spoke to me about the business model.

I approached several manufacturers of the product, but none were willing to supply direct to an installer. They always directed me back to the builders merchants or diy chains for their correct supply route. The manufacturers could not see my idea as interesting to them. Later experience proved them very wrong indeed.

It took 2 years of searching and prayer for a way to advance the vision. Suddenly the door opened. We had supplies. We equipped and painted a van with our new logo and started advertising for installations on the local radio and in local papers.

Three days later we had to postpone all advertising, as we had an avalanche of over three months work, at several installations a day, working till 10 or 11pm!, We were inundated with phone calls day and night. 

Thankfully God brought another believer to help with the installations, another installer followed later.

Within the first year, we were buying more of these items direct from the manufacturer than all the purchases of the largest diy chain in Britain.

I cannot speak highly enough for the idea of working for God, but for me, it was never about making money so I could be a heroic contributor for the church missions. It was all about Jesus being Lord of ALL of me and ALL of mine.

Ever since I had come to know the Lord in the 70s, I was distressed that the value of scriptural truth was being lost because believers seemed to only understand it, and interpret it within the context of church meetings or evangelism. When they were away from church, their direction in life was really no different to non Christians. I personally held that any scripture should prove itself in the market place, and everywhere else, if it was a truth. Limiting it to church was to my mind, robbery.

I had asked God to lead me out of my full time employment so I could work for Him as my boss. He did just that. He proved the veracity of scriptural truth, well away from any church context. It gave me an amazing testimony which was illustrated by facts on the ground, not empty theology.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Gradually other businesses started to copy our model. We then diverted into other products and the original plan became a small part of a bigger business. However what we had learned was crucial to how we ran all of our future business.

Ever since I set out to "demonstrate" what I thought was God's view of the working life, He has revealed himself in countless crazy circumstances, through dreams visions and prophetic words. That is how my business grew. He even led me to invent a simple product and patent it.

My boast is in God, and in his desire to bless those who will listen. I am really a most useless businessman with very little comprehension of proper business practices. God just brought the right people along when they were needed."

 

 

When Christian giving corrupts

Sometimes damage is done by well-meaning Christians giving their money in the wrong places.

Example: if a church planting movement is dependent on outside funds to pay their church planters, there is a natural (financial) limitation as to how many church planters can be involved. This will limit the growth of what is going on.

Some friends of ours in India encouraged all their local church planters (those not traveling to train others) to find a business that could support them and offered to help them get started.  Unfortunately, other Western ministries came in and offered the church planters money to work with them instead.  Effectively these people were "bought" by Western money. The churches they planted  now counted towards the "success" of the ministry that paid them.

Giving can be a hand out or a hand up. It's the old picture of give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Now obviously there are some situations in which a person has no hope without a hand out, but there are many more where training in a skill would equip him to earn a living. 

We lived in the East End of London for more than 15 years. In those days 92% of the housing was govenment funded. Many of the people who lived there had been on welfare for generations. A government handout had imprisoned the people in a life of poverty and dependence. Compare this, for example, to the microfinancing initiatives of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh which has transformed the lives of the women of that nation.

We need great wisdom from the Lord as to where our finances should go. 

Any ideas?

5 reasons to rethink full time, paid local leadership within the simple/organic/house church context

  1. It reinforces or creates a clergy/laity distinction. 
  2. It can cause others to aspire to "move up the ladder" spiritually.
  3. Others in the body are tempted to let the paid person do all the work (after all, they are paid to do it!)
  4. Within a network of simple/house churches, there isn't enough work to do to employ someone full time.
  5. Those who work in a secular profession for a living tend to be well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim 3:7).

However, I'd like to let the last word on this subject go to Ross Rohde, who commented in an earlier post:

The real issue is calling and obedience. Our Lord speaks into our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). This is part of our covenant relationship with God. His calling is different for every single individual. He may call some to be full time missionaries, which has its advantages and drawbacks. He may call others to be tent makers, which has its advantages and drawbacks. Other he will call to be a plumber or investment banker, each with its own unique set of issues. But if we try to understand this as the which is better, being called full time, part time to ministry or having a "secular" job we miss the point. What we should be doing is asking God what he wants us to do and responding in obedience. If we have a friend who is struggling with this issue we lovingly help them discern what God's call is for their life. The issue is obedience to a loving Lord.

If you think of it, please pray for Tony and me. We head down to south Texas on Sunday and then on into one of the Mexican border towns on Monday for three days of church planting training. 

Would we be more effective if we were in full time ministry?

Office building
Photo credit (Creative Commons) swisscan

We have some friends who think that because my husband, Tony, runs a business that supports us, we are somehow missing out on the best God has for us. "How much more you could accomplish for God," they imply or say outright, "if you were full time in ministry."

Maybe they are right.

But I think they are missing something. In God's eyes, there is no difference between sacred and secular. God doesn't regard full time ministry as more "spiritual" than running a business. Life is a whole.

Tony has many opportunities to talk with people who would never speak with a "minister." Some open up their lives to him because he is willing to be vulnerable by saying something like, "I believe in a God who cared deeply about your situation. Would you be open to me praying for you?" Often they are in tears by the time he has finished praying.  

It's hard for someone to work in our company without becoming a Christian. (We employ the best person for the job, not necessarily believers.)

A businessperson can reach other business people, just as a skateboarder is more likely to be touched by another skateboarder.

We are called to live full time for the Kingdom, no matter how we make our living.