The Very Personal Life of a Church Planter: Personal Money

The Very Personal Financial Life of a Church Planter is based on a series of short letters about money and sex that I sent to planters and visionary leaders at RENEW South Florida after I had the privilege to speak at their network meeting and spend some time with them. Love those guys.

The Two are Tied Together. One of the most common very personal concerns people have about planting a church is this: money. My money. Not so much how will the church start and survive. More, how will we survive. Good question. Important issue!

I’ve coached and advised more than one church planter who jumped in and started a church without a financial plan. All they needed were a few promises and a huge leap of faith. Some have since left the church plant. Lest you think planning solves all issues, let me say there are others who raise a lot of money but have little impact. There is no magic pill or short cuts. But God’s given us some wisdom and experience that I hope will help you thrive while you plant.

Financial issues are hard on all planters and their families. How you start a church impacts your family and what you do as a family impacts your plant. I hope this advice helps you live well in a sustainable reproducing church.

Consider your wife. As with sex and intimacy (future post), finances can be a significant but relatively hidden point of contention between planters and their wives (or if you’re not yet married, your future wife). You will face temptation to consider short-cuts or cheats that will provide the money for plans you just ‘have to have’ and gratification you think need. Like past sexual conduct, financial decisions made prior to starting a church plant or during a start-up can hinder intimacy, cut into resources for rest and limit flexibility to live and give generously. 

Consider your context and public persona. Financial decisions impact public opinion of you and your church. Whether we like it or not, most people outside the church form their initial opinion of every pastor through the lens of what they see with TV preachers, remember from past bad experiences or hear by way of gossip. The public persona of all clergy isn’t pretty. You are guilty by association until proven innocent by your faithfulness over time. So does the car you drive matter? Yes. What about your clothes? Yes. Vacations? And yes. Your values are exhibited by the spending choices you make.

One financial adviser told my wife and I, ‘Every spending decision is a spiritual decision.’ And if you recognize that it is all God’s money, then you see the point. So is that meant to scare you? To load up some guilt or manipulate? No. Well, only if it’s real guilt. And if you are guilty, then let me encourage you to repent to the Lord and humble yourself. 

Take pains to set up your family finances and church financial practices to be dependent on the Lord, above reproach, trustworthy and able to withstand scrutiny. Here are some specifics

Ask Jesus about spending. Is it too much to ask the Lord about your spending decisions? I don’t know what you should buy or not buy. I don’t know what would be wise in New York compared to Atlanta compared to a small town. But the Lord does. And you have access to Him all the time. Ask Him. Teach your family to ask Him too.

Avoid debt. It’d be wise to have a rigorous plan to pay off all consumer debt before hitting the field. There is a moral question about raising money to start a church plant that will be used to pay off your personal debts. You may need to wait to start and work longer.

If you are thinking about planting in the future, curtail student loan debt. The crisis of student loan debt may be the next systemic road block we face to getting church planters on the field. (See ‘I Owe U’ by Krstina Bell, TIME October 31, 2011) Church planting assessment centers factor in debt load when they considering readiness for planting.

If your wife will be required to work to make debt payments that will add stress to the work of planting a church. It will limit time and energy for your marriage, family and church priorities.

Budget within your family and church context. Live on a written budget. Depending on where God calls you to plant, you will likely need to alter your lifestyles. But remember He supplies all your needs (Philippians 4:19). Some planters have larger reserves and family resources than others. Be aware you can over-adjust to the expectations of your culture too.

When we moved to plant a church, we did adjust to fit in. I hate TV but we got cable. I tossed my youth pastor duds and bought different clothes. Even learned to play golf. (Not well, but I can play.) The temptation to get an upgraded car did pass through my mind, but I settled on a used Accord. It is wise to live on the humble side of your context.

Always tithe and give. Lead by example. If you don’t tithe, you lack moral authority to ask others to tithe. Key people will see how much you give. When my integrity was questioned, those people stood up for us. 

Save. You’ll need margin in your life and the flexibility to give to important projects. Can’t do that if you are scraping by month to month. Current wisdom is have three to six months expenses in reserve. 

Contributing to your retirement is important too. The church should consult standards to determine the contribution. Believe it or not, one day you will retire…

Raise your support before you move or start public worship. Experienced fund-raisers agree: people give to ‘anticipated vision.’ So your urgent need to get support in place goes away after you move to the field. Once you start public worship, it’s exponentially more difficult to raise funds. Until all support is pledged, it is your part-time job. Raise at least 80% prior to moving to the field. If you are stuck here, I’m a coach who can help you.

Who Bears Your Burdens? One temptation is to put your faith in your finances. But that won’t save you. Finances are a terrible savior, whether you have a lot or too little for your comfort. Christ Jesus has taken the full weight of all your debts on Himself on the cross and knowing everything about your finances, God the Father punished Christ in your place. Trust Him, not your financial support. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness bought for you on the cross and he will provide everything you and your family need.

In the next post, we’ll look at corporate best practices for church plants.

