Listen to the audio version of this blog post here.
Recently, I finished the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. The podcast unpacks the story of a fast-growing megachurch in Seattle that closed virtually overnight. It’s a story of power and greed, lack of accountability, and celebrity. The thing that stuck with me, scared me even, was where the church went wrong. They worked for results.
Power, invested in just one leader, was harnessed, abused, and leveraged to build a national platform for the benefit of one. But why worry? They were baptizing people. They were preaching the Gospel. Everything was up and to the right. “God” was blessing them.
As easy as it is to criticize Mark Driscoll and the people surrounding him, the podcast invited listeners to take a cold hard look at themselves. I realized this obsession with results is the problem with how the church talks about money.
It’s the way we run our church budgets.
It’s the way we preach.
It’s the way we decide what to give and who to give to.
We tell our people to get out of debt, budget, and give. We tell them to “ live like no one else”.
Not because it’s faithful, not because it’s how we respond to the invitation of Jesus, but so that they can later “live like no one else.” We cater to, bribe, and cajole our people to do the right things SO THAT something will happen. So that they’ll see a result.
The Results-Minded Church
When I go to church conferences the guy on the stage is always the one with the biggest church.
“Tell us please Mr. Pastor how did you get the results? We’re dying to know.”
Do we ever celebrate faithfulness?
Just once, I want a man who’s pastored a 50-person church faithfully for decades to be the keynote speaker.
Just once, I want a man who lived paycheck to paycheck his whole life to talk about his relationship with money.
Just once, I want to hear from the couple that fights and bickers but stays faithful, instead of the Ph.D. in marital studies.
A wise man once told me culture is a combination of “Who the heroes are. What gets celebrated. What stories are told.”
We are so busy talking about results, we seldom talk about faithfulness.
This forces me to ask another question:
Is faithfulness enough?
If I followed the Bible to the letter with my money. If I said “yes” to every invitation of Jesus. If I was faithful and risky and obedient and the best I ever did was scratch out a living. Would it be enough?
If all I ever received was my daily bread, but I was faithful, would I be OK?
I’d love to tell you that it would. I would love to tell you that I don’t need a big church or humming ministry or a strong income or money in the bank.
I’d love to tell you that I don’t need a building pointed to the sky, an edifice to my own achievement, a title, some letters behind my name, or a face recognizable in a crowd.
But this podcast made me question my motives. It made me question the reasons that I do things. Why do I use my money, my power, my influence, and my relationships the way that I do? Is it to be faithful or something else?
Faithfulness IS the Reward
The Bible says that faithfulness is its own reward.
In 1st Timothy, Paul warns about men who use “godliness as a means for gain”. We can all point to Christian leaders who did this and we puff ourselves self-righteously. We know that’s not us.
Then Paul says “but godliness is great gain.”
Does it feel like it?
Does it feel like gain? Or loss that we tolerate because “well, that’s what the Bible says.”
I know what the answer should be, but when I look deep down. When I get brutally honest with myself and ask if faithfulness is enough, I’m not sure it is.
Nothing I can hang my hat on?
No pat on the back?
Not one thing I can point to and say “ I did that”?
All I get is a “well done good and faithful servant” after I kick the bucket?
I want to challenge myself and you and most of all the church to talk more about faithfulness as if it’s gain. To celebrate it, tell stories about it, and make heroes out of the faithful.
Could we measure faithfulness? I don’t know. Maybe we should try.
Results Don’t Make You Faithful
The truth is, you can have results without faithfulness.
You can have an affair while you’re tithing to your church. Is that godliness?
You can support a ministry financially, but never show up. Is that faithful?
You can give a lot of money away, but spend ridiculous amounts of money on yourself. Is that “seek first the Kingdom of God?”
You can work diligently and ignore your family.
You can love your family and be a sloth.
You can avoid debt but still give in to consumerism.
Results don’t prove faithfulness. Just ask Mars Hill.
That’s what this whole project is about. This blog, the Christian Money Podcast, my day-to-day work. It’s the question rolling around in my head nearly every day:
What does it look like to be faithful with money?
Not even generous.
How do I take solid Biblical theology, listen to the teachings of Jesus and apply it to the complex capital markets of western modernity?
Honestly, the message isn’t that palatable. I don’t think anyone would buy a course on it. Maybe not even a book.
Because people want to know how to get results. That’s the question we’ve trained them to ask.
Jesus lived a faithful life. He had about 150 followers at the end of his ministry.
His following has grown substantially since then, but you know what’s crazy?
He’s rested on the work that he did 2,000 years ago. He said, “I was faithful, that’ll have to be enough.” He said, “It is finished”.
Any pastor today would be disappointed with His results.
Nobody who followed Jesus had a fat retirement account, book deal, or high-powered job. They were all imprisoned or killed! Results? Not much.
Yet, the church fights for economic, political, and social power.
Some people say that if “money is going to be made it’s better in a Christian’s hand.” That might be true.
But is it necessarily true? Is making money always better than not making money? Does making money prove faithfulness?
I don’t see anything in the Bible to indicate that it is.
I’d love to have an answer for you today, but all I have is a question:
Is faithfulness enough?
I’m challenging myself to make it enough. Do the work in front of me. Measure the results less. Focus on the call more.
I’m challenging myself to honor the faithful, the quiet, the unplatformed, and listen to what they have to say.
The scariest part?
I don’t know how to keep score. How do I know if I’m being faithful?
So far the only thing I can figure is I have to build guardrails in my life. Places I won’t go. Habits I won’t break. Things I won’t do.
I have to live in community. People have to have permission to call me out and challenge my motives. I have to have a soft enough heart to receive it and a discerning enough heart to know when the criticism is unfounded.
Is faithfulness enough for me? I’m pretty sure that it’s supposed to be, but honestly, I’m not sure I’m there yet.
I still want people to know my name.
I want to build something.
I want people to know Jesus, but I want them to know him through me.
I want to give the money, not receive it.
I know faithfulness should be enough, but I’m not sure it’s enough for me.
By God’s grace, I pray someday it will be.