By Don McFarlane
When tempted to promote the church in ways that are more appropriate to commercial enterprises, I am usually reminded that while the church can and should be run according to sound business principles, the primary responsibility of leaders is to care for the believers God has entrusted to them. They are precious, not on account of an organizational label or an elevated self-definition, but because they have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus. In this brief article, I will share four “shepherding” principles that when embraced by church leaders, are likely to lead to a more giving and generous church.
Care and Love of Members
One can sense the tenderness and love in Jesus’ words in John 10:27: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (NKJV). Christian shepherding at its core has to do with the manner in which leaders relate to members. It is not a doctrinal or transactional thing; it’s relational. If members are seen merely as a source of resources that can be tapped for whatever projects the leaders conceive, they will soon develop resistance to the leadership’s appeals. Experience has taught that an ever-present danger for pastors, evangelists, and local church leaders is the temptation to act more like unprincipled salespeople than shepherds in “serving” the church. There are many good salespeople who are ethical in their work, but there are others who will use just about any strategy, including shame, fear, guilt, and false or misleading promises, to get people to buy their goods or services.
Christ calls church leaders to love their members at all costs. On the surface, this sounds hackneyed, but it is true. Members are likely to tolerate an average preacher, or even a poor one, but they will seldom accept a leader who does not really care about them. A spiritual leader’s genuine care for his or her flock is fundamental to members’ sense of belonging, worth, and connectedness. Caring means that leaders are with their members in their celebratory and joyful events as well as in adversity. Caring takes time, but that is what good shepherds and good leaders do. That is what Jesus did. “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance” (Mark 8:2, 3, NASB).
Fine music, attractive buildings, and inspiring preaching are all desirable, but they are not the reason for the church’s existence. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942–1944, is purported to have said, “The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This statement, or variations of it, seem to irritate some church members, particularly those who see the church as a place where they are able to indulge their religious fantasies or socialize with like-minded members. Visiting a small church one Sabbath in the South England Conference, I spent the afternoon speaking with its members about the need to reach out to the community and share the gospel in practical and exciting ways. When I concluded my presentation, I was shocked by their reaction. In short, they said, “We are happy as we are; we know everyone here, and we are comfortable with each other. We wouldn’t know how to relate to new people coming into the church.” My heart sank, but at least they were honest.
Passion for the mission of the church and active engagement with the community in itself has a strong appeal to members. In my current church, members are usually excited to support any outreach to the community with their time, energy, and means. Having mission-driven programs at every level of the church is fundamental to members giving, not only faithfully and generously, but also sacrificially.
Openness and Accountability
There is an active Home Owners Association in the community where I live. I am required to pay monthly dues of $60.00 to the association. This goes toward maintenance of the community swimming pool, the tennis court, and other shared facilities. At the end of each year, I get a detailed statement from the association of how every dollar received during the course of the year was spent. Although I seldom go through this document line by line, receiving it makes me feel valued by the association. Its officers regard me as a stakeholder.
Church members are also stakeholders. In my local church, members are not impressed with the idea that their duty is to return their tithe and give their offerings to the church, yet not be concerned about their use. I cringe each time I hear this view expressed by church leaders. Serving as president of the South England Conference back in the 1990s, with Victor Pilmoor as treasurer, we embarked on a campaign of transparency with our church members about how the funds of the conference were being used. This included the publication of the financial statement in the conference’s newsletter on an ongoing basis. Something remarkable happened at the first constituency meeting during this period of openness. After the treasurer presented his report and the chair opened the floor for questions, not one person among the hundreds of delegates present went to the microphone to ask a question on the finances. Finance is one of the subjects at a constituency meeting that attract most questions, but delegates knew almost as much about the finances of the conference as the officers did, so there was no need for questions. The strong financial performance of the South England Conference, which has continued to the present time, has much to do with its emphasis on openness and accountability.
Promote Giving as Partnership With God
Growing up in Jamaica and later living in the United Kingdom, I often saw signs on businesses that suggested a partnership between parents and children: Hanna and Sons, Ltd.; W. Stephens & Sons. John says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB). As His sons and daughters, God has invited us to join Him in His primary business, which is saving the human family from sin’s eternal consequences. When He invites His children to return tithes and support the ministries of the church with their offerings, He is providing them with an opportunity to be involved in the most important and far-reaching enterprise there is. It’s the leader’s duty to get members excited about this partnership. What an honor to have been invited by God as a partner in salvation!
“God planned the system of beneficence in order that man might become like his Creator, benevolent and unselfish in character, and finally be partakers with Christ of the eternal glorious reward” (Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship,p. 15).
Faithfulness and generosity in a congregation do not result from constant appeals from the pulpit to give more or give consistently. They are the product of showing our members the face of God through care and compassion, keeping the mission of the church central in the plans and programs of the church, treating each member as a stakeholder, and emphasizing the divine-human partnership in the “salvation business.”