On the webpage of The Stream in Las Vegas, Nevada, they list all the reasons why you should give money to the church. One of them stood out for me and led to this post. How do you review their reasons for giving money? Its my belief that churches should be transparent about pastor’s salary and other financial information. Money is everything and you will learn a lot about a church based upon how they handle their finances.
“As base a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.”
“A wise man should have money in his head but not in his heart.”
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Acts 20:35 NIV
The Stream is an Evangelical Free Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. This church is affiliated with The Gospel Coalition and is led by Senior Pastor Kevin Scott. Kevin has been in full time ministry since 1994. He comes from Cincinnati, Ohio and graduated from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Kevin was also the co-captain on the swim team while at Purdue. Upon graduation he served several years with the Worldwide Discipleship Association both at Purdue and later at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Kevin went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school, the flagship seminary of the Evangelical Free denomination. He obtained his Master of Divinity and graduated with honors in 2002. Afterward he moved to Las Vegas to plant The Stream in the 2003 timeframe. Today he remains on staff with Worldwide Discipleship Association. He loves swimming and coaches part time at the Boulder City Henderson Heatwave swim team. Kevin is married to his wife Lauren for nearly 20 years and they have three children. Kevin has a blog that is rich with information that The Wondering Eagle will be using from time to time. The Stream in Las Vegas partners with several ministries in the area. Those ministries include the Renewing Life Center, the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Foster Connect and Club Christ Ministries.
When I was working through EFCA West I put this church in the Neo-Calvinist camp and as I was feeding 213 churches through The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29 and 9 Marks databases I also noticed this being with The Gospel Coalition. Today I want to use The Stream as an example to look at financial issues and question in regards to tithing and giving and why you give. I would like you to read the reasons why you give to a church and then I am going to ask you to weigh in and comment below.
Why Give to the Ministry of The Stream?
We believe The Stream is playing a significant role in the Great Commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:18-20 by “Transforming lives by the power of God’s Spirit, love, grace and truth” in the city of Las Vegas and beyond. We also realize that to effectively sustain and expand our ministry we need support and resources.
There is a great deal that the Bible says about the subject of giving, so much that we can only include some of it here. Ultimately giving is an issue that reflects a person’s heart for God and for his kingdom. Below are some truths from God’s word and some principles that we should seriously consider in regards to this issue.
Why give? (10 Reasons) :
1. God is a giver! Everything we have, including our salvation, is a gift that we have received from God (John 3:16, Romans 11:36).
2. God provides for us! Giving is an expression of thanksgiving and worship (Philippians 4:19, Proverbs 3:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9:12).
3. God commands it! If we love God we will obey his commands (John 14:15, 2 Corinthians 9:7).
4. Giving helps me develop a deeper intimacy with God (Matthew 6:21).
5. Giving is a remedy for selfishness and materialism (1 Timothy 6:10, 17-19) .
6. Giving strengthens my faith (Philippians 4:19, Proverbs 3:5-6, 9-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6).
7. Giving is an eternal investment (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
8. Giving blesses me now and in eternity (Proverbs 11:25, Matthew 6:20, Proverbs 22:9)
9. Giving blesses the church and helps to advance the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 16:1, Luke 8:1-3).
10. Giving demonstrates that I love God and am seeking him first (Matthew 6:20, Matthew 6:33, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
There are a couple of things I want to say after reading that list up above. Again for context I highly recommend you read this list in regards to the webpage, but let me point out one thing that was glaring, and then let me dive into some financial issues as well.
Is The Stream Flirting with Prosperity Theology?
Point eight really stood out for me and I found to be deeply troubling. Again in this list from The Stream point eight says the following: “Giving blesses me now and in eternity.” Here is the question that I would like to ask…is The Stream flirting with prosperity theology? Giving will bless me now and in eternity? Here is another question I would like to ask…is God obligated to give anyone anything? Is God required to bless me? In the context of giving does that put God on the “hook” when it comes to giving? Does this create a false impression when it comes to giving? For example does it led the guy in his troubled marriage to give thinking in return he will have a more stronger marriage? Does it led to the guy having problems with work to give thinking his work performance will increase in return? Has it led to people at The Stream who are suffering from cancer to give money thinking in return their cancer will be healed? Now I know this is a Gospel Coalition church but does that phrase “Giving blesses me” create more problems and open the door to prosperity theology which is already choking many parts of the Christian faith? If I am wrong I will gladly entertain correction but that stood out and hit me when I saw it. The trouble is that when people are vulnerable such commands can be manipulative and cause more problems. I would like to know…have there been any cases at The Stream of people who have given money in exceptional amounts thinking they will be blessed and then find out that they are not? Have there been cases where people are being set up for a painful and long fall, because they expect to be “blessed” and are waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and then something goes terribly wrong?
