The Church is God's Plan A
From Genesis to Revelation, God has always purposed to establish a people to whom He would reveal His glory and through whom He would reveal His glory to the world (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 30:22, Ezekiel 36:28, 1 Peter 2:9-10, Revelation 21:3). In the Old Testament, this people was the nation of Israel. God intended for Israel to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6), but His glory was clouded by their disobedience. They were hopeless, smothered beneath the weight of a law they couldn't keep.
So God became man. An Israelite man.
Jesus was everything Israel failed to be, and through him, God continues to bless the nations (Isaiah 49:6)! But this wasn't God’s Plan B. Our Good Shepherd began his earthly ministry by gathering together and teaching Israel's faithful remnant. And now, the Holy Spirit has appended Jew with Gentile, the faithful remnant of Israel with the stranger nations (Romans 11), and we call this people the Church -- the Body, the Bride, the Household, the Temple, the Flock, and the People of God! When we submit ourselves to the authority of Christ as exercised through the local church, we join God's Plan A for redemption.
The Church is Family
In addition, submission to the local church bestows numerous spiritual and physical benefits. In a deeper sense than we could fully grasp, we are family (Mark 3:34-35). We eat together, play together, cry together, and laugh together. We share our time, our lives, our homes, our work, our struggles, and our decisions. Day after day, we provide for one another.
So wouldn't it make sense to give to that family? To give where we're most invested? To give where we receive the most spiritual benefit?
When you give to the local church, you sow into the only institution established by Jesus to equip you and your entire spiritual family for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Without financial sacrifice, Sojourn's church plants, preaching, music, childcare, Neighborhood Parishes, air-conditioned facilities, and toilet paper would have never been available to you or to the spiritually impoverished people of Houston. Our giving facilitates the spiritual development of our communities! If we provide for our earthly families, how much more should we provide for our heavenly family?
The Church is Never Perfect
Several years ago, I came to the realization that my church was likely spending more on toilet paper each month than I was able to give. And I didn't like that. My financial contribution to God's kingdom was literally being flushed down the toilet, so I began to consider how I might better steward my money. Whereas the church was unnecessarily hamstrung by operation costs, I assumed, foreign missionaries had special access to disciple vending machines. Or something like that.
But a few years later, it occurred to me: foreign missionaries buy toilet paper too! Disciples can never be bought. No matter how we spend God's money, it purchases practical, material things, and some of it inevitably gets flushed down the toilet. Of course, we could just hide our money away, but our Master doesn't really allow for that (Matthew 25:24-27). Money is only and always a tool. And when God gives us tools, He expects us to build with them (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Even so, the American church has worked extra hard to discredit itself over the years. Scandal after scandal have left Christians wondering whether the church and its leaders can be trusted, and at the very least, that's understandable. So I could describe in detail the measures Sojourn takes to maintain financial transparency (a member-majority Financial Stewardship Team, quarterly and annual budget reports, free access to our budgets and bank statements, etc.), but that makes for a boring blog post. For now, let's see what we can glean from Scripture.
In Matthew 12:41-44, a poor widow elicits Jesus' commendation for contributing "two small copper coins, which make a penny." It was "all she had to live on." But because she gave sacrificially, Jesus considered her contribution more significant than even the largest sum. But here's the thing: in her act of giving, she was willing to look beyond a corrupt temple system! And so was Jesus! He knew better than anyone the depth of corruption, but he commended the widow because she gave unto the Lord. Likewise, we have hope that Christ will soon come to cleanse our broken systems, but until then, we can support God's new temple like poor widows.
Giving to Parachurch Organizations
If the local church is truly central to God's purposes, we should prioritize our financial support accordingly. But that's not all. According to Pastor Bruce Wesley, "The local church is God's redemptive agent in the world (Matthew 16:18) and should be the primary recipient of a Christian's giving (2 Corinthians 9:11-12). Christians are also responsible to give to the poor (Deuteronomy 12:6-7), to provide for aging parents (Exodus 20:12, Mark 7:10-13), and to assist other Christians as needs arise (Acts 2:44-45, 1 John 3:17)."
The starting point for faithful giving to the local church is the tithe (10%), but there are numerous gospel-centered organizations doing good, God-glorifying work as well. Thus, Sojourn highly encourages its Neighborhood Parishes to partner with parachurch organizations for the glory of God and the good of our city. And in light of our convictions regarding God's "Plan A," we especially love to see parachurch organizations who desire to partner with the local church, supplement the local church, and further the mission of the local church.