Element is about to do something radical. Something virtually unheard of. As we have reflected on and prayed over what it means to be a countercultural community of Jesus-followers, we have decided that you can’t just preach revolution without acting revolutionary.
We have heard Jesus commanding us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we don’t want to assume this is either a suggestion or a sentiment.
Several months ago I heard the story of the further missional directive of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California. They were set to spend $20 million on a new facility when teaching pastor Francis Chan said, “Nope.” He said he couldn’t in good conscience be the pastor of a church that spent $20 million on itself. He suggested instead that they build a much, much cheaper outdoor amphitheater and community park. And the multi-millions left over? He said they should give it away.
His board agreed. Several hundred reportedly left the church, so unnerved and inconvenienced were they by this decision. But Chan and his fellow ministers committed to giving away millions and millions of dollars. They said that one great message the outdoor space would send is that whenever it was too hot/cold/rainy/windy, it would remind those gathered that there were many people around the world who never have a roof over their head.
Furthermore, Cornerstone Church amended their budget to now give 50% to missions. Half of everything they receive goes right back out the door to the hurting, poor, starving, and dying.
When I heard this story (for the second time, honestly) it grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and dreaming it. I was thinking about the ministry buzzword du jour “missional,” and I began to think that, while Element has already been operating and teaching as such that “missional” is not just empty sloganeering for us, it could and should mean more.
The idea wouldn’t let go of me. I didn’t tell anyone. I just let it gnaw on me and mess with me and make me pray and think and rethink and rethink some more. I am, to put it bluntly, a financial moron. Numbers are not my strength and I am very thankful for an administrative director and a few others on our team who not only manage around my weakness in this area, but are basically geniuses in this area.
But to my great shame, I was afraid to share my idea with them. I was afraid someone would laugh at me. Or that they’d nod politely and think to themselves, “There’s Jared being super-spiritual again, and so naïve.”
Again, I was afraid of this to my shame. When I finally got around to mentioning the idea I’d even been withholding from my wife and my fear of sharing it with the board, she wisely said, “You’re not giving them enough credit.”
I still didn’t say anything. Then one day I had lunch with my new friend and mentor Ray Ortlund. It is no exaggeration to say that I was thinking about this idea as I pulled into the parking lot to meet him. I was thinking about it while I was walking up to the restaurant. I had never said anything to Ray about it and I hadn’t planned to. Then during our conversation, as we talked about other aspects of ministry, he said this: “I sometimes wonder if God ever looks down on us and says, ‘Whoa. That was bold.’”
Not that we can ever really impress God. But Ray meant that the church doesn’t really take faith-driven risks any more. We play like we do. But we don’t. God is not “struck” by our boldness.
That word shot right into my heart like a lightning bolt from God saying, “Go for it.”
That day I e-mailed Element’s board of directors, and Becky was right: I hadn’t given them enough credit.
This is what I proposed:
Element should give away at least 50% of its income. 50% minimum. Every dollar that comes in, 50 cents of it should go right back out to mission causes.
The first to weigh in was our administrative director, David, who handles our budget and our finances. He was in. Unequivocally. (David would like to give away 80% of our budget, so now I get to play the “he’s so naïve and super-spiritual” card.)
One by one, the remaining board members weighed in, and it’s now unanimous. Element’s “Bold As Love” Initiative is underway.
We still have to actually convene to hash out the details and vote, but every board member is behind our plan to put our money where our missional mouth is. (Our tech director, John, wanted to call it, with a nod to Elvis, “A Little Less Conversation, A Lot More Action,” but that’s a little wordy, don’t you think?) Here’s the plan as it is now presented and as now all members are set to vote yes on:
Element will designate minimum 50% of its budget to missions, and 10% to church planting or to other gospel-driven ministries. This means that for every dollar we receive, 60 cents will go back out the door. Our operating budget will be 40% of our offerings.
Just to give you some perspective, in the studies I’ve done, the average budget percentage churches designate to missions ranges from 5% to 15%. So the in the “best light” study I could find, the average church gives 15% of its income to missions. Recently musician, blogger, and Compassion International evangelist Shaun Groves mentioned that in all his church travels around the nation, he had never heard of a church giving more than 30% of its budget to missions.
I don’t say any of that to brag on us. The truth is we can do this because we can do this. Designating 60% of our budget to missions at this point in our ministry will not require us cutting staff (because we don’t pay anybody anything yet) or programs (because we run a “simple church” structure consisting of exactly 3 regular programs that are inexpensive). Someone might ask, why not spend some money getting bigger and better (for instance, we have not done any advertising of any kind in over a year, and are only about to do some next month) and then you’d have more to give away? The answer is that once you get “bigger and better” it becomes harder to sacrifice. We are committing to sacrifice now so that we set the standard for whatever level of growth God is willing to grant us.
But the truth is we are sacrificing some things. By operating on 40% of our budget we are delaying the time we can hire staff or buy more equipment or do more advertising, etc. And we hope to feel the sacrifice; otherwise, it’s not a sacrifice.
And again, the temptation to be prideful will be ever-present in this, but I do want our community to have a holy sense of “boasting” in the goodness of the gospel. I do want them to be proud that their community financially loves their neighbor as themselves.
In my original email to the board I said I wanted to hamstring ourselves financially. I never want us to be able to say “We can’t help that missionary this month because we are buying that new software.” I want us to be able to say “We can’t buy that new software because we are supporting that missionary.”
We will give to both foreign and local missions, but more will go to local missions, because our idea is not just to write a check (or checks) and wipe our hands of it, but to be giving regularly to local mission agencies that we can actually visit, partner with, and do on-site service projects with.
Here’s what gets me: Jesus said to his followers that whatever they do to the “least of these,” they are doing to him. This means it’s not some nameless, faceless people out there who are shivering and starving and dying. It means it’s Jesus who is shivering and starving and dying. And while it shouldn’t matter if someone is nameless or faceless, while not seeing someone shouldn’t dissuade us from action, we are seeing this as a great way to bless Jesus, to worship Jesus.
The second value in Element’s Values is the supremacy of Christ. If we are going to hold Christ supreme in our lives and in the life of our community, we must commit to loving as he loved and living as he lived – sacrificially, selflessly, boldly.
Will you please pray for Element as we move toward becoming Bold As Love?