If you need more information about the very personal life of a church planter, seek out a gospel coach. Contact me if I can be of help.

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Jesus’ Simple Strategy for Planting The Church

I’m a curious person. Constantly synthesizing everything I learn to try to make sense of the big picture so we can find ways to reach the nations. My family and church staff have accused me of having too many great ideas for everyone, including myself. 

Underneath the driven curiosity is this burning desire that we have got to tell more people about Jesus.I’m often tempted to search for new insights, programs, training secrets, methods, books or ideas so I can be a better coach to church planters. 

So Jesus shocks me in his simplicity. In the quest to see God start a movement of church planting and disciple-making in the US and other parts of the world, Jesus’ strategy is so simple. 

As a follower of Jesus, planter, gospel coach of coaches and trainer of church planters, I need to remember to focus on Jesus’ simple strategy more than curricula and program. I’ve studied Jesus strategy off and on since 1992. I know this. But I get distracted. Many of Jesus’ principles of His Master Plan (Robert Coleman’s classic) we find extremely challenging to church planters.

Jesus didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ for planting The church. His plan was this:

  • Select average men who are loyal, teachable with big hearts.
  • Take the long view of the process.
  • Be with them in their lives. A lot.
  • Patiently hand off people ministry responsibility.
  • Quickly give tasks to disciples.
  • Expect and challenge followers to bring others along.

Church planters should ask potential disciples to follow Jesus the person, not me or you or the program. Over time, (12-18 months after starting) Jesus challenged his followers to his high-cost terms for disciple-making. We can’t change them or substitute our own. Evangelism and suffering can’t be left out. There’s no ‘Plan B’ for disciple-making.

  • Depend on the Holy Spirit as we do the work of evangelism.
  • “Show-how is better than know-how” especially while disciples watch.
  • Send out disciples in pairs to practice stating the gospel simply.
  • Always celebrate sharing the gospel and debrief for teachable moments (review and apply).
  • Expect hardship and learn to fight the spiritual battle together.

Here’s one I really don’t like. Jesus’ goal wasn’t popularity, masses of numbers (or even converts). By today’s standards of starting a new church, but the time of his death, Jesus was a failure. But it was all part of his Plan A.

Jesus said to our Father that he had ‘accomplished the work You gave me to do’ (John 17:4). His work goal to that point was preparing multiplying disciple-makers. Oh, too often I thought we needed better methods. We need better men. And more of Jesus.

If you’re interested in multiplying disciple-makers and want to join us in the learning, I’d love to chat more about what we do in Church Multiplication Ministries. 

More of Less for Church Planters: Part 2

(Second half of this post.) 
I love throwing Frisbee. Nothing beats a good game of Ultimate or just tossing the 175g across a field with someone who has skills on par with mine. I’m not the best, but I do well and I enjoy it. 
Nobody is born knowing how to throw well. It’s weird and takes no small amount of practice, even for naturally athletic people. Same for grace-directed spiritual disciplines.
More of less should be a normal skill for every Christian. Not considered newsworthy or radical or cool if you have nothing better to do with your time. It’s motivated by this: wanting to be with Jesus, no matter what it takes.
Even if it threatens the idol that you might not get as much done, potentially being less successful, potentially feeling like you are wasting your time. Especially if it reveals idolatry!
What We Need
Our churches in the West need more power of the Holy Spirit. More prayer and intercession. More trust in God than trust in human skill and effort. What we need more grace-filled discipline to spend time with our Father.
When I parachuted in to do a scratch, multi-ethnic church plant, there were a million things to do, but I taped a quote from Eugene Peterson to my computer monitor. It says, ‘Busyness is laziness.’ What? I’ll spare you reading his whole book and summarize his point: Busyness is substituting many good things for the highest, most excellent thing. Meeting with Jesus ought to be our most excellent task. 
Do I get too busy? Yes. Am I not getting enough done? I don’t think so. Am I closer to Jesus after working hard to plant a church? Yes. I’m more dependent on Him. I’m less hurried and harried than I used to me. Because of His grace worked into me through resting more, accomplishing less myself and the discipline of less.
Pastors, fathers, mothers, your church and your family need Less. You need Less – to turn off the 24/7 distractions and meet with Jesus – regularly, purposefully, intentionally. Replace the good things with excellent. You need More – quiet, solitude, simplicity, fasting – it will deepen your experience of Jesus’ grace. 
More of Less is experiencing the transformation Jesus’ wrought by His salvation. Disciplines of Less are not earning your salvation. The message of the gospel is that Jesus has completed everything in his life, death, burial and resurrection and granted it to us to live out. He is The Evangelist, Minister, Networker, Do-It-All Leader of your church plant. He’s The Senior Pastor of your church, The Leader of your network. Less of our work is needed and more of Him is needed.

Like learning to throw a Frisbee, more of less is awkward at first. But worth it.

 

Prayer for Immigrant Families

Participating in the Day of Prayer for Immigrant Families today.  

A few years ago our church had grapple with the immigration issue. People without legal status were receiving Christ and wanted to join our church. I could find no biblical reason for them not to join. And some dads of families in our church were being deported.

