Giving vs. Taking

The other day, I was looking at some services offered online by a non-profit organization. Some of their services were offered with a “suggested donation” and others had a “required donation” attached to them.

So what’s the deal with a “required donation”? If it’s required, then it’s not a donation, is it?

There’s a huge difference between me giving something to you and you taking something from me, and changing the name does not change the reality. Calling my required payment a “donation” does not make it a voluntary payment any more than calling my one-ton dually truck an “economy car” will improve its gas mileage

Both are appropriate at times, by the way. For my 2-year old daughter, demanding my attention may be appropriate. There’s an argument that can be made that a government is within its rights demanding taxes. A church “demanding” an offering is not the same thing. Or if a street beggar demands a donation from me, that’s called robbery, and we have a real problem.

Since I’m always writing about church life, what’s the application here? It’s this: There’s a huge difference between me asking politely and then waiting for God to give something to me, versus my pulling on it and “taking it violently and by force.” It seems that both can be supported biblically.

Since this blog is about the Church, here are two examples of the challenge of “giving vs. taking” that I’ve encountered in Church life recently.

First, there are times that the church embraces “taking” when we should invite “giving.” Some examples:

· I’m part of a leadership team at my church. Not long ago, the leader started something that was a fine idea, but she required the team members to volunteer for it. I’m sorry, but if you require it, then it’s not possible for me to volunteer. You have taken something I would have willingly given, and in taking it, you have stolen from me the opportunity for me to exercise generosity.

· How many churches do you know that get a little carried away when recruiting volunteers, particularly for the office of Sunday School Teacher? Sometimes the recruiting process gets pretty heavy-handed, or is exchanged – like political favors – for rights and responsibilities in the church. (If you have not been part of this in your church, give thanks for godly leadership!)

· Offerings. While many (most?) churches treat this biblically, there are some instances – most visibly, perhaps, on Christian TV – where the “opportunity to give” becomes a compulsion. This, of course, is specifically proscribed in Scripture, but it remains a common practice, particularly when budgets are tight at Church.

Second, there are times that we’re more caught up in asking politely when we should be forcibly taking something. Some examples:

· The most famous example is in Matthew: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” I’m not going to attempt exegesis on the passage, except to note that in some circumstances involving the kingdom of heaven, violence and force are appropriate.

· Jacob is an example of someone who forcibly demanded something of God:

Genesis 32:24-29

24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks."

But he said,"I will not let You go unless You bless me!"

27 So He said to him, "What is your name?"

He said, "Jacob."

28 And He said,"Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed."

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray."

And He said,"Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there.

· I love the example of Elisha: “He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.”

· I’d have to add times where we’re praying about subjects where God has already revealed His will. If God has promised. If God has – hypothetically speaking, of course – promised Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”, then mamby-pamby or pleading prayers are not appropriate. God has promised clearly to provide for you. If that’s not happening, then you and I have a right to get in His face about it.

We as sons and daughters of the Most High need to learn to be clear in our communication. If we are asking for something, then “No” is an acceptable answer, and this is the kind of communication we need to be using with each other. But if “No” is not an acceptable answer, then asking politely is probably not appropriate: there are times to exhibit violence and force, though these are probably not appropriate with human beings; rather let us become violent in laying hold of the (unimaginably great) blessings that God has promised.


Correcting Error with Truth

There are several ways in which the church has walked in an out-of-balance position for a long time. 

For the sake of discussion, let’s take a very old position from the dark ages: there once was a day that it was considered doctrine that the only person who could read the Bible or understand the truths it contained was the pastor (called the “priest” in those days). It was one of the things that were addressed in the Reformation. 

It is true enough to acknowledge that some people are more gifted in understanding and teaching doctrinal truth (they’re called “pastors” and “teachers” often enough); it’s just heresy to say that they’re the only ones qualified.

I’m not going to talk this subject; I’m using the subject as an illustration about the process of correcting error.

Think of a pendulum: we’ve been way off-center in some areas, and we’ve been off for a very long time, and it’s time to come back to truth. In our pre-reformation example, there was a truth (that pastors [“priests”] who have studied the Bible for years might understand it better than those reading it for the first time) that was taken to an unhealthy extreme position (that it was actually a sin for a non-priest to read the Bible or teach doctrine).

They were way off-center in their approach to the Word, and that heresy needed to be corrected. That which was in a very improper position must be brought back to its proper position, which is often a position of balance. In this example, the priesthood of all believers must be balanced with the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church.

The process of this correction is our topic today. There are at least two means of correcting such an error:

1) We can present the correct truth in the proper balance, and hope that those who are seriously out of balance will recognize the truth and repent (change their mind) to embrace the truth. Or

2) We can present the correct truth in the opposite over-emphasis, contrasting to the previous – and erroneous – over-emphasis. Hopefully, an over-emphasis in one direction (in this example, the priesthood of all believers) will counter-balance the previous over-emphasis (the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church).

