Category Archives: Stewardship

My Inability to Mind My Own Business

Does anyone really know what LinkedIn is all about? It’s kind of like Facebook with less stupidity as near as I can tell. It seems that members are people who are either really proud of their occupation or else looking for an occupation that could be proud of. I set up an account years ago and only occasionally click over to see what’s happening.

I frequently get notifications of congratulations for the anniversary of my job, but I don’t know what that’s all about. The last few jobs I’ve had I just kind of gradually made a change from one job to the next that I have no idea what the anniversary would be. I feel like a married couple celebrating a wedding anniversary even though they lived together for years prior to the wedding. What’s the point?Gateway_Church_114_Campus

The other day I clicked on the LinkedIn site and at the top of the Home Page articles was a video posted by a young man on the subject of stewardship. Because of my long history of work on that subject, I gave it a view. He spoke of a book he was writing based on the stewardship teaching of Jesus. While reading through the Gospels, he was marking every verse that applies to stewardship and the book will be called “Jesus on Money.” He has 1,000 verses highlighted, and the plan is to categorize them so he can present them us in a way that help us understand stewardship.

The young man is an Executive Pastor at a megachurch in our city. Nearest I can tell, stewardship education is a part of his assignment. The church has a deep history of stewardship. Years ago when I was responsible for teaching stewardship to the 5,000 Baptist churches in Texas, I met with this man’s predecessor. One of the surprises was that he had a larger staff than I had and he was responsible for one church.

I know a few things about stewardship. The first book I ever wrote was on the subject, and it sold more than 300,000 copies. I also wrote numerous other books and material over the years. For a short time, all of the stewardship resources developed by the Southern Baptist Convention had evidence of my influence. However, it’s no secret that my views on church stewardship have radically changed over the years and what I believe now is nothing like what I believed then. But I do know what I’m talking about.

Given my stewardship background and my inability to ignore an opportunity to speak up, I typed a comment about his video: “An interesting first chapter for your book would be on what Jesus might say about churches that spend millions of dollars on buildings and staff salaries rather than giving to the poor.”

Not surprising, he responded: “If a church is only self focused then I’d say it isn’t very healthy. Terry Austin, have you written anything on this subject? I’d be interested to hear your personal generosity story and the exciting things God is doing through you to serve the poor.”

Of course, I had to say something: “I’ve written a great deal of material on Christian stewardship and my stewardship theology has evolved significantly over the years. I developed a capital fund raising program that generated a quarter of a billion dollars for church buildings and another that focused on church budgets. However, much of that theology has changed for me. My two latest books on the subject are “Authentic Stewardship” and “Why I Quit Going to Church” can be found at Amazon. Don’t let the title throw you off as there is an important emphasis on Christian stewardship.”

Before he could respond, I added: “Something else to think about. I have no idea how much money you give to your church but try to figure out how much of it makes its way to the poor. Last week, I gave cash and several large bags of clothes for refugees from South America and made a cash contribution to a woman in our neighborhood needing money for surgery her insurance won’t cover. It wasn’t a large amount, but probably more will go to the poor than what makes its way through most churches. The typical church spends 50% of income on staff salaries and 25-30% on building costs. The rest is used for things like childcare, youth activities, curriculum, denominational expenses, etc. Some churches have a food pantry, but most of those are stocked by non-profit money, not church donations. If you’re serious about wanting to help the poor, the church is not the place to go.”

His response was to invite me to come to his church and see all the great stuff happening. Obviously, he was not understanding what I was trying to say. If I’m misunderstood, I always assume it’s my fault.

So, I tried to make it clearer: “I’ve been to Gateway and 100’s of other churches just like it around the country. I met with the guy who I assume was your predecessor years ago when I was doing church stewardship. I’m not looking for a church doing “healthy ministry, many people coming to Christ and giving generously…” I know tons of generous givers, there is no shortage there. My concern is what the church is doing with their generosity. The church approach is to teach people to be generous and then turn around and use their generosity on themselves. Church are not giving to the poor, they are spending it on their own comfort. How many lives could be impacted with the millions of dollars Gateway spends on buildings and salaries each year?”

