Genuine followers of Jesus know that the wisest thing they can do with their money is use it to lay up treasure in heaven. In fact, it was to wisdom that Jesus appealed when He instructed His followers regarding their two investment options:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).
The obvious wisdom in laying up treasures in heaven is that there they are enduring, whereas treasures on earth are subject to decay and loss. So it just makes sense to invest in heaven.
But are not Jesus’ ancient words a little outdated for those of us who live in wealthy, modern nations, where we’ve achieved a bit of “heaven on earth”? That is, our modern fabrics aren’t palatable to moths, Rustoleum and aluminum prevent rust, and security systems and homeowner’s insurance mitigate our concerns of theft. Unlike as in Jesus’ day, we can lay up some earthy treasures without the fear of the same depreciation or loss. So is Jesus’ ancient wisdom inapplicable today?
Actually, no. If Jesus visited earth today, and had He sojourned in one of the world’s wealthy nations, I suspect He would have used other examples to illustrate how even present-day expenditures are still subject to loss through more modern “moths, rust and thieves.” Perhaps He would mention how new cars lose 10% of their value the moment you drive them off the car lot, and as much as 30% during the first year of ownership. Or He might remind us how computers become obsolete in just a few years, or how a few day’s correction in the stock market can wipe out a year’s worth of gains. And I should add that Jesus didn’t even mention in the above-quoted passage the inevitable total loss of possessions that occurs for everyone at death (although He did at other times; see Luke 12:16-21, as did Paul; see 1 Tim. 6:7).
All of this is to say that, when Jesus spoke His commandment regarding laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, He was thinking, not just of those who benefit from charity, but also of those who are charitable. And that is one of the many things I so appreciate about God. He gave us commandments because He loves us, just as any good earthly father gives instructions to His children because of his love for them. If we’ll do what God says, our lives (and our eternal lives) will be better. We will experience the built-in blessings of obedience.
What Jesus said about the Sabbath—”The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”—is true concerning all His commandments. When we interpret those commandments through the filter of such an understanding, we’re much less apt to misinterpret them.
When it comes to laying up treasure in heaven rather than on earth, we need to view our obedience to Jesus’ commandment as a wise investment in our own future—as opposed to the alternative, which is a waste (and loss) of our hard-earned money. More than feeling guilty for laying up earthly treasures, we should feel stupid!
How to Do It
Although many of us understand the wisdom of laying up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, that, unfortunately, is where the application of wisdom stops for us. That’s because our giving, at best, ends up bearing little or no real kingdom fruit, or at worst, harms those it was intended to help. I’ve been guilty of both, and so much so that I consider myself an expert in stupid giving. Lucky for me, wisdom sometimes sprouts in the garden of foolishness!
We need more wisdom regarding giving than “Just do it.” We need to know how, when and where to give. That is what I’d like to focus on in the remainder of this article and the one that will follow. Let’s start with two basic biblical observations.
When it came to laying up treasures in heaven, the early church focused on two avenues of giving: (1) the making of disciples and (2) the relief of suffering. If we’re wise (and biblical), we’ll also focus on those same two avenues of giving. And although various groups within Christendom have sometimes tended to singularly focus on one or the other, wise givers support both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment: (1) Go, preach, teach, make disciples and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. To financially support the spreading of the gospel without caring for the poor is to deny the gospel. To care for the poor without telling them the gospel is to not really care for the poor.
All believers should ask themselves this simple question: Is my giving helping to make disciples and relieving suffering? You don’t have to think about it very long to realize that much of what is labeled as “giving” in Christian circles doesn’t score very high in either of those categories.
For example, most Christians give to the churches they attend, yet their churches often aren’t making disciples, that is, people who obey Jesus’ commandments. Such churches could be better described as Christian Clubs. They might be conducting church services that attract growing crowds once a week. But the “worship” songs are all about the worship experience and the worshippers themselves—not about an awesome God who is seeking, not those who “sing along at the concert,” but who “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). If someone was to actually lift their hands or kneel out of love for the Lord and obedience to what the Bible teaches about worship, he would inadvertently draw attention to himself because it would be so unusual.
And in too many churches that Christians financially support, sermons are short, entertaining, self-help spiels, not Scripture-filled, Spirit-anointed exhortations that glorify God and elicit self-examination and deeper devotion. Tragically, the big emphasis is on getting repeat customers rather than on getting people ready to stand before Jesus. A good question to ask about your church is, If John the Baptist were alive, would he ever be invited to preach here? If your answer is “no,” you are attending a church where Jesus’ favorite preacher would not be welcome (see Matt. 11:11).
And in too many churches, 90% of the money that is collected is used to service the “customers” who attend, which makes one wonder if such giving can even be labeled as giving (membership dues perhaps?). Hopefully, the 10% that does escape the building doesn’t promote the same kind of “Christianity.”
In contrast with that, a few weeks ago I met a couple in Texas who, 26 years ago, pioneered a house church in their home that used 100% of the tithes and offerings for missions. That couple is supported by their own business and need no salary from their house church, which ultimately multiplied into six house churches. In the first ten years, about 100 people gave over a million dollars to making disciples and helping the poor!
