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?

 

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. 

Guest post from Dan Hubbell: 7 principles of financial cooperation between churches

 
Dan Hubbell

 

[Editors note]: What makes this guest post from Dan Hubbell, an apostolic father in the Kingdom, so remarkable is its context. The churches in his city, whatever their denomination, cooperate together for the Kingdom. This includes at a financial level. So I asked Dan to tell a little of his story to preface his comments:

 

My wife Laurel and I have lived in Winnsboro, Texas for 42 years (1969-2011).  We came to Winnsboro as pastor of the First Baptist Church where we ministered for 10 years. (We served in pastoral ministries in Baptist churches in Texas for a total of 28 years.) 

We left the pastorate “in search for a new wineskin” and began to gather relationally in homes throughout our town/area.  The subsequent 32 years (1979-2011) that we have been in Winnsboro, the Lord has led us to be “sent out” from our Antioch/Winnsboro to the nations of the world equipping Ephesians 4 servants to reach their respective nations for Christ.

The Lord has blessed us with a very unique relationship and ministry to the whole Body of Christ in our town/area.  When we first left the traditional pastorate here  in Winnsboro, our family was persecuted and even accused of being cultic; however over the subsequent years, the Lord led us  by His grace to respond to the persecution by obeying His command to “pray, love, speak well of and do good to” those who persecute us.  As a result of the Lord’s faithfulness to our obedience to His word, relationships have been wonderfully restored and we now have close and loving fellowship with the whole body of Christ here in our town/area. 

In addition to participating in the home gatherings, we’ve had the joy of sharing in fellowship and ministering in various denominational congregations throughout our city/area, i.e., preaching, teaching, equipping, etc.  When we go out on mission to the nations, the congregations of our whole town/area come together to lay hands on the mission team and “send us out.”  When we return home, we are invited by these same congregations to come and share what the Lord did on our missionary journey.

Felicity, in response to your appeal for “other peoples’ experiences,” I will share briefly how the Lord has led us as believers over the years here in Winnsboro and area to respond to financial needs both personal/collectively to local and foreign financial needs:

  1. First of all, the examples and principles in the Scripture are our guide as led by the Spirit. 
  2. Paul as a missionary was supported financially by both individuals (women, etc.) and churches (Philippi, etc.). 
  3. Paul also as the need arose, ministered personally to his own needs and to the needs of his companions, i.e. via tent making. 
  4. The churches, at Paul’s urging, collected funds from the Gentile churches to send collectively to the needs of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem/Judea. 
  5. It is important to note that Paul, along with other servants, with great transparency, gathered the funds from the churches, and delivered these funds to the servants of the church in Jerusalem. This example of transparency is important so that we do not unnecessarily cause those who receive funds to be tempted to be mercenary or use the funds inappropriately, because others were not included in the distribution of these funds. 
  6. Thus we encourage believers here to give both personally to needs and collectively through the various churches who in turn, together through the direction of the Spirit, determine the needs of widows, orphans, the poor. 
  7. When there are needs outside of our Jerusalem, i.e., “Judea, Samaria unto the uttermost,” then the churches collectively gather funds and send them either by apostolic/elder teams and/or Western Union, Direct bank deposit, etc.