Warm greetings in the love of God who has graciously called us to proclaim His mercies! I write this letter to share a burden from my heart that becomes heavier every day.
The Christian ministries in India and abroad suffer one scandal after the other year after year. The commonest one seems to be the money scandal. It has been upon my mind to write to my fellow ministers of God in India some of the principles by which we can escape the money trap. Honestly I do not assume a better-than-thou attitude while writing this letter. We are all organs of the same Body and when one organ suffers, all the other organs suffer with it. Not to accuse anyone but to help Godís servants in India I submit these lines.
People point out there are three most profitable businesses. They say, once it was cinema, then it was politics, and now it is religion. The frontal attack is on Christian ministry. We cannot totally dismiss this accusation as unfounded. Money-for-ministry has become ministry-for-money. Coin-consciousness robs us of all spiritual vitality. Messageless pulpits are the result of moneymindedness. It is easy to excuse ourselves saying that after all we are raising money for the ministerial needs only. But if fund-raising is at the top of our agenda, we have missed the spirit of the teaching of our Master (Mt 6:24-33). Godís work done by Godís men at Godís time in Godís way will not lack Godís support. This is not an empty cliche but the consistent testimony of saintly ministers of God down through the ages. It is said that George Muller (1805-1898) never once directly or indirectly appealed to people for money to run his orphanages. Though this appears to be an extreme, it will do us enormous good if we read his biography because we tend to go to the other extreme! Letís decide to say as little as possible about our financial needs in pulpit or print. God honours faith because faith honours Him.
Prosperity does not mean Godís approval, nor does poverty mean His displeasure. He takes us through times of plenty as well as seasons of drought so we may learn with Apostle Paul "both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil 4:12). Someone said, "When we have money, we pay; when we donít have money, we pray!" If thereís no financial crisis in the ministry it should only humble us. We must not feel puffed up that God has given a blanket endorsement for all that we do. We must search our ways more when we have enough than when we are in want. Success can easily blind us. Difficult days naturally drive us to our knees but we must not be discouraged. God simply deepens our roots and strengthens us. This may also be a signal from God to reprioritize our life and ministry.
If God gives us much more than what we actually need for our ministry, there will usually come a temptation to enter new areas of ministry for which we are not actually called. This subtle temptation has assaulted many independent and popular evangelists. When they are left with enormous amounts of money after taking care of their crusades, printing and other media expenses, they invent huge projects for their investment. This not only sidetracks these ministers but also leads them to malpractices. To keep their self-invented projects going, they resort to unscriptural methods of fund-raising and justify their actions with a horrible lie: "God told me!" Friends, beware! It will be difficult to do away with white elephants. Donít stretch yourself beyond the "measure of faith" God has given you and exceed the "limits" He has set for you (Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 10:13). Be gracious and generous enough to share excess offerings with less popular ministers and ministries with pressing needs. This way we will help build the Kingdom of God rather than our own empires.
Agurís prayer concerning material needs is full of practical wisdom. He prayed, "Give me neither poverty nor richesóFeed me with the food You prescribe for me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the Name of my God" (Prov 30:8,9). When the funds position is deplorably low, ask yourself these questions: Did I thank God enough when His supply was sufficient? Did I help the less affluent ministries and poorer preachers when I had excess income? Was I consciously dependent on God my Source rather than on the steady supply? Did I become careless about my personal giving? As preachers we donít have a right to expect people to give until we ourselves have given all we can (1 Chron 29:3-5).
Thank God for Banks and other financial institutions which grant loans for capital expenditure. One inherent danger in borrowing money for ministry is that we would not be able to ascertain whether what we undertake is in the perfect will of God. Zeal and enthusiasm can mislead us. Though it may look like an immediate success, it will adversely affect the overall purposes of God (Mk 1:40-45). The right procedure would be to pray collectively with mature Christians, wait before the Lord for a season, discuss the matter in the light of the Scriptures, confirm with a few witnesses, and then place it before the people of God for their prayers and support. See how people respond and then launch the project. Donít be overambitious but be practical. Differentiate between faith and presumption. Donít get into heavy debts and then go to people with sympathy appeals. It puts the Lord of the Harvest to public shame.
As a general rule, donít sink too much money in brick and mortar. (As a building engineer myself I have to constantly resist the temptation to go for big buildings.) We have come to the end of the age. If you are a pastor and your congregation is growing fast, donít go on extending your Church building. How much will be enough? Split the congregation into two or three and plant them in different localities to function under the secondline leaders. Decentralisation promotes Church growth the Bible way and antidotes many evils. Pastor Paul Yongi Cho of Korea is not an universal pattern to follow.