Why Pastoral Salaries Should be Transparent
I will write about this more below but trust affirms trust, and you will learn a lot about a church by how it handles it finances. I really believe that pastoral salaries such as Kevin Scott should be completely transparent and published in the bulletin. Let me explain why. In the state of Nevada you can easily access and find out the salaries of police, sheriff, public defenders, investigators and special investigators here. You can see the range of how much people make in those trusted positions. Let’s look at the Clark County Public School District. In this link you can see the salary for people who work in the Clark Public School District. That includes substitute teachers to police officers who work in the schools and more. That information is readily accessible in many ways. If you do some research you will find that there is a quite a bit of information on what the salary is for a firefighter in Clark County. This website is but one of many I stumbled across in researching this post. Lets look at one other important feature. Nellis Air Force Base is just above North Las Vegas, Nevada. When I looked at the information Nellis is about 19 miles away from The Stream. The Air Force like the other branches of the United States military have their salary information posted. When you go to this website you can find out what a Second Lieutenant to an Air Force Captain can make.
So here you have this situation…you have all this knowledge of what people make…from Clark County law enforcement, to fire and rescue, to education all the way to military that are stationed in the Las Vegas area. With all that public information why is it that many churches keep their pastor’s and staff’s salary a secret? Why are they not transparent about it? Transparency reinforces trust in so many ways. It is long overdue to make such information public, especially if it can help in communicating The Gospel.
How a Church Builds Trust with Financial Issues
I would really love to get your thoughts on that list of giving from The Stream in Las Vegas, Nevada. My feelings on financial giving to a church have been extremely jaded based off some past church experiences. I am a firm believer in being generous but when I see some of the excess it gives me pause. When I see churches soliciting money and then purchase another fog machine or do another building campaign which they often do not need I think to myself what a waste. Think of what that money could do for people in Africa in need of clean water. Think of what that money can do for people who are homeless, dealing with alcohol or drug addiction and in need of counseling and support. Think of where that money could ultimately go and how it could sincerely help people. I struggle with trusting a church and that has been created due to past experience. It amazes me that I can walk into a place sometimes and sit through a service. I have also become theologically opposed to tithing as well. While giving is important and I believe we are to be generous, I for the life of me cannot understand why tithing is so stressed. If we are living under a New Covenant as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection then why is a good chunk of the church emphasizing a rule that was under the Old Covenant? Am I the only one who feels like that? That is why I am opposed to tithing as many churches have taught it. You cannot have both ways, and I find it manipulative to stress tithing.
Having explained all that this is what I would recommend if the church wants to help build trust with financial issues this is what should happen.
- Make the budget of the church available to all people. Let the congregation and visitors see what is coming in and what the outgoing expenses are. Have all expenses accounted for and publically available. Publish them in the bulletin and the online website.
- Find a good secular accountant and entrust them to audit and handle the books of the church. Another thing that I think would be a great opportunity is to let an atheist or secular organization be able to run the churches numbers past an independent source as a means of checks and balances. If that happened think of the trust that could be made and how secular or atheist organizations could possibly respond.
- In addition to publishing the pastor’s salary, make it known all the perks and benefits that the pastor gets. Let the congregation know what the credit card perks are, what his cell phone plan is, etc.. Is the church paying off his debt from seminary? Is the church helping with his mortgage? Every couple of yeas does the pastor or leaders of the church get a cost of living adjustment? Again I am not trying to be difficult but what are all the perks that go along in the salary package?
- The pastor is rooted in the church and is not obsessed with becoming “a rock star.” His humility is revealed by how he meets with and serves people in the hospital, the hospice for someone dying from a terminal disease and perhaps making a call to the local jail for support. You can’t be a pastor and publish 30 books and serve your congregation. Just as you cannot serve two masters. By being in the trenches that illustrates less of an obsession with money with is healthy.
- A church understands the financial needs of its members. For example when a member loses his job and is unemployed the church can help and doesn’t pressure them about financial giving during this incredible stressful time of unemployment.
- Churches are sensitive to the issue of building campaigns and they work with what they have instead of going to the extreme. Building campaigns are divisive and so many are not needed. The only time I believe a building campaign is justified is when the congregation has grown to a point that building codes and the warning of the fire marshal is now an issue. At that point I would actually prefer the church plant a new church instead of focusing on growing into a mega church. We do not need mega churches as those are idols as well.
Money is a sensitive issue but time and again its crucial that it is monitored. After all one of the issue in the Mars Hill Seattle implosion is what happened to $2.3 million dollars in The Global Fund. Then another concern occurred in Sovereign Grace Ministries when C.J. Mahaney (think of him as a theological Joseph Stalin) taught about giving till it hurts, using church discipline in the process and having families even eat oatmeal for dinner and forsake meat. What happened to all the money that was given? In addition to trips to the state of Florida, C.J. Mahaney used that money to win people over, and purchase allegiances. There are a lot of lesson from Watergate which I have written up in this post here. With that I invite your comments, pushback or feedback. Since The Stream is in Las Vegas, Nevada I am going to leave you with Katy Perry singing about Las Vegas. Later guys I love you!