At this point he got angry and accused me of attacking his church and wanting him to quit his job. For some reason, he later deleted this comment.

In reply I said: I think you’re jumping the shark here. I began the conversation to encourage you to take biblical stewardship seriously and hopefully learn something that took me 30 years to learn. You’re the one who brought up your church. I have no reason to attack your church nor do I care if you quit your job or not. Neither do I have any interest in closing down churches. I simply think there might be a way to be the church that doesn’t require massive amounts of money. In your video, you expressed interest in identifying all the biblical passages about stewardship in the Bible, a concept that was first done by Larry Burkett. I worked with Larry for many years and when he came to the end of his life, he also came to the point of believing the way churches do things with stewardship needs serious alteration. If you stick with God’s Word long enough, you’ll probably come to that same conclusion yourself someday. My intent was to plant a seed and give you a head start. I apologize if you are offended, however, I’m not sorry for challenging you to think outside your own box.”

He admitted that he might have overacted but ended his part of the conversation with an additional statement about the greatness of his church.

The irony of all of this is that his church recently built a $35 million building in addition to multiple sites where they broadcast their Sunday services around the city. I don’t know for sure but I’m confident the number of paid staff members is in the hundreds if not more.

What will this young Executive Pastor find in the words of Jesus that speak to this use of money given by God’s people?

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Filed under Church, faith, Ministry, money, Stewardship, Uncategorized

The Unholy Use of Money

An entirely unsurprising announcement came out this week that a mega church in the Dallas area has decided to escrow their mission money. I’m not going to identify the church, but if you type these four words into Google it will pop up quickly – Dallas, church, escrow, money. The reason cited by the pastor is that he felt disrespected. That’s correct, a leader for the Southern Baptist Convention said something he didn’t agree with, so he has instructed his church to hang onto the one million dollars that would have probably been given this year.

At first thought, it sounds like a reasonable decision. After all, why should we support someone who disrespects us, or give to an organization that doesn’t share our values and opinions?unholy-money

What causes me concern is the use of the word “escrow.” The dictionary definition is “a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party, taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.” What this church is doing by escrowing money they had originally intended to give to the Southern Baptist Convention is to allow someone else to hold the money until the issue has been resolved. (I seriously doubt if the money actually goes anywhere other than the church’s bank account.)

In this case, it appears the use of the term “escrow” suggests a threat—if you don’t change we are going to punish you by withholding our money. This money, a significant amount, is being used as a financial club to get their way.

I don’t have any problem if this church decides the Southern Baptist Convention does not represent your values and beliefs and then simply stops the support. Quit giving—plain and simple. However, once they use the term “escrow,” it suggests the money will still be there whenever the Southern Baptist Convention sees things your way.

Don’t try to force a mission agency to do things your way. Go find someone else you can support. Find someone who shares your values and is already doing the things you desire.

The concept of escrowing money intended for the Southern Baptist Convention has been a favorite among churches for decades as they have sought to gain and control power. The big irony for me is pastors get extremely upset whenever church members do the same thing to them. Have a significant contributor to the church walk up to the pastor after a Sunday sermon and say, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate what you said this morning. I’m not going to give another offering until you apologize.” We would learn quickly if that pastor believed what he preached.

Using money to manipulate people is not right. Money is a tool to help others, to provide for the needs of others. It is not to be a source of power and control. That is exactly why money is so dangerous.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is next to impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It makes me wonder if the same can be said about a rich church.

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The Cost of Impatience

The television commercial sounds appealing, offering an instant tax refund, no need to wait for Uncle Sam to send a check. The average tax refund this year is expected to be $3,000, which makes a nice addition to any family budget. Why should we wait the four to six weeks required for the Internal Revenue Service to send our money, only two weeks if done electronically? After all, this month’s budget is tight and getting the money early will make everything work out fine.