So the net result of the two options are:

1) If we present the balanced truth, it's heard and received in the context of the error of centuries (“the teacher is gifted to present doctrinal truth more than those not similarly gifted and trained”) and serves only to bump the listener's understanding a tiny bit closer to center: they've had years (or centuries) of error, and ONE statement that's properly balanced won't fix their understanding. Or

2) We over-emphasize the opposite truth (“Every believer must read the Word and learn from God directly”), in hopes that when it's heard in the context of years of error, it will bring people to a balanced perspective after the dust settles. The drawbacks are that:

a) It requires people to think for themselves, which is a sketchy proposition at best, and

b) it relies on teaching one error in order to correct an opposite error.

It seems to me that pastors and teachers will typically only see the first option ("present it in balance"), while prophets and apostles typically tend to see the second option more easily ("emphasize the opposite truth"). 

In reality, I suspect that God is more interested in the truth being presented, rather than the details of how it's presented. He's going to take our words – whatever words we use – and shape them with the Holy Spirit anyway. Ultimately, it is Jesus who has said, “I will build My Church” and it is not primarily my responsibility. Perhaps the greatest error is taking responsibility ourselves – taking it from Him – to build His Church in a way that pleases us.


Some Thoughts about Leadership in the Church

I’ve studied the subject of leadership for decades. It’s a fascinating study. There are many people, many studies, that can tell you what makes someone a good leader instead of a poor one, and why these leadership techniques work better than those techniques.
One of the more interesting subjects is the study of what makes a person a natural leader. Some say that it requires an outgoing personality, except that there are people who are not the least bit outgoing who are incredible leaders, and there are outgoing individuals - some of whom aspire to leadership - who are really poor leaders (many of these live in Hollywood or Washington DC).
Some say that the defining hallmark of a natural leader is the willingness to give useful directions to others. Well, in some people, that is a sign of a leader, but in others, it’s a sign of an insecure control freak whom nobody willingly follows. They have no followers.
Followers: that’s the only real sign of a leader that scholars have settled on: a leader is someone whom people follow. They may be charismatic or withdrawn, they may be good communicators or not, they may be organized or overwhelmed by the details of their life. They may or may not have education or position of power, but they have influence. There are some people whom folks follow naturally, and there are others that have to work to be effective at leading, but true leaders have people following them.
John MacArthur says that if you think you’re leading, but nobody is following, then you’re really only out taking a walk.
In the book of Romans, Paul describes a gift of leadership. I have noticed that some senior pastors have that gift of leadership and others do not. Some pastors have people crowding around them, trying to find helpful ways to follow them, while others find recruiting volunteers is like pulling teeth: people are not following them, no matter whether they hold a leadership position or not.
A brief digression in the interest of a balanced story: if God has withheld the leadership gift, then He has given others: teaching or pastoring are often given in its place. And it seems apparent that there are some senior pastors who are not actually called by God to that position, and therefore may not be gifted to do the work that He has not assigned.
I’ve known men and women who seem to be called to leadership in the church, but who struggle in that responsibility. Have you ever gone for a walk with a cat: they’re like that cat: always watching you to see which way you’re going to go, and then scurrying to get in front of you, no matter which way you go. These “leaders” always watching the church to see where they’re going, then they declare, “We’re going to go this way,” as they see the church already going this way. They don’t have a real voice, only an echo.
The challenge comes in that some of these folks have a large gathering of followers. The sad part is not that they have followers, but that they don't know where to lead those followers.
By contrast, others seem to have no difficulty staying out in front. They seem to know what’s coming around the corner before others, and are preparing those who follow them for God’s next move.
I’ve been reflecting on that question: what makes leadership work in the Church for these people. Is there something about those who seem to know the path instinctively that’s markedly different than those who struggle to find their direction?
I think there is: those who lead naturally and comfortably usually have developed the lifestyle of feeding themselves spiritually, and those who seem to be called to leadership but have difficulty leading pretty consistently depend on others to feed their spirits.
Since this vocabulary is not real common to the church today, let me illustrate it. In 1 Corinthians 3:2, Paul says, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it.” Paul had to feed the believers in Corinth; more than that, he had to feed them baby food. They needed Paul to feed them because they could not feed themselves.
What did he feed them? I’m glad you asked that.
A few chapters later, Paul declares: “I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” Paul was able to draw nourishment directly from God – whether from the Word or from his prayer, or from experiences like the one where he “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” In one way or another, Paul was able to draw revelation from the heart of God, to digest it, and to nourish not only his own spirit, but to nourish the many churches that he fathered. Heck, half of the books in the New Testament came from Paul drawing nourishment from the presence of God!
From the nourishment we draw from Father, we can feed those whom we lead. We will have the wisdom and strength to shepherd the flock of God; we’ll know the direction that God is heading so we will have both opportunity and resources to equip the flock to go there with Him; we’ll have confidence we’re living and moving in His will because we’ll know it from Him. We’ll be strong and fresh and confident in proportion to our ability to nourish ourselves directly from Him. This is the nourishment we draw from Him.
There is certainly nothing wrong with benefiting from the revelation of others. We are even instructed to “encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We must both encourage and be encouraged by, instruct and be instructed by others in the Body.
But if we aspire to be effective leaders in among the Body of Christ, then we must draw near the Head of the Body. Unless we are able to feed ourselves, we will never be able to feed those whom we are leading, pastoring and teaching. Unless we are well connected to the Head, we will not be able to lead the Body.