I often hear people say something like, “Well, you know we need to give, because ministry costs money.” This is an intuition we have, a presupposition that lurks just beneath our conscious awareness. We don’t even question it. Let me suggest, however, that we might be confusing the ministry itself with the vehicles and venues of ministry. Buildings cost money. PA systems cost money. Bibles and instruments and air conditioners cost money. None of these things is actual ministry; rather they are vehicles and venues for ministry. Furthermore, one could have all these things and not have a scrap of ministry. Conversely, one might have a wonderful ministry and possess none of these things (though such a ministry would not be rich and famous).
Christian ministry in its most essential form happens when the Spirit prompts any believer to speak to, pray for, or serve another person in the name of Christ in a way that enables or encourages that person to trust, consider, appreciate, or think like Jesus. It is almost always direct or indirect human contact of some sort, usually verbal. Talk doesn’t cost money really, and Christian compassion can function “out-of-pocket” in normal human relationships without a corporate budget.
Why should a pastor make this distinction? After all, God does use money to create venues for service. The reason is that if we pastors do not distinguish between the venues of ministry and the ministry itself we will begin to think we cannot do what God has called us to do because we don’t have the money, or we will simply equate money with ministry as if our financial health were identical to our spiritual vitality. Either way, we will think more about the money than the ministry (see Matthew 5:22-24). Years ago, when our church was very small and very broke, I wanted to quit. A pastor friend gave me some sage advice. “If you want to move on, go ahead,” he said “but what would the decision look like if you took the money out of it?” That changed everything. We were capable of simple ministry with what we had. We stayed and the Lord provided what we needed as we needed it. I have found great clarity at times by putting on a “money filter” as I thought about the dilemma before me.
Just a Thought,