End the Struggle between Ministry and Money
I felt I never had enough…until I discovered a powerful secret
“Too much ministry; not enough money!”
That’s how one pastor replied when asked about the biggest hurdle in the relationship between ministry and money. I agree. Or I did in the past. I have stumbled over that same hurdle, but now I am careful to avoid it, having discovered a secret.
That secret, however, first revealed a greater hurdle that exists in the relationship between ministry and money: me.
My start in ministry was probably similar to yours: obedience to the call, commitment to serve God and people, willingness to sacrifice. Whatever it took, I was in. I’d find myself happily and sincerely singing lyrics like…
“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
“Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.”
“All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give…I surrender all!”
As years went by, however, something slow and sinister began occurring: My call became less compliant, being bullied by comparison and envy; my commitment to serve God and people grew weaker, thanks to complaining; and the sacrifice I once offered freely now teetered precariously on the altar as self-pity climbed up beside it.
Have you, like me, ever wondered, Why are we working so hard and still struggling financially? Is this worth it, all this involvement in ministry without making or having enough money?
If I would have been careful, I would have discovered the secret to the relationship between ministry and money sooner. Certainly, some in ministry have already discovered this secret, while others have not.
Until it is discovered, those in ministry risk further struggles like coveting, making comparisons, bitterness, and being easily offended. They wish for what others have (building? salary? staff?). They compare their success, or lack thereof, to others. They become resentful toward people for not giving financially like they should or can. They are easily offended by…almost everything.
A complication to the relationship between ministry and money is a weakened economy. How many times has the work of ministry required more hours, more activities, yet with lesser amounts in the offering? That was our case; our ministry work was increasing while our support was decreasing.
This problem of too much ministry and not enough money was a hurdle, and it was directly in front of me. I tripped over it, falling onto the slippery slope nearby, where complaints and tears were muddy accomplices. Weariness, loneliness, and loss gave further momentum to my downward slide. I landed in a heap of self-pity that threatened to replace the sacrifice on the altar of my heart.
Too often we blame the problem for the problem; we blame the ministry, the money, or both. I did that, failing to see that the biggest hurdle wasn’t money or the ministry; it was me—namely, my attitude.
What’s worse, I overlooked an important truth: that my life and ministry are shaped by attitudes that constantly influence those around me; a negative attitude bleeds out, staining those under me or around me, whereas a positive one sows into others, reaping changes that may flourish merely from my example.
Look around and you’ll see how often churches mirror the personality and character of their pastor, whether positively or not so positively. This is especially true in the relationship between money and ministry: a generous pastor typically ends up with a higher percentage of generous people, and a miserly pastor ends up with a higher percentage of miserly people.
In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer said, “Abraham had everything, yet possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret…the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation.”
One day, falling headfirst over the money/ministry hurdle, I plunged into depression. I felt sorry for myself and was greatly discouraged over our finances. Something had to change; someone had to help get rid of every hurdle. And he did.
As I knelt in prayer, tearfully offering God my ugly attitudes and frustrations over money and ministry, he mercifully led me back to the place of cleansing and healing. It is the place where we allow his gentle hands to remove the deeply penetrating talons of stuff, money, and possessions from the flesh of our hearts. It is the place of rededication to the lordship of Christ.
That is the secret.
Whether our economic situation is abundant or scarce is not the issue. Whether our ministry is thriving or struggling because of economy is not the issue. Rather, the condition of hearts is what matters.
Abraham was willing to sacrifice his promised gift because his heart was dedicated first to the Lord. The Macedonians mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:5, who were poverty-stricken yet generous and knew something about the relationship between money and ministry, were willing to give abundantly because “their first action was to give themselves to the Lord.”
My hurdles are gone. The struggle between money and ministry is over, as it no longer matters how much of either I have. This secret is not safe with me. I will share it with anyone who is stumbling over those same hurdles…perhaps even you.
But I confess I’m also keeping the secret close by, in case those hurdles pop up again.
Ilona Hadinger, together with her husband and children, has served 17 years as a missionary to the Ethnic/Indigenous People of Mexico. She is a credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God, blogs at www.ikhadinger.com, and is a contributing author to Tortilla Press.