Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit ministry dedicated to teaching the principles of God’s Word and assisting the church in ministering to the unreached, unfed, unborn, uneducated, unreconciled, and unsupported people around the world. His ministry focus is communicating the strategic importance of using our earthly time, money, possessions, and opportunities to invest in need-meeting ministries that count for eternity.
We were able to talk to Randy about Money, Possessions, and Eternity and how to have a biblically centered mindset regarding our treasures. Because of Randy’s rich answers to each of our questions, we’ve broken this interview into a four-part miniseries on finances. Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 3.
Vyrso Voice: It is hard for churches to address issues of money because the church has developed the reputation for being money-hungry. This definitely wasn’t how people viewed the early church. How do you think the church developed this reputation? And how do we begin to change it?
Randy Alcorn: People were amazed that the apostles were plain, ordinary men, with no great education or social status (Acts 4:13). Peter said to the crippled man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6).
Although the leaders of the early Church and many of its first members were uneducated and poor, some of them middle class, over time some churches became wealthy, and their pastors became educated and moved to the socioeconomic status once reserved for the Pharisees. There’s nothing wrong with education or money, but certain temptations accompany the status that goes with both. The higher our social standing and the more silver and gold we have, the harder it is for others (and sometimes for us) to believe our message that Christ is our greatest asset and the center of our lives. It becomes harder to trust Christ when you have other assets you can trust.
One thing churches can do is give away large amounts of the money they collect. Our hearts go where we put our treasures, and by giving to missions and the poor and needy our hearts go to those things. That way instead of building our own little kingdom, which is a big temptation for churches, we focus on building God’s kingdom.
We’ve rationalized and justified our lust for money and possessions. Worse, we have baptized our materialism, couched it in religious terms and affirmed it as God’s plan for our lives. That’s prosperity theology, health and wealth gospel, and it’s from the pit of hell. It obscures the true gospel.
We need to ask ourselves whether a materialistic world can ever be won to Christ by a materialistic Church. I don’t think it can.
One problem is that when churches do address the subject of stewardship and giving, a fundamental mistake they often make is tying the teaching to a specific project or need. We preach on giving because the offering is down or to kick off a building fund drive. The result is that people view the instruction on giving merely as a fundraising tool, a means to the end of accomplishing our personal or institutional goals. (Indeed, often that’s just what it is.)
I recommend scheduling messages on giving when there are no special pleas to give. In a society preoccupied with money and possessions, Christians will continually be exposed to wrong thinking and living. Certainly, we cannot expect the Christian community to take Scripture seriously unless pastors clearly teach and apply it.
Fellow Christians ought to disciple each other in financial stewardship. Young believers need to see biblical lifestyle principles embodied. Those who’ve learned about the bondage of debt the hard way need to warn others. Young couples need to hear their elders tell of their joy in giving, and how God has used it in their family. Husbands and wives need to be encouraged to discuss and act on these truths.
Churches can also build credibility by actively and generously supporting Christ’s work around the world. Church budgets often designate less than 10 percent of their income to missions. And what’s called “missions” often includes ministries directed at reaching our own country or community. More than 90 percent of an average local church budget never leaves the country, it remains as part of America’s wealth. All of us should be giving regularly to our local churches, and we should encourage our leaders in turn to invest an even larger share of their church budgets in world missions.