Independently wealthy …?

While I’m at it about the absurdity of “retirement,” I have some energy on another related topic.  Might as well spit it all out.

Frequently I encounter people (particularly those who are successful in business, or younger men and women who want to be successful) who are contemplating what God would have them do with the latter half of their lives, and the line I hear runs something like this:

“I would love to serve God with more of my time and talent in the coming years.  But I want to have made enough money to be independently wealthy.  I really don’t think it is right to ask other people to support me when I could pay my own way.   So I want to wait until my nest egg is secure and then Jesus can have all my time and attention.”

I have rarely seen it work out this way, where independent wealth becomes an essential stepping stone for future ministry.  Rather, it can become a curse for several reasons:

1.  Behind such a desire can be an unwillingness to live a life of dependency, either dependency on God or other people.  The need for financial security trumps one’s ability to step out and trust God for the most basic of economic necessities.

2.  There is a subtle, unhealthy independence that such wealth can engender.  I’ve seen it several times when we’ve accepted folks to minister with CRM who didn’t need to raise money.  They had it all.  Inevitably, when times got tough in the crucible of ministry, or there was conflict, or things didn’t go their way, they could pack it up and leave.  Having one’s own resources makes it a lot easier to cut and run.

3.  When I’m independently wealthy, it can put me at odds with those in the apostolic community or team with whom I minister.  I have options they do not have.  I have resources they do not have.  No wonder historically in the missionary orders of the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, one would divest themselves of such material attachments so that all would be laboring together on level ground.

4.  Unfortunately, needing to make my fortune can become an excuse for never responding to what may be God’s clear calling on my life.  It’s a smoke screen.  It’s a way to rationalize away the voice of God.  Movement toward that calling can be inhibited because the nest egg is never considered by the individual to be sufficient enough.

Let me be clear.  I’m not dissing anyone who is doing well financially and particularly those who have learned the grace of giving and sacrificial stewardship and are called to the marketplace.  Rather, I am calling into question when the drive to attain such financial “freedom” is used as the justification for delayed obedience to God’s leading.

When I look for people who are grappling with the calling of God toward ministry that is apostolic in nature, one of the true tests of that calling is that money and financial security are the last and least issues to be considered.  What’s healthy is when these issues are the stubby little tail and not the dog.  When it is the other way around, it’s a portent for trouble.

5 Responses to “Independently wealthy …?”

  1. Jim Says:

    Been there, tried it for several years, and have just recently decided God’s calling for my life is a much better option. Well said Sam!

  2. Tom Middleton Says:

    Sam,
    As you know in my own life, having an extra source of additional passive income has allowed us to go and serve in places that are often prohibitive for many living on support. We have been able to use our extra resources in the service of our team, and because we have done that, and been up front about our abilities with those around us, those on our team have seen our resources as a favorable resource to them as well.

    That being said, it is as you say. Those resources have not been a priority for us, but rather a contributor to the unique and clear calling on our life to live in dependence upon God. The resources are adjunct to the support we have raised which are the foundation of our material support. We still need God’s sovereign provision to make it each month. That has been the best of both worlds for us.

    Because we have to trust God each month to pay the bills, we have learned that He is trustworthy and we get to watch the miracle each month of God somehow, someway, making it work. This has allowed me to speak with credibility into the lives of those to whom we minister, to trust God completely, even, or especially with their finances. Though I am tempted every now and again to find something “more secure”, I am reminded each month, that their is nothing more secure than trusting God. That is no more evident and tangible than in the financial times we now find ourselves.

  3. Rob Yackley Says:

    Well said Sam. In addition to those who rely solely on the gifts of others to pursue their ministry, there’s another big group of people out there like Tom who have also found ways of generating collateral income that has helped leverage their ministry. And then there is an even bigger and growing group of people who are funding their ministry while they are serving by working bi-vocationally. But all three of those groups share something in common. They didn’t wait to obey. They jumped in and trusted God to provide through others or through their jobs (which in this economy also requires faith) as they stepped into their calling…when they were called. Regardless of where the funding comes from, it seems like that’s what we’re asked to do.

  4. John Ahuna Says:

    Aloha Sam,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your observation—obedience is better than sacrifice. Trust is always the issue, whether, in the beginning it’s for meeting basic needs, or as our faith walk progresses and matures it’s for meeting the bigger needs of ministry.

    I do have some comments which I posted on your blog of 7/5/08 regarding “Only in the Local Church?” and would appreciate your feedback on my comments. It relates to crossroads I find myself at regarding where my “ministry” is to take me. Those comments are repeated below. Thank you in advance for the wisdom of your insights regarding my “situation.”

    Response to 7/5/08 blog on 1/2/09:

    Aloha Sam,

    I inadvertently (yet God-directed?) came across your blog as I was “yahoo-ing” James Choung, after readin an article in Christianity Today about his 4 Circles. Your article has not helped me to reconcile the tug of what I believe to be God’s call on my life and the local church.

    My dear wife of soon to be 20 years (July 1st) has always been “establishment oriented” (local church) when it come to ramblings about what the the local church is doing, should be doing, and what I would do. Her response, in essence has been, “Talk to them.”

    When I have talked with them, it seems as if my observations and/or insights fall on deaf ears and they go on doing what they’re doing. I come from a highly entrepreneurial history, having been self-employed in financial and “health” services since 1980—although not very successfully when it come down to the “numerical score board” aka income. Anyway, I, therefore, tend to look at things as an entrepreneur does—marketing, sales, service, organization, communication, etc.