Up till that point, I’d tried to stay blind to the plight of people around me. Not take a ‘political stance’ on immigration. But the study of Scripture brought our elders to a point where we couldn’t not say anything anymore. So I wrote this resolution that reviews what Scripture teaches and what we recognized God was calling us to do:

May 25, 2011

A Resolution from Concerned Pastors and Elders of Crosspoint Encuentro Church Regarding Welcoming Immigrants into our Church

Whereas

God is the Sovereign King over all the earth and all governmental authority is subject to His authority and rule,

  1. God, after the Fall, subjected Adam and Eve to an immigrant status upon removal from Eden, (Genesis 3:23),
  2. God sent Abram to be an immigrant with his family (Gen. 12:2) sojourning in a strange land, then made His covenant with Abraham while he was an alien (Genesis 17:9),
  3. the children of Israel, through God’s divine providence, were immigrants in Egypt for generations (Gen. 50:22-26), were led out of Egypt by Moses, an immigrant (Ex. 2:22) and celebrated the first Passover in Egypt with converted strangers and sojourners (Ex. 12:43ff) who were led out of Egypt with Israel.
  4. God audibly and repeatedly commanded His people to give aliens/sojourners with them Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:10; 23:9, 12), identified them as former aliens and commanded His people to not mistreat or oppress sojourners/aliens among them (Ex. 23:9),
  5. God commanded His people to maintain the same regulations for non-native born people as native-born (Num. 9:14 and Num. 15) and required equanimity in temple worship (Lev. 17 and 19),
  6. God charged the courts of His people to judge righteously between fellow countrymen and aliens living among them (Deut. 1:16) and promises to defend aliens along with the fatherless and widow because He loves the alien and provides for them through the generosity of His people both directly and through the tithes of His people (Deut. 10:18ff, 24:14-21, 26:12-13),
  7. God curses the man who withholds justice from the sojourner, as well as the fatherless and widow (Deut. 27:19),
  8. Christ Jesus immigrated to earth from heaven,
  9. in His humanity Christ was an immigrant, persecuted by his fellow countrymen,
  10. we were all alienated from God and strangers to the covenants of promise without hope except through God’s grace by faith alone (Eph. 2:12)
  11. through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, He became our peace, made all believers one, broke down the dividing wall of hostility, created in Himself one new man, and by His reconciling work on the cross will make all things new in heaven and on earth by His blood (Eph 2: 14ff, Col. 1:20-22)
  12. his people are and will be from every nation, tribe, tongue and people united in Him, heirs and sons – neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:26-29),
  13. all of God’s people are citizens of heaven first and citizens of a nation on earth second (Phil. 3:20)
  14. there is no human governmental authority outside of God’s sovereign will and all government is established by God (Rom. 13:1-7) but does not supersede the government of God,
  15. legal status is not a requirement for salvation or church membership,
  16. ministers and elders of God’s church have a moral duty to speak against injustice.

We Resolve…

  1. We resolve to pray for immigrants and their families out of concern for their souls and well-being. We will pray as well for our US governing authorities – local, state & federal – who are responsible to God for their personal, legislative, executive (including enforcement) and judicial decisions in regard to justice and mercy for all people.  We will urge people to pray for the US electorate to consider immigration issues according to God’s Word so that His Word is exalted and obeyed as US immigration policy is debated and decided.  And equally important, we will pray for other nations’ governing authorities who will also one day answer to God.        
  2. We resolve to welcome all immigrants into our church for relief, assistance, development and the hearing of the gospel.
  3. We resolve to accept anyone who meets the requirements of faith in Christ alone by faith alone, they shall be welcomed into full membership in our church, regardless of legal status before the US government or any state in the Union.
  4. We resolve to disciple and train immigrants to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever’ and treat them with dignity as image bearers of God.
  5. We resolve to prepare all church members and attenders, whether immigrants with status or without, or citizens of the US, to live as missionaries wherever God may, in His divine providence, send them to live, work and worship Him.
  6. We resolve to protect and teach all children, regardless of status or citizenship, to love God, receive Christ by faith and follow the doctrines of our holy religion.
  7. We resolve to work for the protection of the weak, oppressed and alien during legal proceedings and to urge our political representatives to develop a just and equitable means for immigrants whose status has expired to be reconciled and/or acquire legal status according to the laws of the USA.
  8. We resolve to educate English-speakers in our church about the issues, challenges, problems and struggles for immigrants and to educate Spanish-speaking congregants about their rights and duties as a sojourner in the USA.
  9. We resolve to prepare any immigrants under our care who are not currently under proper status to comply with the laws of the US and if they are unable to rectify their status, prepare them for the potential return to their home nation and accept these consequences peaceably and with grace.

Under the Grace of God and to His Glory Among All Nations,

Jim Moon, Jr. – Founding Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA

Héctor Guzmán – Co-Pastor, Crosspoint  Encuentro Church Smyrna GA

Jim Payne – Co-Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA

Gordon Hwang – Elder, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA