What Exactly is the Purpose of the Church

I was speaking recently with an associate who was telling me about the problems being encountered attempting to hold a silent auction for a local charity.  Although the person in charge was very experienced and skilled in auctions, he was not acquainted with the local area enough to understand how and why people think as they do.  He was attempting to get the people to place bids on brand new donated merchandise.  The people wanted to start the “bids” at a penny and work up to a dollar.  The problem was that the donated items sold for over $20 new in the stores.

Unfortunately, the people involved had a “yard sale” mentality and not a “fundraising” one.  In their minds, they were looking for a “bargain” not a means to donate to a cause.  The auction was a miserable failure due to the lack of understanding on the part of the audience as to auction’s purpose.  This whole situation brings up some interesting points to ponder.

Charities and organizations of all types have been doing silent auctions for years.  Groups that range from PBS to politicians to the local church, set aside an evening to have a dinner or banquet for the sole purpose of raising funds for their group, cause or the next year’s budget.  A key part of these events is the silent or active auctions.  It is understood (usually) that the purpose of the auction is to raise funds for the cause, group or event.  Most of the time, the winning bid on these items is many times more than the actual value of the article.

Recently Rush Limbaugh put a letter up for auction on eBay written by the leader of the Senate.  The letter, which had no actual value, fetched a couple million dollars for charity.  The purpose of an auction, when being conducted by a charity or service organization is to solicit donations to the cause.  It is that plain and simple.  If a $25 gift card is auctioned at a fundraiser, the STARTING price would usually be at least $40 or more.  That may seem unfair to some, but remember the purpose of the auction is to show support for the cause and not to get a “bargain”.

The reason there was a problem in this situation is found in the attitude of the people toward “giving”.  The people involved were from a black church in southern Mississippi.  These were faithful members of their local church who attend services every week, volunteer for various activities and make up the very backbone of the congregation.  They give on a regular basis to the church.

Generally speaking; the poorer the people, the greater the chance they attend a church where they have been taught that all giving is to be done to the church.  Sure, it is fine to drop a nickel in the red pot at Christmas time, but “giving” is to be limited to the tithes and offerings the minister is to receive and disperse at his or her discretion.  It is drilled into people’s minds that any giving that interferes with what they are supposed to give to the church is wrong and that any tithes have to be given to the church.

Now, if the church has an active outreach ministry that is helping the poor, the widows, the homeless, the elderly and disabled; then people should simply give to the church and be done.  But, if the church is limited to a couple of services on Sunday and possibly a prayer meeting on Wednesday; where are all the gifts and offerings being used?  Interesting how many of the “ministers” of these kinds of churches have closets full of designer suits, drive new Cadillac’s and eat out a fine restaurants on a regular basis.  All the while, the people doing the giving live in poverty, have one beat up old car and eat beans and rice.

When God designed the concept of “giving”, was it to provide wealth and excess for the “minister” in charge?  When God urges people to give throughout the Bible, is it to pad the bank accounts of “ministers” whose only duties are to preach a couple of sermons a week and perform a wedding or funeral occasionally?  Was the idea of giving only to support the priests, or was there a bigger purpose? 

Any government or governing agency needs resources to carry out its responsibilities.  The purpose of paying taxes was to provide income for the government to defend the country and provide for the general welfare of the citizens.  The purpose of tithes and offerings in a church are to provide the means to fund programs that benefit the congregation and facilitate outreach to others.  They also provide the means to maintain the building and the pastor’s residence.

Between 1976 and 1985 I worked “full time” as a minister for a non-denominational church group.  My “salary” ranged from $100 to $250 per month.  That’s right, PER MONTH.  Of course I was given a car to drive, a home to live in, utilities and gasoline paid for, clothing allowance, and a fund that covered most expenses that came up including medical expenses.   My “salary” was to pay for food and personal items, and for the most part it did. 

When I see ministers receiving salaries in excess of $100,000 per year; I cringe.  When I see large churches paying salaries to several ministers that add up to over a million dollars per year; I really cringe. When I see ministries taking in hundreds of millions of dollars per year and NOT being actively involved with missions and other outreach programs; I applaud the United States Senate for conducting an investigation.  Honestly, is the reason for ministering God’s love and Word supposed to be to make money or help people?

Far too many times a church will start accumulating a lot of money and instead of using it to help needy people; they inevitably use it to build a bigger and better church building.  Millions of dollars are then spent on designing and building a “mega church”, complete with basketball courts, coffeehouses and other facilities that look like good outreach ideas, but rarely do anything but provide entertainment for church members.  So the building is built and the new facility is in place.  The bank account is empty but for the moment the church has “bragging rights” to being the newest and biggest church in town.  Then the next church builds a bigger and better building, and so on. 

If a fraction of the money that is spent on new church buildings were spent on helping the poor, the elderly, widows and orphans, drug addicts and the homeless; then there would be no need for community outreach programs to do the job the church should be doing.  Reading, studying and talking about the Bible is all well and good, but without active works of charity; it is all vanity.  A church needs to reach out and help the poor and needy in their community, not sit in their plush pews once a week and pat themselves on the back for having the nicest building in town.

What is the purpose of having a church if it is not to provide a place of help, rest, resources and hope for those who are hurting, suffering, addicted and at their wits end?  In a recent disgusting phenomenon; far too many churches in America have turned into huge social clubs with no desire to drag into their pristine structures the lowly, dirty, homeless and suffering people off the street.  If a church is going to build a huge structure, then at least provide facilities for cooking meals for the hungry and not just to host fancy receptions for weddings.

In the book “Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches” by Dean R. Hoge, the entire subject of personal giving as well as church giving was studied thoroughly.  Among the many findings was that since the 1950’s,most Protestant churches have given less and less every year on missions and instead diverted more and more to local church matters.  This is plainly apparent when one looks at the structures, programs and salaries needed to keep a local church “in business”.  The sad reality of seeing where all the money goes is that most of it stays “in house” to support the house.

On average, most churches give less than 3% of their income to “missions”.  It is a truly a sad and disheartening fact to know that all the various projects, programs and people who care for the sick, poor, needy and dying are only worth 3 cents of every dollar given.  Obviously the “worth” of those who minister far exceeds the value of those being ministered to in many cases.  No doubt the “worth” of the structure is far greater than the people who might be helped by anything going on in that structure.

It has been estimated that if every church would give 10% of its income to missions, the world as we know it would never be the same.  If this were done, there would literally not be ONE SINGLE starving child left in the world.  Every single child could receive enough food daily to be healthy.  If all the churches did this, every country in the world could enjoy missionaries whose efforts were directed at helping and ministering to the needs of the people instead of constantly looking for funding.  If the churches all gave 10% to missions, there would be NO NEED for most not for profit charities.  The need would be met by the churches, where it is supposed to be.

Even in the most conservative of all denominations, the average amount given by those in the congregation is under 10%.  Despite all the sermons on tithing and endless appeals for more money for this project and that; most people still only give what they genuinely don’t need to their church.  If the church led the way and started giving 10% of its income to missions, then the people in the church would be inspired to give more themselves.  As it stands, amazingly, the percentage of giving by those in the church to the church is roughly equal to that which the church gives to those in need—3%.

If those who attend church on a regular basis only give about 3% of their income to the church, and these same people claim they have nothing left to give to other groups providing charity services; where exactly are these groups supposed to gain funding to do what the churches should have been doing to begin with?  If the church is not going to help those who cannot help themselves, and private groups cannot help due to lack of funding; that leaves the government to pick up the slack.

In a crazy case of extreme irony; the very people who will not take care of the poor end up paying to take care of them anyway through higher taxes.  So, which is it going to be?  Pay more and more money to the government to do yet another thing the church was supposed to do, or release more from church coffers to fund programs that genuinely help the disadvantaged.  Those are the choices and the way things are going, we can expect the government to pretty well take over all aspects of “charity” because the Christian churches are too busy building structures and hosting basketball games to go out and help a homeless person get back on his feet.

I pray the gentleman finds success in his next silent auction.  But I doubt if he will.  The funds that should go to charity inevitably end up in offering plates which pay to keep the church open for business.  It is truly sad that the “business” of the church cannot and many times does not include one of the very reasons for having a church to begin with.  


1 Response to “What Exactly is the Purpose of the Church”

  1. 1 Kevin Johnson
    December 22, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    You make an excellent point. How important it is for all who desire spiritual direction to closely scrutinize those who choose to be their guides under the revealing light of God’s Word the Bible.

    Jesus was not distracted by a pursuit of riches. As a result, he did not live a life of wealth. He did not even have his own home. On one occasion, he said: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Matthew 8:20) When Jesus died, the only recorded thing of value that he owned was the garment over which the Roman soldiers cast lots. (John 19:23, 24) While the Bible does not suggest a life of poverty, it paints a clear picture of the lifestyle for Christians.

    Jesus’ chief interest was in helping others spiritually. Shortly before his death, he told Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) While he took the lead in helping the poor, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, Jesus primarily trained his disciples to preach. (Matthew 10:7, 8) In fact, among his final instructions to them was the command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.

    Of course, preaching will not solve all the world’s problems. Yet, sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom with all sorts of people glorifies God because preaching accomplishes God’s will and opens the way to everlasting benefits for those who accept the divine message. (John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4)These benefits will provide the only true solution to all the woes of mankind.

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