There is a lot of talk today about making disciples. And rightfully so. Jesus never commissioned us to go to the ends of the earth to constructing buildings; He never commissioned us to provide programs or even produce moving times of worship. Instead, He called us to make disciples.
So, the logical question is, “How do we do that?” How do we take the unchurched of our neighborhoods and teach them to follow the ways of Jesus? I don’t know that there is a cut and paste answer to that question, but I do know that God is teaching our church some radical truths about leveraging our budget for the purpose of making disciples.
A couple of years ago, our small church plant was desperately praying that God would show us how to best live among our neighbors. We asked, “What can we do so that people will see You when they interact with us?” Much to our surprise, we sensed that the answer from God was, “Become generous as I am generous.” And as we prayed further, we realized that He wasn’t kidding. God was prompting us to give away all of our tithes and offerings for an entire year.
From April 2010 through April 2011, all of the tithes and offerings that were given to Traceway went to help the abused, neglected, sick, poor and unstable of our city. These gifts from God went to keep a few families out of foreclosure after job losses. Other gifts went to provide housing for abused mothers who escaped with their children and the clothes on their backs. Some gifts went to pay medical bills and build handicap access ramps. Others went toward providing a vehicle for a family and aiding in disaster relief after a devastating local tornado.
Regardless of where the funds went, each gift was an investment in our neighbors. Each donation provided an open door to begin the disciple making process. And through each situation, God was teaching us how important it is to connect our budget to the Great Commission.
Don’t let our year of generosity mislead you. We still have not gotten this budgeting/discipling process exactly right. But, we are starting to learn some major lessons:
1. Our budget reveals our theology. While it is common to have core values and statements of belief, the budget ultimately reveals what matters most to us. We can preach bold sermons of faith each week, but in the end, our budgets reveal our true theology. So, if we say that making disciples is our priority, we need to fund that mission; we need to make sure that our financial treasures align with our spoken values.
2. Connecting budgets to the Great Commission is messy. Developing a disciple-making budget is more difficult than generating a status quo budget… and much messier. It’s hard to predict where the money will go and what return it will yield.
In much the same way, developing disciples is much messier than creating church attendees. There were several cases where our church stepped into mud holes by investing in people. One woman got mad at us after the Toyota Camry that we gave her did not meet her expectations. She even threatened to contact the police over this donation. Needless to say, that investment didn’t lead to a new disciple! But, in those efforts, we learned that God values our willingness to walk into the mess of humanity with Him. After all, that’s what He does… day after day after day. He joins each of us in our mess. He loves us and generously gives us gifts that nudge us closer to Him.
3. Making disciples is not a momentary project; it’s our purpose. When God called us to give everything away for an entire year, we felt like one year was a really long time. We had previously taken a Sunday offering and given it all away, but to give away 52 consecutive offerings was a completely new level of commitment. A scary level of commitment.
To our surprise, we eventually realized that a 52-week project was not enough. If we really wanted to make disciples… every year… we would have to work this into a sustainable, long-term model. We realized that temporary discipling programs would have to be replaced by a permanent marriage between our finances and our mission of making disciples. The work of making disciples is more than a worthy project. According to Jesus, this is a crucial aspect of being the Body of Christ.
So, what does the Great Commission have to do with our budget? Maybe a better question is, “How did we ever determine our budget apart from the Great Commission?”
To go deeper, check out John’s book on this subject – Giving Away the Collection Plate. You can download the first chapter of the book by clicking here.