Faith or Stupidity?

I have been blessed to know many fellow church planters.  All-in-all, they are a good bunch of blokes who work hard and love Jesus.  Most of them feel a very deep call to reach out to people the established churches are not reaching for whatever reason.  Many, but not all, are young and newly married. 

They soon discover that church planting is very, very difficult.  New churches tend to attract broken people who are candid about their burdens and they are not normally run-of-the-mill anxiety or tension at home but addictions and emotional scars from physical or sexual abuse.  They need love with firm boundaries and the batting average for success can be fairly low. 

It’s a tough gig.

Many church planters are bi-vocational.  They may see their work more as a missional endeavor than a way to pay the bills.  It is not unusual anymore to meet a church planter who is  a barista or an adjunct professors at the local community college or even a bartender.

Yet, there will often come a time when the demands of reaching and ministering to broken people will push a planter into an unsustainable pace.  He or she must choose whether to try to find (and often train) others or give up the paying job to spend more time ministering to those God has placed before them in the hopes that tithes will increase. 

Finding and training others is also very difficult.  Not many people are willing to work part or full-time to help with the vision God gave you! So, the planter often finds him or herself praying about quitting their paying job for a ministry that may barely be making ends meet without anyone on salary.

It is not unusual for planters to surround themselves with a support group that will quote Bible verses (sometimes out of context) to step out on faith.  I’ve heard members of a church plant’s core group  tell the pastor, “God promises to meet our needs! He said that if he feeds the birds than we shouldn’t doubt that he will feed us!”  Yet, a planter may still wrestle with doubt.  

After all, a well-known missionary by the name Alan Gardner starved to death while shipwrecked off a South American island.  His last journal entry was, “I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God!”  It’s a great preacher story but few planters truly want to volunteer to follow in a martyr’s footsteps. 

Should a planter “step out on faith” or make sure that his bills are paid before committing to a young church full-time? When is it faith and when is it jumping off of the top of the Temple hoping the angels will catch you?  It may be all in the name of our Lord but, as my friend Jeff Ventrella is fond of saying, “Stupid for Jesus is still stupid.”

I recently attended a gathering of church planters and many felt under spiritual attack.  Some had been beset with health issues out of the blue.  Personally, I have wrestled with a number of serious ailments and my 7-year old son recently underwent surgery.  Fortunately, my wife and I are lucky enough to have good insurance.  I can’t imagine what the situation would have been like had we not.

What to do? 

We all have heard stories of Christians who faced dire situations only to receive what they needed just in the nick of time but, if you listen to Dave Ramsey, you will also hear plenty of tales of believers who have been devastated financially.   Where is the line that separates faith from stupidity?

James wrote that God freely grants wisdom to those who ask for it but the text doesn’t tell us when or how such wisdom arrives.  I wish God would grant such wisdom to me and other church planters.  Perhaps we should all place such requests on our prayer list daily.  I can name many a disciple who would appreciate the help.

10 thoughts on “Faith or Stupidity?

  1. This is the dilemma that my husband and I are going through right now, although not to the extreme of church-planting…yet. We have recently had our eyes opened to the Biblical mandate to care for the orphaned and poor, and I have see how radically different the life Jesus called us to appears to be from the normal American Christian life. But at the same time, we just finished Dave Ramsey’s class. We are in fantastic financial shape, but my heart wrestles with saving for retirement and my kids’ college educations and fat emergency funds and budgeting for other luxuries when I see big needs all around me. I want to give at lot, he wants to give a little and save a lot. He sees this saving as prudent, not greedy. I see it as placing our security in our 401k rather than our Jesus. However…you make a good point about faith verses stupidity.

  2. This is an issue I struggle through as well. God has put it on my heart to help several friends of mine who want to get into the ministry. One of them wants to church plant.

    I’m a fairly conservative person financially (emergency fund, working on retirement, life insurance, etc). He’s more liberal in that he tends to work hard and trust God for the rest. I work hard too, I just make sure to save a bit.

    The Bible doesn’t give me a lot of concrete answers. In one area we’re told to take care of our church, our family, and especially our church family. We’re told to give increasingly to those who are in need and to always champion the poor, widowed, and orphaned. All of this takes a considerable amount of resources and money.

    Then again, we’re also told not to trust in our money, to put our trust into God. I have heard John Piper on occasion (basically) say not to save money in a retirement account. His reasoning (although more nuanced than this) is that we should trust God, work hard, and never stop working.

    I think biblically these answers depend on who you’re talking to. Some are called to be poor. They are called to constantly wonder where their next meal will come from. They will have to constantly trust God at every turn.

    Others will have money heaved at them. They are expected to use that resource wisely and share it among those who are hurting. Their influence and resources are given to them that they may give. And like above, they are called to trust God with every penny.

    I suppose the issue with church planter is: which one are you? To be truthful, it’s probably something in the middle (especially in The States). Paul was funded by people at times and at other times he made tents to get by. Then again, he rarely stayed anywhere for years and years.