    As an example, I believe the “capillaries of the body of Christ” are small groups. While the pastor is the “jugular” and other leaders the “arteries” or the “veins,” small groups are the “capillaries” (from Latin meaning fingers) through which the nutrients contained in the blood (benefits from the shed blood of Jesus) are assimulated into the individual cell. The best nourishment in the world is only as valuable as its ability to be assimulated into the cell to give energy, sustainance and, therefore, longevity.

    Wanting to come under the covering of the local church, I have been asking for, conservatively, 6 years, what do I need to do, what requirements are needed for starting a small group. To summarize, to date I have not been given an answer perhaps because they have short memories, they don’t trust me or my abilities and don’t know how to tell me that, or it’s just not their priority.

    The church leaders, for the most part, do not have that kind of background. To me, they have a “religious” vs. spiritual background, which doesn’t effectively and efficiently transfer to meeting the practical needs and desires, for that matter, of people, which would either lead them to Christ and/or enhance their belief in and commitment to Christ. I like what I heard nearly 20 years ago from a minister from Australia who said, “It’s perfectly natural to be spiritual, and it’s perfectly spiritual to be natural. God is not only concerned about ‘pie in the sky’ (heaven) as eternally important as that is, but He is also concerned about ‘steak on the plate’ (earth) [because it’s part of the whole. The bicycle wouldn’t function properly for too long if the small little nut holding the sprocket in place were missing].”

    Recently, within the last 3 months, what’s been coming up in my spirit is “start a church.” That’s the last thing I would want to do because I already have a lot on my “God-plate.” I thought perhaps that was a result of my many dissatisfactions with how the local church was being run. These are by every means “good people,” but their agenda is “the local church” and, to me, not the PEOPLE in the local church.

    Just the other day I got an email from one of the leaders of the church personally inviting me, which I appreciated, back to Men’s Ministry. When I responded that that’s not where God was calling me, his response was, okay, pray about being involved in a men’s bible study. In the 7 years we’ve been attending this fellowship, to my recollection, no one has ever asked me, “How can we help YOU fulfill God’s call on your life?” They seem to think, consciously or unconsciously, that they already have the answers and, therefore, the agenda, so they don’t need to ask.

    I firmly believe what God is calling me to do, because of my experiences, education and observations, is establish a nationwide system of non-profit “wholelistic fitness” centers—spiritual, financial, relationship, physical and self-management fitness. Being a former Certified Financial Planner, I know rich people have “charitable urges.” If they get directly or indirectly blessed by your cause, or just believe in your cause, they will willingly and gladly with great satisfaction pull out their check books!

    Okay, my wife tells me I ramble. So this was a long explanation for a short feeling of thankfulness for your article and a confirmation of what God has been speaking to my heart. Interestingly, the sponsoring “mother church” of my local church, again recently sponsored a “financial seminar” from a pastor who was initially involved in insurance services whom the Lord letto start a church. Someone else now runs the insurance business, but they still take their “handsome” support from it, which allows all the contributions to the church to be used for “ministry” and not for the, “the ministers.” To me, while I recognize and support the principle of tithing and giving, it seemed like a conflict of interest and easy for the pastor to say, “Give, tithe,” because he was the beneficiary of the giving! There was no accountability to or identification with the people in the pews who may have been struggleing. Anyway, that’s another story.

    Thank you once again for your, to me, “confirming insight.” I pray that this communication finds you and your loved ones in the best of health—in every dimension!

    Sincere Aloha thru Him,

    John Ahuna
    Dream Liberator & Wealth Catalyst

  5. Sam Says:

    John:

    My apologies for somehow having overlooked your previous comment back in July. I never saw it for some reason. So thanks for trying to get in touch again.

    First, I would be happy to connect with you by email or even a phone call if that would be helpful. I would enjoy the conversation. Just send me your contact info: sam.metcalf@crmleaders.org.

    A few observations on what you wrote:

    How would you succinctly describe your spiritual gifts, acquired skills, and natural abilities? I see a lot of indicators in your writing, particularly about your “entrepreneurial history,” the dreams and desires you have to start the fitness centers, and the rumblings you expressed about starting a church. It kind of oozes out in your prose.

    My suspicion is that you have some strong “apostolic” gifting. Don’t get spooked by that nomenclature. There is a whole section on my blog about apostolic ecclesiology where this gets unpacked. Check it out.

    However if that is the case, then you will face regular and consistent frustration in almost all local church settings. It’s not the fault of those churches. I would argue they are not designed by God to adequately accommodate a person with your gifts and calling and you will find more fulfillment and a “fit” in that part of the church—equally legitimate—that is “missionary and apostolic” in nature. It’s a different structure. The principle is “apostolic people needs apostolic structures if their gifts and calling are to be adequately fulfilled.” And the church in its local form, by itself, is not that.

    Your sense of frustration and angst with the church local is not unusual. One of the reasons contributing to this frustration among many leaders who may have such entrepreneurial (apostolic) gifting is the limited ecclesiology that most of have been exposed to. Most have been told and taught that the only legitimate avenues of ministry are somehow in and through the church in its local form. They feel their options are limited to pastoral ministry and don’t see much else that’s valid.

    For some, like you, this can produce a gnawing sense of disillusionment. And for many younger leaders with strong apostolic gifting, the frustration level can become acute. And as I said above, local churches, by definition, are not apostolic structures. Seldom are these younger leaders exposed to the church in its apostolic/missionary form which is equally “church” and equally a valid calling.

    If you’d like to talk about any of this further, let me know.

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