All of this is to say that, if there is no fruit of discipleship—if people are not repenting of their sins and learning to obey all of Christ’s commandments—then there really is no “return on investment” for those who give. Giving to many churches falls into this category, as it is more akin to paying one’s membership dues at the YMCA.
Perhaps the very worst case of Christians flushing money down the toilet is when they support churches that promote the American gospel of licentious grace. Actually, such “giving” is worse than flushing money down the toilet. It is to work against disciple-making. It is to support the furtherance of the devil’s deception and kingdom. Isn’t it tragic to think that, by their giving, some Christians are keeping alive what God is trying to kill?
Supporting the Workers
Of course, financially supporting the making of disciples entails supporting disciple-making workers, which would include God-called pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, and apostles, as well as those who serve in roles that support those essential, biblical ministries (see 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11). All should be evaluated and supported as per their contribution to the making of disciples.
How sad it is that there are likely tens of thousands of God-called evangelists, teachers, prophets and apostles today who are masking as pastors, because that is the only paid avenue they can find for ministry, and mostly because modern church culture dictates mono-ministry rather than five-fold ministry.
But how wonderful it would have been to have had the blessed opportunity to financially support the ministry of the apostle Paul, Philip the evangelist, Apollos the teacher, or Agabus the prophet, and share in their fruit and reward! I would challenge every Christian to not only support their disciple-making pastor (if he needs financial support), but also prayerfully seek to support a God-called and disciple-making evangelist, teacher, prophet or apostle, all who are generally itinerant and don’t have, like pastors, a congregation to support them. They deserve to be supported just as much as any pastor.
You can, through Heaven Family’s National Missionary Ministry, or through other similar ministries, find such ministers to support in other nations who live on very little and who are working in regions that have never had a chance to hear the gospel. I’m personally blessed to support several evangelists in Cuba who are leading, on average, 100 people to the Lord every month (and establishing their converts in local churches)!
But four notes of caution:
(1.) Don’t support overseas pastors. They should be supported by their own congregations, for at least two reasons.
First, if a congregation doesn’t sense the importance of financially supporting their own pastor for the time he invests (part- or full-time) in their spiritual growth as disciples, then why should an outsider support him? What kind of disciples is that pastor making? This is true even in poor nations. Ten disciples who each give 10% of their income can support one pastor at their average standard of living.
Second, when congregations know their pastor is being supported by outsiders, they are disincentivized to give. So the outside giver, wanting to help a poor church and pastor, actually hurts them both. One rule wise givers always follow is this: Never do for others what they can do for themselves.
(2.) Don’t support anyone who is not accountable. Only God knows the number of Scripture-quoting “evangelists,” “indigenous missionaries” and “orphanage directors” in poor nations around the world who have no actual ministry, yet who are regularly supported by well-meaning Christians whom they’ve befriended (and deceived) on Facebook. They send photos, tell heart-touching stories, and can even send copies of their non-profit’s registration with their nation’s government. But it is all just a show.
If you can’t travel overseas yourself to verify the truthfulness of what you are being told, you take a huge risk. So utilize the services of a ministry you can trust that has an on-the-ground, in-country presence, that is personally acquainted with the disciple-making ministers being supported. One that requires regular reporting. The administrative costs incurred will be more than worth the benefit of being sure you are not supporting a charlatan.
(3.) Don’t support any “worker” who is not already working. When God has a job for someone to do, He never looks among those who are standing in the unemployment line. He finds someone who is being faithful in what He has already called him to do, and He promotes him.
We should follow God’s wisdom in that regard. Worker support should help workers do a better job at what they are already doing.
(4.) Don’t forget that the goal is always sustainability. Ideally, workers should be supported by those who benefit from their ministries, not those who live on the other side of the ocean. If workers are actually making disciples, their disciples should support their ministries. Growing disciple-making movements, no matter where they are in the world, don’t need continual outside financial support, as has been repeatedly proven around the world. In fact, outside money can actually destroy growing disciple-making movements. I have witnessed this firsthand. The resources for the church’s expansion are in the harvest.
The Most Strategic Investment
In my humble opinion, and based on four decades of full-time ministry around the world, the most strategic kingdom investment one could make would be training trainers who train more trainers. As Paul wrote of generational disciple-making to his disciple, Timothy:
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).
Training disciples to make disciples is, far and away, the most valuable thing anyone can financially support, because it multiplies fruit in every way. Disciples make disciples, and all true disciples obey Jesus and bear fruit, so the end result is kingdom expansion and care for the poor, such as widows and orphans.
I’m writing these words at 3AM (due to jet lag) in the southeastern African nation of Malawi. For the past three days, two Heaven’s Family staff members and myself have been meeting with 12 wonderful workers from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda. (There would have been two workers from Rwanda as well, but they were declined visas.)
All of them have been trained to teach an agricultural method called Farming God’s Way (FGW) that, when practiced, lifts subsistence farmers from deep poverty into relative prosperity as they exponentially increase their harvests. The method requires work, but it works like magic. It is revolutionary. I’m convinced it is the solution to Africa’s rural hunger problem.
