We are called to participate in building the kingdom, not building barns or banks.
By Glen A Weber, U.S. Central Regional Support Team
I grew up on a wheat farm in southeast Wyoming. Every fall we would plant the winter wheat, pray for good weather, and harvest the crop in mid-summer. I remember driving the farm truck loaded with wheat to high school and dropping off the grain at the local grain buyer during my lunch hour. Of course, a very important part of our planning was storing enough seed in the barn to plant for the next year. Barns are essential for storing seed and farm equipment, but they are not the focus of the farm. Our focus was on the crop yield and providing for the family.
In the Gospels we have a parable about a farmer who missed this point and just kept building bigger barns. Let’s look at Jesus’ words recorded by Luke:
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”(Luke 12:16-21)
The farmer in Jesus’ parable was able to accumulate a lot of wealth. However, he was not focusing his wealth and life on God – his purpose and his plan.
What might this parable be saying to us in 2023?
Over the last couple decades many of our congregations have been able to save large sums of money because of the generosity of God’s people in supporting the work of the church. At the same time, many of our congregations have had significant losses in membership – due to members having the freedom to attend other churches or simply through the death of our aging members. My parents, for example, started attending in 1958 and were very generous, but they have both passed into the next life.
We now have a number of congregations with few people and large bank accounts. I would submit that in most cases, the hope was to “one day” be able to do something important with the money – buy a building or do engagement activities to reach people who don’t know Jesus yet. However, with our advanced ages, buildings are no longer practical for most because of the cost of upkeep, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses, and our energy levels have significantly decreased. Yet, we still have those funds. We have a lovely barn filled to the brim!
May I be real? Many of our very small congregations and even some of our larger ones (100 or so) in the U.S. have seemingly transitioned from being an active missional church to becoming a pseudo bank. The money donated by our members was for the preaching of the gospel and training future pastors and leaders. Is that happening? Might Jesus say the same to us that he did to the farmer who built more barns?
If we are sitting on a large barn and not actively using it for kingdom work, have we simply “prepared for ourselves?”
I remember shoveling wheat with my grandfather by hand from a barn into the truck to sell it so the money could be put to proper use. Is Jesus waiting for some pastors and treasurers to get out their shovels and repurpose their crop where it can be used now?
GCI is developing Ministry Training Centers (Oklahoma City and West Africa are the first two, with more planned), training interns and eventually pastoral residents. We are also looking at hiring new pastors who love Trinitarian theology, planting new churches (a few are in the process), and preaching the gospel through other resources. Are we ready to invest in those activities? Can we see the bigger picture of what Jesus is doing in GCI and allow our funds to make a difference for a new church or pastor? What a meaningful legacy for a small congregation that, because of advancing age or circumstances, may not have the energy to be as active locally as before.
I would suggest that the funds in our church accounts were given by members to preach the gospel through GCI, more than support some other charity, non-profit, or local project. Our GCI financial manual provides clear instruction and direction to keep us in line with the GCI mission and vision.
We don’t need large amounts of money to impact our local communities. Many of our churches on limited funds are making a difference. In October, six churches in the U.S. Central Region impacted more than 4,500 people just through their Trunk-or-Treat activities. Others across the nation and world are doing similar positive outreaches – and having new families attend – often on limited funds. If you are making a meaningful impact for Christ locally, I applaud your efforts and encourage you to keep going! If you find yourselves in a place where meaningful activity is no longer possible, please consider sharing extra funds in areas where meaningful movement is happening, and new people are learning about Jesus and the hope offered through him.
Is it time to proverbially get out our shovel, load the truck, and drive it to Home Office to invest extra funds in growth rather than CD’s? Is it time to read this parable again and ask Jesus where we stand? Is it time to evaluate how much we really need in reserves to smoothly carry on the GCI gospel activity in our neighborhoods, and use the excess to further Christ’s mission in a different field that may be white for harvest? I encourage you to speak with your Regional Director about where funds may be needed most in your region, or call the Home Office to discuss how you can support areas where the Holy Spirit is moving, and where resources may be needed to help fuel this activity.
We are in one of the most exciting times in GCI. Let’s make sure our resources are dedicated to our mission of Living and Sharing the Gospel.