    Good questions, Matt. The kind that should make us all think and pray; asking God how us non-church planters can better serve God’s Kingdom. And how we can serve God’s workers.

    • At the risk of being decried as blasphemous by my many reformed friends, I’m not sure I agree with Piper. I may be wrong. He certainly is wiser than I but when Proverbs teaches that a man who doesn’t provide for his family hates them, etc. I struggle with what to do and what to advise.

      I see the example of Paul but he didn’t have a family to support. Does that make a difference? I just don’t know.

      Always appreciate your comments, bro.

      • Actually Matt, I agree with you.

        This is one of the big areas I disagree with Piper (and a few others) on. Paul even talks in the 1 Corinthians about NOT marrying because being single means you can do things married people cant. He assume that married people shouldn’t throw themselves into troubles and difficulties.

        Honestly, I think most church planters need a big emergency fund (6 months to a year) before going into full-time ministry. There comes a point where a planter has to make the leap, but when he does it should be from a place of wisdom and security.

        • Sorry if that came out wrong, I see what you are saying. The Ramsey method is probably wise but beyond that where, when, how, etc. that’s the question isn’t it?

      • I haven’t ever actually heard Piper say don’t save for retirement, but I have heard him say the gospel life does not include retiring and what I understand that to mean is that we don’t ever get to check out of being on mission. I’ve certainly heard him say don’t save in anticipation of a luxury house on the beach and spending your days enjoying life…we will ALWAYS have work to do. The question in my mind is one of paid employment. My husband’s mentality is that if we keep saving at the rate we are we should have millions and millions by the time we are ready to “stop working for the man and start working for the Lord”. He fully envisions being able to finally go on more mission trips when he “retires” and he loves the idea of being able to cut checks at will to people with God-sized dreams. My issue is that tomorrow is never guaranteed and we need to be doing God’s work right now. I’m not saying saving for retirement is a bad idea, I think it’s important.

  3. What I truly believe is that a teacher of God’s word should do some kind of other work. There needs to be a relience on the “church” instead of just a pastor to reach others for Christ. Pastors should teach God’s word, but to expect them to do everything inside the church is outrageous. Not saying you but I think most pastors are to blame for Christians not doing much besides going to church because nothing is really expected of them besides showing up to church. They are not made to feel responsible to actually do anything because many pastors won’t give up control because things won’t happen the way they think it should if they give up control. Also God can speak through many other people instead of just the pastor to provide comfort to individuals. I think we need to realize that a church doesn’t rest upon the pastors shoulders. The church isn’t the pastors to do what they want with. The church is a living and breathing group of people seeking God and showing love to all. Pastors are no more important than the members of the group of individuals in a local body. The problem is instilling that mindset in to the group of believers and making them feel as though they have just as much ownership in the local church as the pastor. If this happens than I believe you will see a church that is alive in their communities, not just a pastor who is trying to do everything. That being said, I love when pastors actually work somewhere else. I don’t see pastors any differently than I see anyone else who calls themself a Christian. They need to work and be an influence at their job like everyone else.

  4. All of that being said in my earlier post, I still think that their should be a leader in the local church and that should be the pastor.

  5. Here are a few thoughts I had after reading this. In the culture of Jesus’ day they didn’t have 401k’s and retirement plans. The culture was much the same as many cultures still are today in developing countries. Your retirement is found in your children, because when you are old, they will still be young and able to work to help you with your needs. They will also have their own children that will contribute as well. Jesus taught to love and respect your parents, but he still submitted to the ministry he was put here on earth to do leaving his parents without that retirement that they needed and/or planned on. He didn’t stop and say “wait, let me work and save up some money for a few years so that my parents are taken care of” before going to the cross. Nor do I see where he instructed his disciples or anyone else to do the same. I’ve met many people who said they felt called to overseas missions, or various other ministries, but they wanted to get retirement and savings and such in order first. Well, years later they are still working at it, and people are still dying without having the opportunity to hear the gospel. I personally feel that we need to be motivated by an urgency of the message that we have to share.

    Matt, you mentioned that many of the church planters have felt under spiritual attack. Do you think that will stop when we have enough saved to take care of ourselves? Will we ever have enough? Is it possible the enemy attacks in order to scare us from stepping out in faith because he knows if it works now, it will work again five or ten years down the road when you get closer to being financially ready to step out?

    You have some good points though, about not being stupid and I don’t know where the balance is. Living in America makes things complicated, because without insurance it doesn’t take much of a health issue to put you in a financial hole so deep one can almost never recover. We need a lot to function here, and everything takes money.

    For the church though, one has to figure out how to get the members of the church to take ownership of it as their own. We, as Americans, can and do choose to do what we want financially. We spend thousands for things we want, but when it comes to church we give when we have extra. If people will genuinely take ownership of their church then they will do what they can to see that their Pastor(s) are paid and taken care of.

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