Don Flow, founder of Flow Automotive, once spoke about the role of money for business in this way:
Money is like blood to a human being. Just as a human being cannot live without sufficient blood, so also a company cannot flourish without money. Yet, just as no human being would wake up each day to live for his blood, so should a company’s goal and focus not be on mere money-making.
What Flow says here, I think, applies very well to the relationship between the Church, or Christian ministry, and money. The goal and vision of the Church is to love Christ, and money is but a means to this end. This being said, money is an important means, because without it, our ministries can haemorrhage and die. Which is why churches and parachurches struggle, all the time, with how much attention and effort to devote to our ministry vis-à-vis fund-raising.
And it is necessary to struggle, I think. Because failure to struggle may well mean that we have lost sight of that intricate balance between ministry and money. A friend of mine sits on the Board of a Catholic order. She laments that she can have any number of conversations on financial matters, but can hardly interest anyone to chat about ministry. Perhaps because of this, the order now has difficulties getting new recruits, despite having substantial financial resources. This is a far cry from its sixteenth-century roots, where the founder managed to win several thousand members in just a few years. So, when the balance is lost, mission drift kicks in. And the ministry dies slowly, but unknowingly.
Holding on to these spiritual ideals is far from easy, especially during our present times. While businesses hope that the economy will rebound swiftly from recession, chances are, things will not look good financially in the next two to three years. If you are in the airline, retail or office property sectors, for example, you may well be reeling from the economic devastation for several years to come.
Challenges for Early Christians
In a time like this, it is easy to focus on how much we have lost; how many difficulties we will yet bear in the months ahead. But we must also remember how far the Church of Christ has come, despite the enormous difficulties the apostles and the early Christians had to deal with.
We need only put ourselves in the shoes of the apostle Paul to imagine this. When he first left Antioch for Asia Minor, reaching as far off as Macedonia and Corinth, he was practically alone, with very few resources, if any. His lack was not only financial. It was also cultural and social. Everywhere he went, he encountered Graeco-Roman idolatry, and the Jews were often disdained as a minority. To make things worse, even the Jews themselves were rejecting and persecuting Paul! Given such bleak circumstances, he was in a far worse situation than our present one.
But look at the fruits of his labour!
- 13 of his letters have now become the Word of God for 2.4 billion people worldwide.
- And the Gospel he preached? It has been transforming far more lives in the last two thousand years!
- Not in his wildest imaginations can Paul have seen what God would do through his faithful ministry.
Spiritual Wisdom from Paul
So, what did it take for Paul to remain faithful through all these difficulties?
- The first is a clear vision of what He was called to do: to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. To preach the glorious news of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul could differentiate between what matters and what does not. What are “essential services”, and what are not. He never suffered from mission drift.
- The second factor is the conviction well expressed in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. We know this story well. In the midst of his ministry, Paul was tormented by a “thorn in the flesh”. Scholars have argued endlessly as to what this thorn is. All we know is that the pain was so long-drawn and excruciating that the apostle pleaded three times for Christ to take it away. What he got from Christ instead were these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Hearing this, Paul responded by saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
- In January 2020, I suffered 2–3 weeks from a serious infection that required surgery in the end. Like Paul, I prayed earnestly for Christ to remove the pain. I can tell you, I was far from saying those triumphant words of Paul!
- What I have realised since then is that it took tremendous spiritual freedom for Paul to say those words. To be able to say that “my faith in Christ is not about how Christ will provide for me or deliver me according to my own human expectations.”
- Rather, it is to trust that God will fulfil the goodness He has planned for us, through whatever circumstances He is putting us through now. Even if it means that we sometimes will experience pains, hurts and unanswered prayers.
- This COVID-19 pandemic, and the financial meltdown that comes with it will bring a lot of pain. Nevertheless, God is still in control. He is still bringing to pass the purposes and goodness that He has planned for His people and Creation.
- But the question is: “Do we have the spiritual freedom to bear with the troubles, to endure the difficulties, trusting that God will see us through eventually?”
- The spiritual freedom to trust God does not mean sitting around passively. Rather, it means paying attention to what is happening around us, what advice we are getting from our mentors, our friends and our communities, and how God is speaking to us daily, so as to discern our steps ahead. There are two parts to this discernment:
- To discern what we must give up, in order that we can receive what God has in store for us. This may mean a career change, a change in our business or organisational assumptions, or even lifestyles.
- But it also means discerning what or who we must take on board to facilitate the change—what new subjects we have to learn, who do we invite to join our ministry, whether as a donor or as an employee, or how we should restructure our businesses and ministries.
- As we discern daily, we lean on the confidence that the Spirit of the living God will guide us. The Parakletos will always be here to comfort us. This, however, is only possible if we have the freedom to let go of what we are comfortable with, and to be ready to see what God has in store for our future.
Dr Lai Pak Wah is the Principal of the Biblical Graduate School of Theology and lectures there on Church History and Historical Theology. This article was originally presented as a webinar for Premier Christianity, UK. He is also author of The Dao of Healing: Christian Perspectives on Chinese Medicine. Previously, Pak Wah was a full-time lecturer at the School of Business, Singapore Polytechnic, and engaged in investment promotion work with the Singapore Economic Development Board.