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Q. How can we discern if a ministry project is a good use of God’s resources?

Hello Pastor Bob,

I work part time for ***** in development/volunteer recruitment. I am a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. I have a concern which has prompted this question: A few years ago the group I work for decided to go from a 3 day a week summer day camp to 5 days a week with before camp care and after camp care. Approximately 85% of those who attend receive a scholarship to attend. Approximately 95% of the camp budget goes toward staff salaries for the 7 weeks of camp. The group does not have the money to support this camp. They took money from reserve to use for this camp and our tithe is down $17,000 from last year. It is a $100,000 budget. Do you think this is good use of God’s resources? Do you think they should find more prudent ways to share the gospel?

Please let me know your thoughts on this along with Scripture if possible.
Thank you so much.

Answer

Sister *****,

Thanks for your question. My answer will probably be more general and generic than specific, but here are my thoughts regarding the matter you have set forth.

First, I would call attention to our Lord’s words in Matthew 25:14-30.

The Master (our Lord) expects us to make a profit, to gain from the assets He has place in our hands. These assets our Lord has sovereignly dispersed to His servants, according to their ability to employ them. He expects to see an increase while we have these assets in our care.

Second, consider Luke 16:1-13.

We need to be very clear on what that profit or gain is, which we learn from texts like Luke 16:1-13. In brief, the profit our Lord expects is spiritual – the use of material assets which results in the salvation of souls, and thus their greeting us gratefully in heaven. The unrighteous steward was one who put off investing wisely until late in his life. Note, too, that while money is an earthly thing which does not last, wise spiritual investments with money result in eternal fruit. And the way we handle such “little things” as money becomes the basis for our assignments in heaven (see Matthew 25:20-23).

Having/keeping a reserve is not a bad thing; we do it in our church. The New Testament encourages us to save up for future needs (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9). But investments, including spiritual investments, involve some measure of risk, which is another way of saying it requires faith (Matthew 25; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

That said, we are warned in Scripture against hoarding our assets (bigger barns – Luke 12:15-34). Note that in this text Jesus goes on to point out how God provides for His creatures, and then warns us about being anxious about God’s provision for us. We see Jesus commending the widow for giving out of her poverty (Mark 12:42-44), and Paul commending the Macedonians for giving out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8). In the feeding of the 5,000, and then later of the 4,000 Jesus underscores the abundance of His provision (see Mark 6:30-8:21; note especially 8:16-21). While there is something to be said for having money set aside for unexpected needs, there are also times when we need to give what we have to obey our Lord’s commands.

As I write, there are many victims seeking to recover from the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It would be hard to justify maintaining a reserve while many suffer. But the necessity of utilizing reserves has to be measured by the immensity and legitimacy of the need, and of the fruit of such ministry. Thus, ministries (even churches) should be asking, “Is this expenditure really resulting in the proclamation of the gospel and the salvation of lost souls?” I would hate to justify the budgets of some churches and institutions based on the answer to this question.

I believe that we cannot minister to folks spiritually and totally ignore/avoid ministry to their physical needs (for Jesus it was physical healing and food – feeding 5,000). The great danger I have seen is that the meeting of physical needs (which are endless – here we may look at Mark 1:35-39 and John 12:1-8; Acts 6:1-6) may take priority over ministering to spiritual needs. There can be a kind of social and political pressure that is applied to Christian ministries, to emphasize/prioritize the meeting of physical needs, and diminishing their emphasis on meeting spiritual needs. Care for the needy is important (Galatians 2:10; Acts 6:1-6), but needy believers seem to have priority (Galatians 6:10).

One further comment. I think the means by which we practice and proclaim the gospel should be consistent with the gospel. Does the church (or organization) putting on a circus, for example, really convey the fact that God has reached out to needy sinners who receive Him? Christians going into Urban ghettos to help the needy, or into prisons to proclaim the gospel, or those going to hurricane stricken places to help restore basic housing and services, are doing things which are more akin to the gospel. Interestingly, the Greek word rendered “save” or “saved” is used of actions which rescue others, and not just of spiritual salvation. See Matthew 8:25; 9:21 (get well); 9:22 (made well); 27:40, 42 (save Himself from death on the cross); Mark 5:23 (get well).

That’s probably enough for now. I have not sought to directly pronounce on your specific situation, but I think I have highlighted some principles which should guide organizations and churches in the way they spend the money God has provided.

Blessings,
Bob Deffinbaugh

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