Focus Article – Three Little Churches: A Cautionary Tale (Sabbath Recorder, January 2017)

Once upon a time, I took trip to do some ministry work in an economically challenged developing world country. While there I met another man on mission named Brian Winzenried. Brian shared that he made regular visits to the land where I was visiting and the focus of his ministry was discipling life application of fundamental Biblical principles. The materials he used were organized and developed several years ago by Crown Financial Ministries to help Christians around the world free themselves from financial slavery. The curriculum included modules emphasizing topics like honesty, integrity, and stewardship: areas that have application in a believer’s walk much more broadly than just the handling of money.

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Brian relayed an experience he had undergone only a few months before. He told of visiting three separate congregations in the span of just a couple of weeks. With each congregation he made clear that even as a foreign visitor he had only come to provide training and would be making no donations to the local church or their leadership. Actually, he would share his testimony with the congregation at no cost, but he had been trained to receive a small fee (50¢) for each person for each day of his three-day course. This was usually received with some skepticism, since he was coming from an economically influential country, but would be charging several coins for the lessons he gave.

The first Church that he visited was a home-grown Christian ministry with little or no international support. They built their own worship facilities and supported their own mission. As with all the congregations that he visited, he offered to provide some after-session training with DVD support. The congregation would only need to provide the electrical generator and fuel to run his projector and player. The students responded and scraped together the funds needed for a gallon of fuel and procured a generator.

The second Church he visited had their church building built by others and they built their own parsonage and classrooms. When offered the DVD lessons, they could come up with the fuel, but begged that he provide the generator. He would not relent, so they did not get the extra training.

The third Church was completely funded by external support. The facilities were all provided and even their mission work was subsidized by foreign contributors. When told they would need to arrange for the fuel and generator, the offer was politely declined. His perception of their shallow spiritual state was emphasized by the leaders of the third Church also charging him $3.00 in order for him to sleep on the concrete roof of their worship hall the last night as their idea of hospitality.

Not only did this narrative act as a warning to me of the dangers of facilitating an unhealthy ministry environment, but it also served as a reminder that we each can expect our own faith to deepen in relationship to how much we invest in what we say we believe. As we consider these Churches, we have to evaluate which Church best reflects our attitudes towards the Body of Christ. Am I in the 80% that gathers to receive a blessing or in the 20% that comes to be a blessing?

Ultimately, I need to consider not “what is the easiest way for me?” but, “what does the greatest good for those to whom we are ministering?” This includes developing world churches, our local church, even our family members. The whole account is just another

reminder that none of us should be approaching our relationships, our ministries, our education, our work — our life — like it is about us.

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Clinton R. Brown – Executive Director, SDB Missions

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