Building His Church
A MATTER OF THE HEART
Relationship is the underlying motivation to faithfulness.
by Don McFarlane
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So declared Jesus in Matthew 6:21. This is a precept that has stood the test of time, not only in spiritual matters, but also in every aspect of life. However, the converse is equally true: “Where the heart is, there will your treasure be also.”
In 2004, Golda Bechal died and left her entire estate, valued at approximately $15 million to Kim Sing Man and his wife, Bee Lian Man. The Mans were the owners of a Chinese restaurant in Witham, Essex, in the United Kingdom. Golda Bechal had several nieces and nephews to whom she could have left her massive fortune, but she chose to leave it to the Mans, because, in her opinion, they were the only ones who truly cared about her. They were her friends. The Mans visited her every Sunday after her husband passed away, and she became like a member of their own family. Mr. Man regularly made her a dish that she enjoyed. Mrs. Bechal felt drawn to the Mans; there was an emotional attachment to them, an attachment that she didn’t feel she had with her own relatives. So, she left her money to people whom she loved and whom she felt loved her. She put her treasure where her heart was.
People are usually willing to give their resources to whatever and whomever they feel connected to. When members feel an emotional attachment to their church, they will also put their treasure where their heart is. That treasure may come in the form of their time, their influence, their giftedness, or their money. Often appeals for help with various ministries or for more funds to make improvements to the church building or the church’s program seem to fall on deaf ears. This is largely because such appeals strike our members as being predicated upon obligation and duty as opposed to love for Christ and love for the church, partnership, and mission. While duty and obligation have their place, often they do not yield much and are not a sustainable basis on which to give to the church and to the work of God. This approach often elicits a grudging attitude toward giving. Paul understood this when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (NIV).
Ellen White agrees with Paul in saying, “The offering from the heart that loves, God delights to honor, giving it highest efficiency in service for him. If we have given our hearts to Jesus, we also shall bring our gifts to Him. Our gold and silver, our most precious earthly possessions, our highest mental and spiritual endowments, will be freely devoted to Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 65.
So, what can church leaders do to ensure that what the church experiences is a matter of the heart, that members have an emotional relationship with the church and the Lord of the church, and in so doing, are willing to give of themselves and their means, not because they have to but because they want to? Here are two important and practical measures that leaders can take:
People are usually willing to give their resources to whatever and whomever they feel connected to.
Church leaders must be excited about what Christ is doing in their own lives and in the lives of others. This must be a constant feature in their personal interactions with members and in their utterances from the pulpit. They should be among those who are always testifying about God’s providential hand in their lives. When spiritual leaders are effervescent about God’s work in their lives and in the world, their attitude becomes contagious; members become “infected” and feel that they are a part of something special and big. The converse is equally true: Church leaders who merely go through the motions and show no excitement about being Christ’s disciples inevitably foster the same attitude on the part of members. Members will not be excited about Jesus and His kingdom unless we model that excitement. A church leader whose face “shines” with the presence of Christ and whose manner radiates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a compelling and inspiring instrument in the hand of God.
Church members must experience the ongoing care of leaders. Just as the Man family visited Mrs. Bechal continually, church leaders should visit those in their spiritual care on a regular basis. In Acts 20:28, Paul says to the Ephesian elders: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (NIV). Not all visits need to be done in the home. A visit can be done over lunch at a restaurant, chatting over the telephone, sending a card or an e-mail. What is important is that we are in touch with our members on a regular basis.
In a survey on member visitation conducted in January 2018 at Sligo Church, near Washington, D.C., by its head elder, Erwin Mack, the following preferences for contact of members by church leaders (pastors and elders) were expressed by respondents:
These figures tell us that despite the fact that the majority of members do not necessarily wish to be visited at home, they still expect their leaders to keep in touch with them, and in so doing demonstrate the caring face of the church. None of the members who participated in the survey wanted to be ignored.
Shepherding requires closeness to the sheep, who in our case are our members. This closeness cannot be accomplished merely by seeing the members at the worship service on Sabbath. Visiting our members on a regular basis, whatever the form of visitation, is an expression of the church’s care and concern for each member. More important, it is an expression of the care that Jesus takes of His people. “Pastoral visitation recognizes that God calls us to care for one another and to model the type of care that God gives. When one is ill, hospitalized, institutionalized, or shut in, ministers or elders visit the individual or family to listen, to care and to attempt to embody and share the love that God has for each person” (Elisa Harris).
In my former life as a conference president, it was instructive to see how giving increased or decreased in a church or pastoral district in response to the quality of leadership provided. Studying the giving patterns of a number of churches over a period of time, my fellow officers and I discovered that giving always decreased under the leadership of a particular pastor, whichever church he was placed in; while in the case of another pastor, giving always increased wherever he went. The difference lay not in the pastors’ ability in the pulpit but in the quality of care provided to the members. Members who felt loved and cared for by their pastor were motivated to give more of themselves, their time, and their means to the church; those who felt neglected and uncared for gave less. Elders have an important responsibility in working with their pastor to show the caring face of our Lord to their members.
Of course, the care of our members should not be undertaken for the motive of swelling the income of the church; it should be done for the sake of Jesus and for the love that we have for our members. A natural outgrowth of this Jesus-leader–member heart connection is usually a generous response in giving oneself, one’s time, and one’s means to build God’s kingdom. It is a matter of the heart!