This week, we had dinner with some pastor friends of ours and we caught a glimpse of how the disciples must have felt on the Emmaus Road as Jesus was talking and they had felt their “hearts burning within” them (Lk 24:32). I think that’s the sense you get when a vision that has captured you is finally articulated and given “legs” (so to speak) and made real and practical.
Our pastor friend was sharing how in a church he had previously pastored, they had just done the tithes and offerings. After counting the collection, he said to his staff team, “do you believe this is God’s money?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“Well,” my friend said, “I believe God wants to give it back this week to the people in the church who are in need.”
“But traditionally, the communion week is when our offering is the biggest, and if we lose this week’s offering, we won’t make our church’s monthly budget.”
My friend looked his team in the eye and issued the challenge: “If this idea is truly of God, then God will help us meet the budget. If He does, will you promise me to be open to obeying the Lord, even if it means doing something we are not used to? And if we don’t meet the budget, then I will never ask us to do anything like this again.”
The leaders conferred and reluctantly agreed.
At the end of the service, the pastor put all the offering onto a table at the front of the church and he told the congregation that if they were really in need, they could come up to the front and take money for themselves. As a warning though, he told them that they could lie to people and to him, but they couldn’t lie to God. But, if the need was real, then they were welcome to take from the collection.
People from the congregation came up to the front, with tears streaming down their faces. That week, God used His very own people to supply the answer to prayer. It was like the book of Acts when the disciples sold everything and distributed it according to those who had need. In those days, they didn’t have budgets and sophisticated accounting systems – just obedience, faith, passion and a sense of justice and equality.
I’m not saying that our advances in technology and methodologies are necessarily wrong – but we should always hold them up to the mirror of the Word and be ready to obey the prompting of the Spirit.
What happened to my pastor friend? Well, miraculously, that month, the church met its budget twice over.
It was a salutary lesson in faith and obedience.
And when I came home after our dinner, I could not stop thinking about what my pastor friend had shared. Ling and I kept talking about it even as we lay in bed. Our hearts were burning within us.
And I thought – now, that’s doing church radically. That’s revolutionary faith.