Something new in our giving & teaching at Barneys

By the grace of our God, the generosity of our congregation has marvellously supplied the needs of Barneys and the partners that we support. As a result, total giving is ahead of target, which is a huge answer to prayer.

That said, we are going to make some changes to the collection of giving on Sundays. Here are some key points:

  • Around 97% of our giving comes in electronically. The remainder is in cash, with a few larger gifts on Sundays, but mostly bits and pieces.
  • Few of us reliably keep the kind of cash on us that would make for generous and godly giving. A member of our church pointed this out to me this week – he said that if he only gave what he had in his wallet, he wouldn’t give remotely near a generous amount!
  • The Barneys community believe in generosity, but we also believe we give 4x what we actually do. A survey earlier this year indicated that our community reports giving $4.5 million to the church each year, compared to less than $1 million actually received.
  • Research indicates that ‘giving inflation’ is associated with cash and ad hoc electronic giving. In other words, in the Western world, people who put cash in the basket on a Sunday, or make occasional electronic transfers, tend to be surprised if they discover how little they really give. Obviously, there are exceptions.
  • Jesus teaches more about money than anything else. Jesus, I take it, doesn’t have church budget, and doesn’t pay staff. But he taught more about giving than any other topic. The problem is that there is often a bit of murkiness at church: is the pastor preaching about money like Jesus, or is he preaching about money like someone who needs to keep the lights on?

With all this in mind, we’re going to try something a little different.

Firstly, in a few weeks, we will stop collecting money in our services for the purpose of supporting the church ministry and partnerships.

Secondly, we will stop talking about ‘how our giving is going’ in general church services. We will continue to publish the details in these emails, so you know where we are at and can pray about it.

Thirdly, we will plan to teach on giving twice per year in two blocks of two weeks, during which time we will talk about giving to Barneys. At two other times in the year we will talk in services about church membership in general, which will include (but in no way focus upon) giving. As giving comes up in other bible passages as we work through biblical books, we won’t avoid it, but we won’t discuss our church budget. My aim is to ensure we can focus on giving as a foundational Christian virtue, without getting caught up in issues of church budget.

Fourthly, we will encourage the congregation in our giving teaching blocks, and generally, to move to automatic, scheduled, electronic giving, where possible. For those who absolutely must use cheques or cash, there will be a new, secure Everything Box mounted on a pedestal at the rear of church.

Fifthly – and this really excites me – from time to time we will conduct a collection in church for a particular need or charity beyond our church. In the Anglican tradition, the collection in the service has mainly been of ‘alms and oblations’ for the ‘sick, poor and impotent [powerless]’, who are to be ‘sought out and… relieved’ (from the 1662 prayer book). We will advise by announcement or email the week beforehand or more so that members can set aside funds for this purpose, if they so wish.

I’m hoping that there will be a number of important things that come of this. It seems to me that, just as we don’t ask growth group leaders if they will minister to their groups in the coming week, so we ought not to ask Christians each week if they will give to support their church. To me this seems to diminish the dignity of the Christian person and their capacity to exercise faithful generosity. I hope that it will allow us to give spontaneously to some really wonderful projects without blurring that giving with our church budget. I think that it will help non-yet-Christians to feel welcome and clear about their role in church.

And I hope that it will help many Christians move to a prayerful, thoughtful and generous habit of giving that reflects what they already believe to be true of themselves.

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The Mars Hill crash & me

The last 12 months have been devastating for Mars Hill Church in Seattle and their globally recognised teaching pastor, Mark Driscoll. Numerous former and present pastors, elders and members have described the church culture as abusive and manipulative, and criticised a process of concentration of extraordinary power among very few hands, including the power to silence employees.

Famously, Mark has described the process of dealing with those who do not buy into the Mars Hill vision:

“Here’s what I’ve learned. You cast vision for your mission, and if people don’t sign up, you move on. You move on. There are people that are gonna die in the wilderness, and there are people that are gonna take the hill. That’s just how it is. Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff necked, stubborn, obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done…. ‎You either get on the bus, or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options. But the bus ain’t gonna stop.”

As a result, the Mars Hill story has become a byword for the dangers of allowing untested young pastors with strong convictions and dominant personalities to exercise senior church leadership in the absence of effective oversight.

Now, I’m not really interested in talking much more about Mars Hill. There is much of Mark Driscoll’s ministry for which I am unashamedly thankful. There are other parts that I’d rather not have seen. However, it isn’t my job to offer commentary on third-hand insights into the inner life of the church.

What interests me – interests, that is, in the sense of morbid fascination and regretful reflection – is this question: how much of this is true of me?

(By the way, I’m fully aware of the incipient narcissism of this piece – I’ve just said that I don’t want to talk about them, I’d rather talk about me. Sorry. Guilty as charged.)

I am a relatively young pastor, or at least I was when I became the senior minister of St Barnabas Broadway, one of Sydney’s most iconic churches. My gifts don’t hold a candle to Mark’s; nor, however, have I had some of the same charges levelled at me. But I do hold strong reformed convictions. I am fairly driven, and have little time for liberalism or wooly-headedness. And I have made decisions that have hurt members of my church. I am prone to spin. I often shortcut important processes. I have a tendency to drive others towards my preferred outcomes without truly hearing their concerns.

And although I don’t resile from any of the hard choices I have made over the last few years, I don’t think I’m quite the white hat I’ve always believed.

I catch up regularly with a bunch of other young ministers, many of them church planters, and this theme is depressingly common. We have been tasked with starting new churches or revitalising old ones. Our relative youth has been named as a source of energy, and our strong convictions as a source of change. Some of us can point to significant conversions and growth. And yet all of our churches – as far as I’m aware – have balls of hurt, disappointment or resentment. The decisions we have made, and the way in which we have made them, have led to people leaving our churches, or just disappearing in them. And we are the source of this, too. In other words, there are ‘dead bodies’ behind our buses, too.

And it’s beginning to dawn on me that I don’t know how to lead a church where this isn’t true. And that’s really sad. And worst of all, the line between me and a Mars Hill sometimes seems a little hard to pin down.