Meeting Expenses or Skimming?

by Jonathan Settel

Being an itinerant minister and reliant upon the different Churches I go to for my living, I have come up against a very interesting problem - - the answer to which is in the way you view things: which side of the "elephant" are you standing. In case you do not know the story of the blind men and the elephant. . . Three blind men were standing in front of an elephant. One was in front of the tail, one at it’s side, and one in the front facing the trunk. When asked to describe what the elephant looked like, they all reached forward and felt the part of the elephant they were encountering. One was convinced an elephant looked like a wall with hair and leathery skin. The other was equally sure an elephant looked like a long hose-like object with two holes at it’s tip and a smaller appendage that grabbed his hand when he put his fingers into the holes! The third proceeded to describe a tail with hair at it’s end. Of course, all were correct according to their own perceptions. And, at the same time, all were wrong in that they had only described part of the truth.

Here is a scenario. A church gets in touch with you. Invites you to minister at their Sunday AM or PM service. You agree to come for a "Love Offering." Your understanding of a "love offering" is an opportunity for a congregation to bless your ministry by taking a collection, and it is to be a free-will offering from the congregates. The pastor will stand in front of the folks and say, "Yes, we want to bless this brother. We want to seed into his ministry and see this work go around the world. We know that there are places Brother Jonathan goes that have no money and so we can send him there. We know there are places that meet and only have thirty or so folks, and we know that Brother Jonathan goes to these places. He sings for fifteen and he sings for fifteen thousand. Praise the Lord, we want to bless him today." The offering is taken. There is $2,300 in the plate. Checks and cash to the brother who blessed the congregation, to the brother who the people thought they were blessing.

Well, just that week there is a big push for the new building fund. They are moving across the street and want to go into the new building "debt free." The cost of using the facility is a couple of hundred dollars, there are six full time pastors and the son is the music minister. Expenses are high and after all, Brother Jonathan came to this congregation with a minimum of $500 in mind. So. . . if we give him $750, he gets more than he asked and he is blessed. The Church has it’s expenses met plus an addition to the building fund. Besides, Brother Jonathan has plenty of money. His wife had a beautiful dress on, and he looked as good as the pastor. So. . .

The story goes on. . . Here is another scenario. Maybe you don’t have a minimum. There are plenty of times you go to a Church for a Love Offering only . . . collected. That means they pass the plate, not a retiring offering. When you go, you trust the Lord and the leadership that they will have integrity and be honest. The collection has been counted. There are needs in the body, the brothers take off the top several hundred or tens or a couple of dollars. It is all the same. It is not the amount, it is the action of robbing the congregation the blessing. They gave with the understanding that they were giving into the ministry of a visiting brother, not the church needs. They are robbing God, because they have collected an offering specifically for the Godly work of the minister and they are robbing the brother/sister himself/herself.

Here is another story. Sharon and I were asked to do a Passover Seder in Colorado one weekend. The lady called and said she would like us to do the whole thing. Sharon would work with the chefs and come two days before the Seder. I would lead the Seder with the Haggada we put together combining traditional and messianic elements. We agreed on a price for three days of work and all the days and years that went into the knowledge of the Passover. We were flown into the Mountain State and had a grand time working. Sharon worked very hard teaching and supervising; sweating and kneading; making Charoset and explaining why pork shank bones were a no-no. . . I worked on my presentation and songs. It went very smoothly, as the Lord honors preparation. (Sometimes he changes things, but at least He knows you did all you could.) When it was all over, this woman (who is famous in Christian circles of that state) handed us a check. It was for one quarter of the price we had agreed upon. When I brought up this truth, she just asked me, "Jonathan, did you have anything in writing?" To this day, I cannot look at her without thinking, "What an abomination to the Lord. To lie like that, to call yourself a Christian and to use people for her own gain." I have forgiven her but not forgotten the incident. It hurts me to have to ask for a written document . . . but ask I do, and this is why. I do not feel that Christians are above their word. If anything, they are bound by a bond much stronger than any piece of paper.

I do not wish to be totally negative. There are those times when the Lord really surprises me. Just recently I was in England. I sang at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s dinner. I know from the past that these are testimony meetings, and when they take an offering it is for the chapter. You go knowing and understanding that. These FGB dinners are great and I love them. People get saved and the fellowship is strong. Non-denominational, these people are real Christians and show the love of the Lord with commitment and principle. I expected about £100 and a great time in the Lord. They took the offering. They said when they took it that they wanted to give it all to me. They did, and I was so blessed with £500 (about $760). I had never heard of such a thing happening and so the Lord really blessed me. I wish to say that there are more people with integrity than without, yet "it is the small lump that spoils the rest."

There are times when pastors take two offerings, one for expenses, and one for the guest. Sometimes they add to the offering which may have been light. Sometimes they simply give an honorarium, and this too will have been discussed before the meeting; or do a retiring offering. That is a box in the back of the church that the congregation may fill on the way out. Tragically, money is one of those "necessary evils." We all need it to live. There are those who NEVER worry about money. That "the Lord is my provider" is a watch-word to their lives. They are probably much happier than folks like me. We have families and mortgage payments, and have the idea that the Lord has given us a brain and mind to use for His glory; and not to have disappointment after disappointment plague him.

Somehow there must be a way to straighten out this rocky path of unrighteousness; to make us all understand that the Lord is, in deed and in word, our provider. One day, when we only look to Him for our provision, we will be less venerable and surely less disappointed.