Here in Malawi, those who are applying Farming God’s Way methods universally report to us that they previously suffered—all of their lives—through an annual “hunger season,” the weeks or months between the exhaustion of the previous year’s harvest and the ripening of the new year’s crop. But now that they are “farming God’s way,” they grow more than they can consume in a year. That means they have crops to share and to sell, enabling them to send their children to school, purchase medicine and edge their way free of poverty’s grip.
However, Heaven’s Family’s 14 FGW workers from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are more than agricultural trainers. They are also disciple-makers. All those under their training start by getting on their knees in their fields and repenting of their sins, asking God to forgive them and remove the curse from their land. And FGW farmers are required to attend weekly home-based “God’s Love Groups,” where they not only learn additional farming techniques, but also learn how to follow and obey Jesus. And once they begin to prosper, they use their abundance to care for widows and orphans (and not by building senior living centers and orphanages, but by taking widows and orphans into their own homes). Our God’s Love Groups are comparable in many ways to little New Testament house churches.
Now let me tell you a great story about how this all began.
In Malawi, our original FGW trainer is named Charles. When we met him seven years ago, he was a very poor subsistence farmer and pastor, just barely surviving. Now he testifies that he is rich, and he is, by local standards. From his farming profits, he has built several simple concrete homes, one of which he rents, and he has purchased more farm land. He owns a car. His children all attend school. He feeds the poor.
Through his FGW training and the training of others whom he has trained, almost 1,000 Malawian farmers are now lifting themselves from poverty. They gather in about 65 God’s Love Groups. And the curriculum Charles has used to teach his disciples and disciple-makers is from a book titled The Disciple-Making Minister, which I wrote years ago to help poor ministers in the developing world succeed in their ministries, as so many have had very little biblical training.
It was through that book that Charles was first introduced to the ministries of Heaven’s Family. He found a copy that was for sale at a cheap price in a Presbyterian Christian bookstore in the nearby town of Blantyre. (I have no idea how that bookstore got a copy, especially one that was not printed in Africa, but in the U.S.) The teaching Charles read in its 500 pages changed the direction of his life and ministry. He subsequently contacted Heaven’s Family, requesting that I visit him to train pastors. I never made it, as I receive too many such requests to respond to. Eventually, however, a few of our staff members were able to visit, and that led to our training Charles in the FGW methods, which are now exploding into an agricultural revolution in his region while also launching a disciple-making movement. And it all started with Charles finding a book titled The Disciple-Making Minister.
Yesterday, Charles showed me his well-worn copy. He told me he never lends it out, because he depends on it for teaching material, and he can’t risk losing it.
Raising funds to translate and print a disciple-making tool named The Disciple-Making Minister has always proved to be next to impossible. I have never been able to convince many people of the value. But just think of what has occurred in Malawi because someone invested $3 to print a single copy that is now owned by Charles. And similar stories have been repeated on different scales many times around the world.
The 25 translations of The Disciple-Making Minister we’ve posted at DavidServant.org have received visits from 9,600 new visitors every month over the past year. (That does not include returning visitors, but only new visitors.) During that same time period, 130,000 visitors have read 200,000 translated chapters. If any of those visitors are applying what they’ve learned, that is fruit, and fruit that has cost us very little to gain.
A few months ago we clandestinely printed 2,000 Spanish copies of The Disciple-Making Minister in Cuba. They’ve since been distributed to Christian leaders serving under many denominational banners all over the island for just about $4 per book.
This is all fruit that we rarely talk about. With some more investment in helping seeking people find our online translations (search engine optimization), additional translations, book printings and strategic distributions, we could bear even more fruit.
Heaven’s Family’s Farming God’s Way Ministry does not pay the salaries of any of our 14 African trainers. They all support themselves, either from their own successful farms or some other means. But we do reimburse them for expenses they incur as they travel to train others. It costs us about $3,500 per month, and we’ve struggled to raise those funds. We need investors who will see the value of supporting it. In my thinking, it is a no-brainer, as our Farming God’s Way Ministry is both making disciples and lifting the poor (and not through handouts).
Heaven’s Family’s 73-year-old director of Farming God’s Way, Dick Samuels, lives off of Social Security, and has never taken a salary from Heaven’s Family. He has been training his successor, Jerry Jefferson, who will be taking the reins of directorship in April. But Jerry is in his 30s and has a family to feed. (And he won’t be eligible for Social Security for a few more decades!) We need some investors in eternity who will see the value in supporting Jerry’s ministry, even though he is not a pastor!
All of this is to say, once again, that the most strategic investments seem to be the rarest investments. Thank God for the believers who don’t just give, but who give strategically! Oh how I wish I could divert all the money that Christians give to what bears little or no kingdom fruit into what produces unstoppable harvests! If we all gave wisely, we might be able to “hasten the coming of the day of God,” as Peter wrote (2 Peter 3:10-13).
So that covers some of what I’ve learned over the years about one of two New Testament avenues of giving, namely, the making of disciples. Next month we’ll consider some wisdom about relieving suffering. Thanks for reading. — David