If you are in the healing ministry you must be extremely vigilant against any form of merchandising your anointing and commercialising your acts. While commissioning the twelve Jesus specifically said, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Mt 10:8). Look at the anger of the apostles when someone offered them money to get a spiritual gift (Acts 8:17-23). Thereís nothing wrong in accepting an offering in gratitude, but when the intention of the giver is to earn the special favour of the preacher, it must be outrightly rejected. This is illustrated by how Daniel accepted gifts from King Nebuchadnezzar but refused what King Belshazzar gave (Dan 2:47,48; 5:16,17). Beware of offering special seats to the rich in your meetings, and visiting the homes of the affluent (Js 2:1-6). A poor widow may give you just 20 rupees whereas a rich businessman 20,000 rupees. The human tendency is to profusely thank the rich fellow with swelling words of appreciation, and take the poor for granted. But God measures oneís giving not by what is given but by whatís kept back. Percentagewise usually the poor give much more than the rich (Mk 12:41-44). Those who go overseas obviously earn many times more than their counterparts in India. Donít go after them or allow yourself to be dictated by them. Never forget that you are a servant of the Most High! (Gen 14:22,23).
The temptation for Indian preachers to grab overseas ministerial opportunities is simply too strong because of our low economic condition. No doubt "the field is the world," but we usually sacrifice our commitments and obligations in this vast land of India for foreign programmes. Anyone would love to preach in Singapore, the Middle East, Europe and the West. But how about the thousands and thousands of tribal and backward villages in India totally unreached where only Indianónot whiteóevangelists can go? Organizers in the abovesaid countries are tired of Indian preachers, especially from Tamilnadu and Kerala, because they are literally pressurised by many of these preachers to extend them invitations and arrange for visas. Wait for honourable invitations, and here again make sure that your local work does not suffer. The Government of India in the present trend has begun to restrict the flow of foreign funds into India. The Christian ministry is singularly targeted. However thereís sufficient money in India for our ministries if only the Indian Christians would learn to give. This cannot happen overnight. Therefore spend sufficient time in India to motivate Christians and mobilize inland support.
When you minister in the West or attend international conferences, donít sell your vision for a bowl of broth. Donít accept offers instantly or invite unknown preachers to India straightaway. You are in for trouble. Too many have bowed down to the American dollar or kissed the German Deutchmark and lost their precious calling and rich anointing.
Accountability is another very important thing I want to write about. We are accountable not only to God but also to men. While handling large sums of money received as contributions for the poor saints, Apostle Paul testified, "No one should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by usóproviding honourable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Cor 8:20,21). According to the civil law, all monies received as gifts, contributions or offerings must be accounted for and audited statements submitted to the Government. Any money thatís not accounted for is black money, and God does not accept it because He is light and thereís no darkness in Him. Donít evade tax where itís due (Rom 13:7).
Itís advisable to have an internal audit system also for your organisation. Be accountable to your fellow-workers and assistant pastors. Leave the responsibility of handling money with someone else who is not your relative. Though I was the founder-leader of the Blessing Youth Mission I voluntarily surrendered my legal rights for money and property transactions. I became free with an open Bible (Acts 6:1-4). Like any of the 300 missionaries in this organisation I just received my salary. We used our family funds for our special needs. Unless you are strict with yourself in this matter, and if you are the top leader or the chief pastor, your children will be spoilt. In the New Testament economy, a son or a daughter cannot simply inherit the ministry or the ministerial money or property of the parents.
Let us not justify ourselves of luxurious lifestyle saying that we are the sons and daughters of the King of kings. Do you know our King is radically different from other kings, and while on earth He rode lowly on a donkey? Only in future glory will He ride on horses! (Mt 21:5; Rev 19:11,14). Simple living goes with high thinking. Letís lower our standard of living to improve the standard of life of people. The unfortunate situation today is overfed shepherds and underfed sheep. Let us live simply so millions can simply live.
Printers and broadcasters complain that several preachers donít pay their bills promptly. One broadcaster showed me the nasty reply he received from a radio evangelist for the reminder sent to him for the payment of airtime cost. We go to such a level because we have ignored the Biblical principles of stewardship of money. When Elisha performed a material miracle for the widow of the prophet, he told her to first pay her debt and use the balance for her livelihood (2 Ki 4:7). It was in the context of payment of taxes and customs, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to owe no one anything (Rom 13:7,8). Even when Jesus didnít have enough money, He was serious about paying taxes (Mt 17:24-27).
We go to people with a detailed presentation of our financial needs when we need their contributions. Is it not then obligatory on our part to publish a report of income and expenditure at the end of each financial year? People may not demand it but they have a right to know. Missionary organisations, Bible Societies and well-structured ministerial agencies faithfully publish their financial statements. Why donít independent evangelists and preachers do the same? Come out of your apprehensions. You will experience a new freedom.
Let me close this letter with a searching question that burst forth from the very lips of our Master: "If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?" (Lk 16:11).