Monday, April 16, 2012

a church budget in a nutshell

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17

This is one of the earliest evidences that the early church financially supported its leadership. When it is understood in the context, especially with 1 Timothy 5:18, it is clear that Paul is instructing Timothy to direct the church to support its elders in a significant way. The reason given is that the work of preaching and teaching is extensive and as it builds the church, it requires real labor on the part of the elder who is exercising this gift.

Why is preaching and teaching hard work that is worthy of the church's financial commitment? First and foremost, it is because it is essential to the church's commission. Teaching and preaching are the means by which the Great Commission advances. The gospel is preached. Disciples are taught. And those elders gifted to do this are on the front line of the advance of the church. It is also time consuming. I know that when I preach just on Sunday, I will spend 8 to 12 hours of my week preparing for the Sunday teaching time... not to mention preaching it two or three times. And then there are all the individual and group training times throughout the week that require preparation to perform. It would make sense for the church to financially support this work. It is central to the church's purpose and call.

If you look at this command in context, it is compelling. Paul is talking to Timothy about local church budgetary concerns. He begins the focus with a discussion on one of the primary care ministries of the first century church: the support of destitute widows (1 Timothy 5;1-16). There are guidelines set in place for just how Christians should support these widows through the local church, and it is clear that these women really did serve the Body of Christ as well (1 Timothy 5:9-10). After moving from that ministry and its budgetary considerations, Paul moves on to discuss the role of elders in a congregation and the monetary support of those who preach and teach. The early church invested its resources in those who advanced the preaching of the gospel.

Now this is a biblical priority within the local church. Notice that Paul does not abandon care ministry to deal exclusively with the support of "church staff". Neither does he exclude the support of teaching elders in favor of only proving "care funds". There is a tension here that the church has to live with and the balance is to participate in both essential expenditures by caring for those in need (in this case widows who need financial assistance) and funding the teaching of the gospel to advance the kingdom (supporting elders who are worthy of double honor). That is the financial mission of the church in a nutshell.

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