Posted by: Heather | July 22, 2010

The Spiritual Soil Tester…

Galatians 6:7  Be not deceived; God is not mocked:  for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

A friend of mine posted a newspaper article on Facebook the other day.  It was a very enlightening piece, although quite disturbing.  A church here in my hometown is having problems that have become public.  Church problems are nothing new.   I figure all churches have them now and again.  But, what distinguished this one from most is that the situation has escalated to the point that some of the members have felt compelled to sue the pastor and some of the other key elders of the church.

The problem is that the ‘higher-ups’ in the church have refused to allow open disclosure of the finances to its members.  This situation has come to the place that the ‘higher-ups’ have put security in place to keep those that are questioning away…not even allowing them to come to services. Those that filed the lawsuit claim their only intention is to see the books, because they feel they’re being deceived about how the money is being spent.  Apparently, they feel they have reason to believe the pastor is taking more money than he originally agreed to be paid, among other ‘perks’ that the general membership knows nothing about.

When you’re in a position to counsel people, you hear all sorts of problems.  Most are personal, but some are corporate.  All can do their damage if left unresolved.   But, sometimes the corporate church problems people deal with can be the most devastating…mostly because they tear at a whole congregation of people, instead of just a few.   They seem more massive in scale because of this, I suppose.

Planting and harvest is a principle we see all throughout scripture.  Gen 8:22 tell us:  While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. Sowing and reaping will happen, from the beginning of time until the return of Jesus.

In preparing for a future crop, there are many elements to consider.  But, there are two things you must have if you expect to grow a plant; a seed and soil.  The outcome of the crop depends on the quality of both of the starting materials.  The parable of the sower, given to us in the gospels, gives us many scenarios.  In these passages, the seed is the Word of God, and that is always a good seed.  The variable is the many types of ground that seed can fall on.

My husband and I are slowly but surely re-working the landscaped beds around our house.  They have become quite overgrown with plants we don’t care much for.  Although we’ll probably keep a lot of them, we’re making space for some raised beds that we’d like to add into our existing beds.  In these beds, we plan to grow an edible landscape, so we can grow some of our own food, as well as productively use the space we have.   Our local extension agent told me we could have the soil tested for free when we get the beds put in.

I had heard of soil testing before, but didn’t realize the extent of it.  A sample of soil is taken and analyzed.  From that sample, they can tell you what the soil is composed of, what nutrients are present, and what nutrients are lacking.  From this, you can find out what needs to be added to the soil to make a successful crop.

The sowing and reaping principle is present in everything we do.  But, we probably hear it most often relating to the ministries we choose to support financially.   Ministries often vie for our support, sometimes even with ploys that might leave us feeling guilty if we aren’t able, or choose not to help.  The support we choose to give, whether through tithe to the local church and/or offering, is a very important seed, and we should choose carefully, based on the leading of the Lord to decide where these very important funds will go.  When ministries try to gain our support, they often focus on the ‘giving of the seed’.  They rarely, if ever, focus on whether that ministry is good, fertile soil to sow into.  A pet missionary project is not the foundation of sound, nutritious soil.  It’s a good thing, but the true story is told by how the money is spent as a whole, not just the part shown on television.  The investigation of several large ministries in the news in the recent past show that many are not willing to disclose their financial records and be accountable for how money is spent.

One valuable lesson I’ve learned over the years is that questioning is a good thing.  I’m not one who enjoys conflict.   In fact, my personality usually demands I avoid it if at all possible, although that seems to change a bit as I age.  🙂  However, I am learning that questioning is healthy, and can give me a truer picture of a situation than I might originally have.

We can have very good intentions with our financial support.  I’ve heard many people say it doesn’t really matter where the money goes, as long as it’s going to a church, or the work of the Lord in general.  However, I don’t really agree with that.  If I take some excellent seed, and plant it in soil that is deficient, the harvest I am expecting will either not come, or will come in a far less degree than it should.  It would be an act of futility to continue to plant the same seed in that same soil year after year, and expect a great harvest.

We expect certain things of the soil we plant our seed in.  We expect it to be healthy and support that seed, and will do what is necessary to help it become that way.  In other words, we expect a harvest for what we put in.  I don’t mean it’s right to nit-pick everything a ministry does.  But, if secrecy and non-disclosure are ‘par for the course’ in many matters, then maybe we should suspect that this might not be healthy soil to sow into.

It’s not wrong for us to expect the soil to produce.  Jesus even gave a parable about a man traveling to a far country in Matthew 25:14-30 to illustrate the point.  He gave one servant 10 talents, one five, and another one.  The master expected that money to be given back with interest, and was quite displeased when the servant who received one talent did nothing with it except hide it.   We should desire and expect the financial support we give a ministry to produce fruit ‘with interest’.

A few well-placed questions can often tell the tale about whether a ministry is productive.  As I said earlier, I don’t mean putting everything a ministry does under the microscope.  However if there is any question, knowing some things they support, and a few pointed financial questions might give you a good picture of the quality of that soil.  If questions are dodged or totally refused, this is a huge mistake.  Finances aren’t the only test, but if deception is occurring in one part of a ministry, it’s more likely deception will be present in other areas as well.  If you’re sowing seed into a ministry that you find is not made of fertile soil, a decision must then be made whether to continue sowing good seed into destitute soil.

A healthy ministry will welcome your questions, and not be afraid to be honest with you.  As a bookkeeper in the past, and at times for non-profit organizations, I welcomed, and insisted on full disclosure from those I kept books for.   If a ministry or minister refuses to be under any type of accountability either financially or spiritually, be concerned.  This place is a prime candidate for abuse to occur…unfortunately, I’ve dealt with quite a few situations in counseling other people where this is the case.

If you see the seed you’re sowing has become unproductive because of the soil, do everything in your power to be part of the solution if at all possible.  Sometimes the soil must be worked, fallow ground tilled, and nutrients added to make soil healthy again.  When you’ve done all you can to be part of the solution with no success, pray for needed direction about how to proceed from there.

I am thankful to be under the pastoral care of two men that have whole-heartedly welcomed my questions, both about natural and spiritual matters, and have been quick to respond when I ask them.  Sometimes, I think I might be too relentless in my asking…I tend to be very inquisitive when it comes to these things.  But, their leadership has encouraged me in being a spiritual soil-tester…one that can determine if the seed I sow will produce the greatest amount of harvest possible.   There is a hungry world out there to feed the gospel to.  We must not waste the time or the funds we have.   Good stewardship and accountability gives a nice system of checks and balances that allows us to produce a bumper crop worthy for the kingdom of God.

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Responses

  1. Heather, I agree with your article on financial information being very open in churches. After being treasurer for 19 years at 1st Baptist and a very big
    budget, it was good to have to make statements come out perfectly to the penny. The body of Christ needs to be open and not ever operate in secrecy. Thanks for always speaking truth. I love you!
    Judy B.

  2. This was great Heather, thank you for posting with such great insight. I love to read your articles! Love you!

    • Thank you Sarah! I appreciate it! 🙂

  3. Thanks so much Glenn! I’m in total agreement with you…what each individual gives is a private matter. And ‘followship’…LOL…I had to laugh. Can’t say I’ve ever heard that term before. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  4. Excellent counsel! Good stewardship is an absolute must both by the leadership and by the followship. Nothing less than total candor and transparency will do. The only financial information that should be kept private is who gave what and when. Jesus was very clear about our giving, fasting, and praying being a private matter between us and God.


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