About 1 in 10 American taxpayers will take out a tax refund loan this year, more than half of them low-wage earners. That translates to 12.7 million refund loans last year.  The interest rate does not seem too exorbitant until we realize that it is only for a one-month loan. The effective annual interest rate (APR) calculates to approximately 180 percent.

In addition to the interest, the loans also require fees for loan applications, which raise the cost by an additional $406 million. The unfortunate thing is that many of the people getting these loans qualify for free online tax preparation and free electronic filing, and if they have a bank account, they could get their refund in less than two weeks.  KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That means Americans paid $1.4 billion in interest, and another one-half billion on fees because of loans caused by impatience. One of the most frequent causes of debt is impatience. We borrow money to get things that we could get without debt if we were simply willing to wait. The things we desire are not necessarily bad things, and might even be items that God wants us to have.  Since we can use credit, there is no need to wait for God to provide.

William Shakespeare wrote, “How poor are they that have not patience!” The writer of Proverbs said, “Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become sureties for debts” (Proverbs 22:26). Our impatience causes poverty.

We live in a society that places very little importance on patience. We want everything right now, and because it is available through credit, patience seems to be unnecessary. The apostle Paul teaches us that patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Not only will patience be a spiritual blessing, it will also provide a financial benefit as well.

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Investing with God

Work for FoodSome time ago, as my wife and I were leaving a restaurant, a young man approached us with a hard-luck story about a broken down automobile and needing to get to work. His destination was in the opposite direction of our travels so he asked for money to help pay cab fare. By nature, I am a very skeptical person. My wife, in contrast, is very trusting and giving. As I wrestled with the tension between my natural inclination and what I knew to be my wife’s desire, I thought about the spiritual implications of my situation.

At busy intersections in every major city, we see men and women who practice the ancient art of begging. Wearing tattered and out-dated fashions, they survive because some folks are sympathetic and others feel guilty over their good fortune.

Each encounter with one of these boulevard beggars puts us in a dilemma: Do I give money or do I avoid eye contact? When the choice is avoidance, we comfort ourselves with the biblical admonition, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In spite of the sign that reads, “Will work for food,” we are confident that the pauper will recite a list of excuses when offered employment.

While it is true that some (if not, most) beggars are unwilling to pay the price of meaningful labor, there are people who have genuine financial needs. Many of these situations are temporary but others are more permanent, due to some type of disability or persistent problem. We might desire to provide financial help but feel that we cannot afford to make a significant contribution. Is it fair to ask our family to sacrifice so that we can give to others?

The answer to this quandary is found in the book of Proverbs: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17). In reality, giving to the poor does not result in a loss.  Benevolence is investing!

A literal reading of this verse provides important insight about the use of our money with those in need. “He who stoops down to help the weak unites himself with the Lord, and he will reciprocate with a reward.”  We now realize that it is certainly good stewardship to reach out (or down) to help those in need.

The real issue changes from affordability to opportunity. When giving to the poor we can no longer consider the cost. Instead, we should seize the opportunity to make an investment with God.

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Teaching Our Children to be Materialists

Toddler with shopping bags.We can probably all agree that our culture is becoming more and more materialistic with each generation. Yet, most of us don’t want to assume any responsibility for this trend. Where does this materialism come from? How do we pass it on to our young? It probably happens in many ways, but I read a newspaper story the other day that provided a graphic illustration of one way we teach our children to be materialistic.

An organization has been established in Minnesota to help parents in one very tiny arena. The name of the group is “Birthdays Without Pressure,” and their stated purpose is to “raise awareness of this problem and offer alternatives for parents and kids who want birthdays without pressure.” The problem they are addressing is excessive birthday parties for children. In case you are not sure what qualifies as an “excessive” party, these are some examples:

  • Sixty guests were invited to the party of a one-year-old, and gift opening took two hours. The birthday baby slept through most of the event.
  • The parents of a three-year-old are in a quandary about how to top the child’s previous two parties when they rented a fire station the first year, and a private club with a pool the second. At this rate, by age twelve they might have to rent the state of Montana for a weekend.
  • A wealthy New York father spent $10 million on a party for his 13 year old daughter’s birthday, featuring the band Aerosmith, and $10,000 gift bags for each guest.

Finally, someone is standing up and saying enough! Continue reading

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What Happens When You Run Out of Losers?

GUEST POST by Dwight Short. Dwight is one of our authors at Austin Brothers Publishing. He is very involved in two important areas – Biblically Responsible Investing and mission work to Congo. You will want to get his books at Austin Brothers Publishing because he has a lot to say about both of these subjects. This article presents an important issue for all of us to consider.

One of my favorite clients was my own ENT doctor who was a world traveler born in Austria, educated in Hong Kong, and lived for many years in Europe before starting a practice in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon his return from a trip to a Caribbean hotel/casino he called and asked my investment advice about a company called Resorts Intl. I told him I had never heard of it but would check it out. Profit or Principles front cover

The financials were among the worst I had ever seen, and the association of what appeared to be gangster types made my report to the good doctor sound like something between financial nausea and disgust. He bought the stock anyway and he was following one of the hottest tips of the 1970’s for the company that was awarded the first casino outside of Las Vegas. My client did make money on that transaction for a while, but then he took his profits and kept buying more companies in the gambling industry and his returns from all of them turned negative.

It seems that same thing is happening on a much larger scale these days in Atlantic City where this story first began. Economic blight for that area was to be wiped out by all the casinos and for a period of time, it appeared that might happen. Those of you who have read my previous articles will recall the rule of 35 when it comes to casino gambling. You need 35 losers for every winner in order for casinos to be profitable.

When you run out of losers, you have what is now happening in Atlantic City where more than a third of the “gaming palaces” are going out of business. The fool’s gold that politicians and tax payers think they have discovered in casino gambling eventually has to give way to other forms of entertainment or industry, or there just aren’t enough losers to go around.   The novelty of losing money, no matter how glittering the bright lights might be, are an empty outcome dressed up in economic loss for both players and the community that was counting on the tax revenues. The bonds needed for building infrastructure are approaching default while even properties with the name Trump attached are going for bankruptcy #3. Continue reading

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Fund-Raising or Giving an Offering?

Father Dennis Darilek and Father Jimmy Drennan of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, positioned themselves atop a 20-foot pole in an effort to raise money for the church.  Sitting in an eight-by-four foot plywood box, these two priests committed to staying in their perch until parishioners had donated $50,000 to build an athletic complex. ”I told everyone, the good news is the money is out there,” Darilek said. ”The bad news is it’s in your pockets.”

At the same time, the pastor of a Baptist Church in Texas encouraged folks in his congregation to sign-up to buy frozen food in the church foyer.  The church had recently voted to call a part-time youth minister and the proceeds from the sale of the frozen produce would be used to pay his salary.

These two theologically diverse congregations have something in common.  They both approach giving to support the work of the church as fund-raising.

When we reduce giving to fund-raising we totally miss the biblical teaching.  Giving is always presented in God’s Word as worship.  In fact, in the Old Testament, the entire worship experience was centered on giving an offering or bringing a sacrifice.

In the New Testament we also we find the same relationship between giving and worship: “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income . . .” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

A common trend among churches today is to remove the offering from worship.  This is done by tacking it on at the very end of the service, after all the important stuff is done, or by simply placing a collection box in the foyer.  We even do it by reminding the visitors that they are not expected to give an offering; giving is only for members.  These approaches, designed to make visitors feel comfortable, give the message that the offering is nothing more than fund raising to pay the bills.

The church does not need to resort to gimmicks in order to receive funds for ministry and missions.  We simply need to challenge God’s people with God’s Word.  Motivated by their love of God and understanding of God’s will, Christians will give without manipulation and chicanery.

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